When our friend, Angela invited us to join her this week at the newly opened Babylon restaurant (309 N. Dawson St), she described it as “hidden in full sight.” Just a few blocks east of Glenwood South, the building tucked on the west side of Dawson is actually more visible from Lane Street than Dawson. I recognized it immediately as the old mill I had always imagined converted into lofts like Patrick and Demi’s in the movie Ghost. But Samad Hachby’s imagination went a lot further than mine. As in to the other side of the world.
The Greek word Babylon means roughly “Gateway of the God” and that’s what I felt walking through the entranceway into the candle-lit courtyard with stylish wicker tables arranged around a multi-sided reflecting pool, and bar crafted from Moroccan tiles. Borrowing from another movie, Hachby had me at Hello. If I had only enjoyed a glass of wine by the pool, I would have left happy. But that’s not what happened.
Following the tiled path to the front door invited mystery and delight. I noticed that the rough brick walls of the hundred year old mill blended beautifully with the exotic detailing. I couldn’t wait to see what was on the other side of the front door, and I wasn’t disappointed. What was striking to me was the feeling of privacy and intimacy, in spite of the fact that this building could accommodate hundreds of guests. With each room looking out on the courtyard, a group could opt for the opulent Palace Room that manages to be chicly comfortable, while crowned by ornate chandeliers and a colorful Moroccan tile ceiling, or for a smaller garden room, softly lit with natural light from a southern exposure.
Samad Hachby is an artist, whose food matches his imagination for renovation. His menu (using fresh, locally grown produce) transports his guests to ancient cultures where food is prepared in clay pots and savored for its spices. Even the olives were memorable. (Tell me if you can figure out that blend of spices. Angela and I tasted turmeric and cumin, but we weren’t sure what else.) I loved my Fetard salad with peaches, walnuts and feta, complemented by a small plate of Bodega marinated and grilled lamb skewers, and my husband Jim’s Lamb Tagine was falling-from-the-bone tender and delicious in a sauce of apricot prunes.
As we sat over our coffee at the end of the meal, we all agreed that the two block trip to Babylon seemed like it should have required a passport. It was amazing to believe we were still in Raleigh. We’ll be going back for the food, for the decor and because we want to introduce this find to any friend who, like us, loves to be surprised by the unexpectedly fabulous.