A lacklustre lunch at Pepe’s Byblos Fishing Club – in Lebanon

On my road trip around Lebanon with a friend in June, we stopped at Byblos for a tour of the Crusader Castle and lunch at the famous Byblos Fishing Club. The Byblos Fishing Club, otherwise known as Pepe’s is the restaurant and bar that attracted the beautiful people such as David Niven and Brigitte Bardot in the 60s and has been dining out on its reputation ever since.

Lunch at Byblos Fishing Club in Lebanon

Lunch at Byblos Fishing Club in Lebanon

As we knew it was where everyone who was anyone stopped for lunch, and it was even raved about in our Lonely Planet (must write to them about that) we made a beeline for it without further thought but found it rather a lacklustre experience. The restaurant is pretty enough in that Greek Taverna meets Italian-neighbourhood-joint kind of way, with the blue painted chairs, fishing paraphanalia and the countless photos of the stars on the walls. It does have a great location overlooking the pretty harbour that could have been in any Spanish or Italian seaside town, with the fishing boats and yachts bobbing up and down and the blue sea and sky beyond.

Byblos Fishing Club Restaurant in Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos Fishing Club Restaurant in Byblos, Lebanon

But somehow the sparkle was lacking, the service seemed a bit sleepy and the whole place lacked the joie de vivre and personality that made it famous. Pepe Abed, who was the owner in its heyday and made every day at the restaurant a party for the rich and famous, has now departed to the great fishing boat in the sky and the place is run by his son and grandson, who trade heavily on Pepe’s name. We had the typical selection of mezze to start with and some grilled fish which was all fine, but we found it a little overpriced and over-hyped.

View of the harbour from Byblos Fishing Club

View of the harbour from Byblos Fishing Club

Byblos Fishing club in Lebanon

Byblos Fishing club in Lebanon

When we mentioned Pepe’s to a local winemaker we met, he immediately recommended a string of much better places in Byblos including the Bab el Mina restaurant next door, which has equally fine views over the harbour. Next time I go to Byblos, I’ll take the advice of a local and take a bit more time to explore the other restaurant options.

Have you ever been to somewhere with a big reputation that didn’t meet up to expectations?

This is posted as part of Wanderfood Wednesday over at Wanderlust and lipstick – head over for some glazed croissants and other foodie delights

Read other articles about Lebanon

Meet the winemakers at Chateau Musar in Lebanon
The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve – video
Mezze Memories in Lebanon

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  • Reply
    January 13, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Seems like a downer. I’m trying to think of some travel disappointments but none come immediately to mind. Maybe I just filter those out in my memory since the pleasant surprises are so much easier to recall.

  • Reply
    Myscha Theriault
    January 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Sorry lunch was so hum drum, as I’ve always remembered excellent service everywhere I went in Lebanon. I do remember Byblos fondly, although we didn’t eat there that day but in the mountains instead as I recall. Phenomenal country though, yes?

  • Reply
    January 13, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I hate it when places don’t live up to the expectation! Maybe that’s the curse of being written up in a famous travel guide; an overload of customers inevitably leads to a decline in service.

    Another such downer? Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. The pizza is still delicious, but the lunch line is about an hour long and the clientele seems to be almost entirely made up of tourists. Not quite a typical Brooklyn experience anymore – more like Disneyworld. Sigh.

  • Reply
    January 13, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    what a drag – but the photos are lovely!! that reminds me to always ask a local before setting out, eh?!

  • Reply
    January 14, 2010 at 4:47 am

    Great reminder to ask the locals first (though sometimes they DO direct you to the popular place they think you want to go to).

    I always think of these experiences as a reason to return to a place.

