In the middle of Toronto International Film Festival, with all the crowds on the streets and everyday downtown hustle, Byblos can be easily bypassed. It is a popular spot, however, we did not get that impression at 5:30 pm on a Friday.
From the outside, an aged plaque with the simple restaurant silhouette logo on the crimson brick wall speaks of reserved elegance. A black awning with yet a different visual identity also has the restaurant’s name. Compared to a subdued exterior, the decor and design inside were quite a revelation. It was a bit dim, with grey fabrics, dark wooden table tops all around and chocolate brown banquette. Ma Cherie’s favourite statement piece here was the numerous hookah-inspired bottle pendants. Furthermore, like in Lov cafe in Montreal, we noticed a recently fashionable design element - an elegant transition from the vinyl floor to the tile around the bar area - a recent trend in tiling.
NOSE & SWIRL
The leather menu with light stitching surprised us with quite a selection of tapa options - all great for sharing. We had to Google some of the common ingredients which was a bit of a shortcoming on the part of our waitress who was quite rushed. It would have been nice to get an intro for the dishes. In particular, we found that za’atar was a blend of herbs. There were also lots of pistachios, figs, molasses, and saffron used throughout the dishes.
Browsing the wine list to accompany the dishes we were about to order, we did not spot anything from the Middle East and chose the closest substitute - a Greek wine by the glass. It was a Malagousia from Tetramythos - dry and crisp, but with no memorable character or an aromatic nose, as we expected.
Our Basturma Pide Pizza was a tiny narrow boat, served on floral china. The cured meat had the texture of prosciutto and shakshouka spice added a zing of light spiciness in the pool of mozzarella - a flavourful and salty dish.
We also had another Pide - Trabzon served with fresh mozzarella, stracchino cheese, egg yolk and basturma crumb. Our waiter smeared the raw egg on top of the Pide philo boat for a more dramatic presentation, but this mini pizza was relatively bland if not for the truffle oil aroma. Both Pide dishes had a wonderful crust, nevertheless.
We also had their Dumplings served in a soup-like yogurt sauce - tender and fragile, they were a little bit sweet and perfect for sharing. The Persian Kale crispy lentils with black beans, aleppo pepper, labneh and dry lime were presented as a protein dish. The topping was sour and refreshing yogurt (labneh) - a perfect offset aided by lime flavor. The crispy texture was also a treat on its own. This was perhaps the most unforgettable dish for us, although not incredibly easy to eat.
The Fried Crispy Hand Rolled Couscous was our second protein dish, which is unassuming from the get-go, but under the fried crispy couscous, grilled halloumi cheese was hiding. It was slightly melted, adding a salty and soft aspect to the dish - much needed.
For the “meat dish” category, Tah-Dig had a tiny portion of lamb and plenty of yellow basmati rice. Although the addition of figs and pine nuts was a good touch for the nose, it felt as if the dishes’ oiliness was there to make up for the otherwise dryness. We were not impressed.
We couldn’t pass on their dessert menu options. We were excited about having some traditional katafi baklava flavors, as an ingredient of the Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse. It came as a side of crispy noodles topping off the smeared sweet-cream mousse, orchestrated around the chocolate caramel tulie (a wafer).
Lastly, we also had their Crispy Qatayef, as one of its ingredients was Turkish delight - Ma Cherie’s childhood indulgence. Tiny, scattered fried patties split the plate with freshly sliced strawberries. The fried doughs adorned with pistachio crumbs, while filled with ashta cream inside, a slight rosy smell of Turkish delight was present. The surrounding strawberries and honey sera were a much-needed addition to lighten up this dish.
In case you don't order one of their orgasmic desserts, go to the washroom for a Turkish delight infused experience - it smelled delicious in there! A let down was scratched out signs and a sink not working taking away from the luxurious experience.
Overall we definitely felt transported to the Middle East by Byblo’s intimate ambiance and fusion cuisine with traditional flavours.