Living the Khabouth Brand at Byblos

Coming back from Kingston, I got off the train in the middle of rush hour and realized it was hapless to attempt to drive back to London so I took the opportunity to grab an early dinner at Byblos. Hidden on Duncan St, the outside is quite subtle especially compared to the massive four floor fortress inside.  When I went to the reception, I got the typical routine when I told them I didn’t have a reservation. It starts with the fake pensive stare at the blank computer screen, followed by  a slight nod and a grim proclamation and they said there was only room upstairs in the lounge.  I followed him upstairs and was seated at a well stocked bar.  I felt like I was in the bleachers at a Jays game beacuse I was the only one there.  Good thing they snuck me in!  As I waited for a drink, I looked around and the saw that the place was decorated in the typical Charles Khabouth style.  The room was elegantly decorated and accented with hints of the Middle east.

I was quickly greeted by two barkeeps and we were able to strike up a bit of a conversation.   First, we discussed the concept at Byblos: eastern Mediterranean flavours and a kick ass bar. I decided to test the latter out with an old fashioned ($15).  Made with a base of Bulleit bourbon (that’s a good start) and accented with date molasses instead of sugar atop a signature Khabouth big ass ice cube,  it  had an odd colour (I love the bronzy hue of a good old-fashioned) and slightly overwhelming sweetness which hid the bourbon a little too much but in the end was still a decent drink.

Old Fashioned $15
Old Fashioned $15

From a food perspective, the menu is divided into small and large plates with a spattering of rice dishes.  Since I was solo, for the most part I stuck with the small dishes and quizzed the guys about the best dishes:

Cheese Acharuli (Quail Egg + Brioche + Za’atar) $9- Eggs and cheese make me happy so this was an easy choice.  The crust was crispy and held its texture while housing the melted cheese and runny egg.  The za’atar flavour  and pickled onion was a great addition to this spin of the traditional Georgian bread. I didn’t confirm the cheese but wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little sheep’s milk feta hidden in the stringy mess.
Cheese Acharuli  (cheese bread) $9
Cheese Acharuli (cheese bread) $9
I asked about octopus versus crispy squid and the consensus was go with the latter for $13.  Although advertised as a large dish, it was no bigger than the acharuli and was seasoned with toum, spices and schug (hot sauce).  Although the use of the toum was subtle, it carried a garlic punch that some might find a bit overpowering.  Personally, I loved it.  The squid itself was a bit lost in the batter and the expected heat from the schug fell a little short.
Crispy Squid Bandari Spice + Schug + Toum $13
Crispy Squid
Bandari Spice + Schug + Toum $13
The final decision was between the duck or eggplant kibbeh.  Once again, after careful consultation I went with the vegetarian option ($14) after a suggestion from the waiter that duck might be a bit dry.    Within minutes they arrived, served with a yogurt based dipping sauce.  It was nicely spiced but overall the dish was a little underwhelming, especially with a  $14 price tag.
Eggplant Kibbeh Zucchini Flower + Chickpea Batter $14
Eggplant Kibbeh Zucchini Flower + Chickpea Batter $14
My Take
Byblos is an other Charles Khabouth creation which fits his  typical blueprint of huge fanfare, lively atmosphere, abundant space, fancy cocktails, well dressed waitstaff, nicely balanced pretension and hit and miss food.  As a whole, I usually enjoy the experience but always leave with a few criticisms. Let me explain what I mean by balanced pretension.  I have no issues with people taking pride in their craft and not hiding behind the veil of impartiality.  I had a great discussion with the barkeeps about the Keg Mansion, cheque averages and noise levels.  We bounced thoughts on the local eateries and agreed or agreed to disagree on many of them; whether it was the  noise level, skimpy portions or best anchovy dish in town. That said, they are quite confident about their own joint.    This pride is the foundation of the Khabouth brand. Whether it’s Patria, Weslodge or La Societe, you leave feeling a little cooler even if some of the food is hit and miss. Byblos is no different.

 

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