  • Reply
    January 14, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Wow, one didn’t realise just how gorgeous this location was.
    Food looks fantastic to, & I’m all in for trying great new locations. Just wanted to thank your good self for blogging & bringing such wonders to light – keep up the great work… :O)

  • Reply
    Mark H
    January 14, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Maybe it is my suspicious nature but my guard is always up against places that trade on who has eaten there, sometimes many years ago. I feel that I am likely to be paying for the privelege that some president or film star or footballer has eaten there in the past. That may have cost some good meals but has probably also saved some disappointments. Saying all that, your photos capture what looks to be a beautiful area so suited to a casual seafood lunch.

  • Reply
    January 19, 2010 at 12:20 am

    When I saw the pictures I was getting ready to hear about something yummy coming. Being a food experimenter, local food in a place is always of great importance to me when I go anywhere. I’d have figured family continuing the business would have gone all out to keep up the good reputation.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    January 19, 2010 at 8:29 am

    @Arlene There wasn’t anything especially bad about Pepe’s, it just didn’t have any sparkle at the time we visited, perhaps it would have been more lively in the evening. We felt it was living on its reputation, & charging us a premium for that.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I remember Pepe and his gorgous Fishing Club when I served at UNIFIL in Lebanon in 1997/98 as an Assistant Food Officer.
    I was there several times. I remember that special, unique & cosy atmosphere, I have a beautiful snap with Pepe when we sit together by the table…
    “Those were the days my friend….”
    May Good God save Pepe’s soul and bless his son, the successor of Pepe the Great !!!!
    Maybe some day I’ll visit Lebanon again and of course Pepe’s Fishing Club !

    Płock, POLOGNE

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    May 15, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    @ Wojtek – I’m glad you have such good memories of Pepe’s – I’ve heard that it really did buzz when he was still running the show

  • Reply
    The ruins of an ancient town at Byblos in Lebanon | Heather on her travels
    May 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    […] Road Block etiquette in Lebanon Wine tasting stop at Chateau Ksara – in Lebanon A lacklustre lunch at Pepe’s Byblos Fishing Club – in Lebanon […]

  • Reply
    Marie jose Abed
    June 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    i Was just reading the review done on Byblos fishing club dated January 2010, and i would like to reply to the writter on few points which i found personaly a bit dissapointing coming from a journalist i assume or else it wouldnt have ben published on ur esteemed website:
    Before going through the points, i would like to thank the writter for visiting our historical place and city!
    now regarding the review, below my reply:
    1- The comment on the service that is sleepy/slow is a bit too lame from ur end, specially that it seems you did not get the spirit of byblos nor the experience that ur suppose to enjoy which rather is a quiet, peaceful lunch on the harbor specially day time or else we could have served you and let you go in 20mns but whats the points behind that??.
    2- if u felt that the place lacked the “joie de vivre” and i can only assume becoz u tried it before and it was different, its for the very simple reason that December / January is the memorial of my grand dad Pepe, thus we are not really in a party mood!
    3- Regarding the price, of course if u wana eat frozen fish u can have them anywhere for cheaper cost, but at Byblos Fishing Club we only serve the best fresh food even if it cost you more, in both cases, you had the chance to check the price list before ordering didnt you?! anyway if u want shop for Gucci u dont go to GAP!Am sure u understand what i mean.If after more than 50 years the place is still up and running and fully booked througout the year it must be for a good reason am sure!

    Finaly, i would suggest For next time, please try to meet the owner of the place wherever you go before writting ur reviews coz i kind of question ur credibility now.


  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    I been visiting pepe for sooo many years and its still great if not it improved as well with the new generation!
    the museum is amazing as well in that place! love it as it is so as my family!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    lovely place and veryyyyyyyy fair prices!

  • Reply
    Jose abed
    June 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    i am verry happy that you liked the food,the decoration and location of the restaurant the 3 major things to make a restaurant succesfull!

    Second as a reporter i think your readers deserves more concrete feedback:posting the bill you paid at Pepe’s compared to other sea food restaurant in that same area, as i dnt think and am sure all readers will agree with me, that 22 us dollars per person is not overpriced for a full seafood menu, which is our set menu since 1998!

