• Food
  • 963: Classics of levantine cuisine get a creative twist

Food

963: Classics of levantine cuisine get a creative twist

963 is the international dialling code for Syria. It's also a new restaurant in Charlottenburg with an exciting take on middle-eastern cooking.

Photo: 963 Berlin

If you’re thinking of visiting new Charlottenburg restaurant 963, owner Ribal Sibaee has one note for you: the food here isn’t defined by just one country, even though the eatery is named for Syria’s country code. It’s not merely Syrian, or Lebanese, or Israeli – it’s Levantine. “The challenge I’ve put on myself is how do I best represent the region as a whole, comprehensive of all the countries without ever losing focus?” says Sibaee of the concept. “And this is it.”

Open since early 2023 (but having recently moved to new, more central digs in a former steakhouse just off Ku’damm), 963 is a love letter to the rich culinary heritage of the whole Levant region, which encompasses Israel, parts of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, southeastern Turkey and Jordan. You’re probably familiar with popular dishes from these areas like hummus and falafel, though Sibaee points out that they tend to be described as belonging to specific countries like Israel or Lebanon rather than a product of this whole Mediterranean area. “I have a very different perspective on the Levant as a culinary region, so from a culinary perspective we should celebrate it as a whole,” he says.

Ultra-tender lamb and perfectly-seasoned rice that’s imparted with the flavour of lamb fat

Sibaee, who was born in the US to a Syrian family and lived in the Persian Gulf for several years, wanted to honour his heritage with his food. “When I lived in the US, when I lived in Saudi Arabia, calling back to my blood, home was always with the code 963. That was my only real connection to my grandparents and other relatives in Syria.” But the Syrian affiliation is really just in the name. This is a pan-Levantine restaurant, where dishes from fattoush to musakhan are prepared with modern twists and, on a few occasions, a dash of American fusion befitting Sibaee’s birthplace.

Photo: 963 Berlin

963’s take on musakhan is one notable example. This dish of roasted chicken, onions and bread liberally spiced with sumac features the same ingredients, but in a whole new form. Instead of being eaten by hand from a big platter, the bread is shaped around the ingredients, creating a corndog-like entree on a stick, but with all the same delectably tangy notes. Similar creativity is on display in dishes like shrimp kunafa: shrimp served almost tempura-style, but with crispy kunafa pastry taking the place of batter and a tangy lemon sauce balancing it all out. While there are outré splashes throughout the menu, like the kunafa smores hybrid dessert, items like hummus and falafel keep things classic with exquisite execution.

It’s not merely Syrian, or Lebanese, or Israeli – it’s Levantine.

Of the more classic-leaning dishes on the menu at 963, the “Peekaboo Aubergine”, might just be the big star. It’s the restaurant’s version of maqloobeh, a platter of eggplant, rice and slow-cooked meat, stewed in a pot and flipped, cake-style, onto a plate. With ultra-tender lamb and perfectly-seasoned rice that’s imparted with the flavour of lamb fat, it’s a hearty winner.

🕌 Berlin’s best spots for Muslim food culture

Photo: 963 Berlin

It’s all rounded out with a wine list focusing exclusively on options from the Levantine region. (The minerality of Lebanese wines is a great balance for the often strong flavours in the cuisine.) And in terms of both price and vibe, it’s a contrast to the sometimes stuffy old-guard Charlottenburg restaurants. Currently, dinner is the main event, with lunch service coming soon, and brunch also in the pipeline. Either way, Sibaee is already beaming with pride about 963. “This is my dream concept. It’s the best representation of who I am.”

  • 963, Marburger Str. 14, Charlottenburg, Mon-Sat 17-23, details