Location: 11 Duncan Street, Toronto, M5V 3M2
Price Range: $$$
Owned by Ink Entertainment, Byblos opened back in 2014 and they offer a contemporary spin on classic Eastern Mediterranean cuisine in tapas style. Fast forward to today, Byblos is still relatively packed even during the weeknight, so I strongly suggest you guys to make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
I didn’t realized after dinner that Byblos was separated into two stories; the ground floor is a traditional dining area and the second floor is a lounge. The dining area was dimly lighted with shelves decorated with exquisite and ornate metal pitchers. It was definitely pleasing to the eye how tastefully decorated the restaurant was, elegance yet not over top and pretentious.
Another citrusy drink from me (lol). The drink was really fruity with a slight bitter finish and well balanced with the lemon & egg white foam.
Since Karen (Stenoodie) was going to be a bit late, I decided to order the Labneh as I didn’t want to drink a cocktail on an empty stomach (you will get tipsy easier if you do the opposite).
The barbari bread arrived piping hot and crispy, and it was quite salty to eat on its own. However the bread itself paired perfectly with the sweet honey and tangy yogurt in the labneh. The labneh was silky and smooth, a bit peppery and had a lovely cooling sensation.
For $14 there were only 3-4 pieces of rib so this was an expensive dish, but it was the highlight of the meal! The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and had great flavor. A bit spicy but it was balanced by the sweet buttermilk sauce. The thick crunchy layer coating of dukkah added a nice texture and helped to mask the overtly mutton-like flavor.
For $18 I thought Byblos was quite generous with the portion of the steak tartare, and the dish also came with a side of barbari bread (not pictured). The texture was just melt-in-your-mouth goodness and beyond buttery. With that said, the red chilies overpowered the delicate flavor of the beef and there wasn’t enough labneh to balance out the spicy notes.
The squid ink chips were slightly salted and had the perfect bite sizes. Both Karen and I didn’t like the texture of tuna as it was quite “hard” to chew. I also thought there wasn’t enough lime to bring out the freshness of dish, and the avocado didn’t really work well with the tuna either.
The Turkish Manti Dumpling was another highlight of the meal with an addictive thyme based yogurt sauce and the molasses gave them a touch of sweetness. The dumplings were perfect cooked with a thin shell and filled with eggplant. I didn’t mind that you can’t really taste the eggplant. I always hated the taste and texture of it, thus I was surprised to see how well they were able to “mask” the eggplant taste with not too much smokiness.
On the initial bite, the couscous tasted a bit bland but it was really fluffy! The herbs and saffron flavors didn’t come through, however I thought the couscous was perfectly paired with the yogurt sauce from the manti dumplings.
Pavlova is a meringue dessert and it is generally really sweet, which surprisingly was not the case for Byblos! I thought the outer shell of the Pavlova was a bit hard to crack, otherwise the inner layers were soft and creamy. It reminded me of what I would imagine a baked marshmallow to taste like. I liked how the rose fragrance was not too overpowering and the slight tangy-ness from the fig helped to balance out the sweetness of the pavlova. Unlike normal cotton candy, the pashmak had a wool-like texture, almost like Asian pork floss and it just melted in your mouth.
The overall service was wonderful and attentive, except toward the end my server sorta disappeared somewhere else. She was happy to make recommendations and made us feel like we were welcome to stay all night long. To sum things up, there were two dishes that were quite underwhelming but the others that we love were just incredible with unique flavors. Since it was only two of us for dinner and most dishes at Byblos were tapas, we weren’t able to cover most of the menu. Thus despite my low rating of Byblos, I’m willing to come back to give it another chance and try other offerings on their menu.