    Finally for the joie de vivre, byblos is and was always a calm, serene and romantic location and that is the same reason why all big and famous celebrities visited and loved byblos fishing club whether they were a couple or a family, everyone enjoys it there until today such as the very famous singer Garou and Saphina who were there recently 2010 and praised our property in our golden book!!

    Thanks for taking time to read my comments.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    June 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    @ Marie Jose Abed

    Thanks so much for your comments and I quite appreciate that I might have caught Byblos fishing club on an off day. I’m not a professional journalist but I still owe it to my readers to give an honest opinion of the places I go and how I personally find them.

    I think that the restaurant has such a reputation from the time when your grandfather was alive, that it’s difficult to match the high expectations that people may have.

    I loved the setting of the restaurant, but the article I wrote reflected how I personally found it on the day I visited. Other visitors may have a different experience at a different time of year or day.

    I visited in June 2009, so I’m not sure whether your comment about Dec/Jan being the memorial of your grandfather is relevant. Also I agree that it’s better to eat the freshest fish – I found that grilled fish is quite expensive in restaurants all over Lebanon compared to European prices, which is worth knowing if you’re travelling on a budget, as there are many other great things to eat that aren’t so expensive.

    Finally, on your point about making yourself known to the owner, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, depending what’s appropriate at the time. If you choose to just be served as any other guest in the restaurant, you are likely to get a more realistic view of what the average diner will experience.

    I hope that vistors to Byblos will visit Pepes fishing club and decide for themselves.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    June 27, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    @ George @ Julian
    Thanks for your comments and so pleased you enjoyed the restaurant and Byblos

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    June 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    @ Jose Abed
    Thanks for your comments and I’m glad that customers are coming to Byblos and to Pepes and enjoying it as much as they always did.

  • Reply
    Bettina Abed Steiger
    August 2, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Anyone can write about whether or not he/she liked her meal. Pepe fishing club is an establishment of international class that is truly one of the highlights in Byblos. Pepe fishing club follows basic rules in maintaining good customer service with a smile, a relationship that helps business grow and prosper. Exceptional customer service keeps customers coming back and they have been coming year after year for over 50 years. Interval between appetizers,main menu and dessert are served to enjoy the view and the atmosphere. If someone is looking to do fast food please choose a fast food restaurant. Food and fuel inflation will effect pricing on a menu.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    August 2, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    @ Bettina
    I wish you all the best in your family’s restaurant – if you have good customer service and your customers are happy then you will prosper.

    I can’t say that I did an extensive price comparison around the neighbourhood as I was only in Byblos for one day, so I accept it if you say your prices are fair for the quality you provide.

    However, I think it’s worth saying that I found fresh fish is generally an expensive menu choice in Lebanon, but that would be the same in any restaurant serving it, not unique to yours.

    The other advice I’d give to businesses like yourself is that you will help yourself by having an excellent website to promote yourself, or if you have one you should ensure that it’s coming up first in the search pages. That way, when someone writes something you don’t like, your own website will also be there to promote your point of view to potential customers.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Wojtek de Pologne
    May 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    After 2 years let me write again some words recalling Pepe’s Fishing Club in Byblos, Lebanon….
    I do hope some day I’ll again visit Lebanon and for sure will visit PFC and meet His son and grandson.

    I will always nicely remember Lebanon and Lebanese people, and those gorgous-pretty Lebanese girls…..

    God bless you Lebanon :-))))

    • Reply
      May 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

      @Wojtek So glad you enjoyed visiting Pepes Fishing Club and the beautiful country of Lebanon

  • Reply
    Pepe's Fishing Club: Byblos, Lebanon | Worldfoodist
    June 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    […] Now, of course, you can’t expect to see any international glitterati here now — any more than you’d expect to find Hemingway still sitting in Harry’s Bar, Venice, or Noel Coward washing down drinks in the Long Bar at Raffle’s. That’s not just because they’re dead. But because the place has moved on. And if you come here expecting the glamour of yesteryear you will be disappointed […]

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