Bayte

Bayte has been on my “oh dear god you need to visit this place NOW, what is wrong with you?” list for, well, basically forever. Potential delicious Lebanese food times cannot be ignored. I was however stymied several times in visiting due to both their erratic opening hours (they see to have settled down now and are reliably open for lunch and dinner from Wednesdays to Fridays and from 9am-11pm on weekends), and the fact that whenever I tried to visit they were groaning at the seams without room for yet more patrons.

Clearly I was going to have to scheme to visit at a less popular time. Utilising my “how to walk into a table at Chin Chin” timing rule, I waited until 3pm one Saturday afternoon to saunter in with Julian in tow. Behold! Many a free table was awaiting us! See, starving yourself for hours to eat at an unfashionable time does have it’s benefits.

Since it was drifting into late-afternoon, the menu was restricted to the mezze options, but there were so many of these to choose from that we didn’t feel at all constricted in terms of choice. Luckily we were able to order quite a few of the items that Where’s the Beef had enjoyed during their visit, whose enthusiastic post was at the forefront of my mind.

To start with I insisted we had to have some of the chargrilled flatbread, which had been universally recommended to me by those who had Bayte-d before me, plus anything that we could smear the flatbread with. Hence the generous dishes of labne and baba ganoush that quickly arrived. The labne was handmade, as far as I could make out, ridiculously smooth and that face-twisting kind of tart that only really fresh yoghurts can create. The baba ganoush was smoky and a very impressive example of the difference between freshly made and the rubbish you get in the supermarket. A warning though that the chargrilled bread is truly excellent and you will be in danger of over-ordering it in order to eat it with everything, which could get sneakily expensive.

Being me, I couldn’t go past any mention of potato, so insisted that we order the bataata meshwi – barbequed potatoes served with homemade tomato sauce. SWEET BABY JEEBUS THESE ARE DELICIOUS POTATO CRACK. You must order these. Dunk them in the thick, also smoky tomato sauce (more a chutney or jam, really), and really savour the crispiness without and the fluffy within. UGH SOMEONE BRING ME SOME NOW.

At $5 a pop, we were rather hoping that the single felafel served with almond taratour, radish and baby coriander would prove to be the most amazing felafel to have ever graced tastebuds. Our doubting ways brought us undone – this is a felafel as close to being worth $5 as you are going to find. The felafel itself is soft and deftly combined, with no harsh grainy texture, and well spiced. Topping the felafel with the petite radish wedges was the real stroke of genius, with the sharp, juicy crispness contrasting in a delightful fashion with the felafel itself and the smooth taratour.

I very quickly followed by this pleasing first visit with an evening one a week or so later on my lonesome. On that occasion I started with the pumpkin kibbee, two fat, crumbed balls of fried pumpkin hiding a caramelised centre of onions and almonds, surrounded by a generous moat of hummus. Very more-ish indeed!

My main meal was the bamieh bi zayt, an okra, tomato and olive oil stew with walnuts, sliced chilli and scads of fresh coriander. This is the type of dish you’re not going to get anywhere else, and I really recommend ordering it with a serving of the flatbread so that you can mop the bowl clean. Perfect for the last few cold nights Melbourne has in store us.

As should be obvious, Bayte was everything that all the press and stories from friends had promised it to be. It’s possibly a *touch* expensive, but I would argue that the quality of what you receive more than shores up those few extra dollars. Besides the food, the staff are lovely, the space is so nice to sit in (seriously go back to that Where’s the Beef post and look at at the pics), it is just a complete package. Get on it, and don’t blame me once you OD on flatbread.

Bayte

56 Johnston Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9415 8818

www.bayte.com.au

Rumi

In further birthday related adventures, I decided to mix it up a little this year in terms of the venue for my family’s dinner treat. Ordinarily we can all be relied upon to choose either Cantonese or Thai restaurants for our family birthday feasts, but I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore a cuisine I wasn’t as familiar with at a fancy purveyor of said cuisine. My knowledge of Lebanese food has basically sat at “felafel and hummus” for far too long, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Rumi.

The restaurant itself is really quite beautiful, with a corner spot that is all windows, soft orange, intimate lighting and tasteful themed touches, like intricately curled metal lamps, and Middle Eastern cookbooks propping up at the bar.

Given that we are a family of greedy gutses, it seemed that going with one of the banquet options was the best route. Once knowing I was a vegetarian, the staff offered to augment the regular banquet dishes with some special vegie ones for me, which resulted in a mountain of food!

First of all was the flatbread, fluffy rounds all coiled up in silver cups and served with crudites (pieces of fresh vegetables and also some pickles), housemade labne and white bean hummus. It takes a lot for dips to be exciting, but that’s exactly what these were – the labne was tart, creamy, yet surprisingly light, while the white bean hummus was all lemony, tahini goodness, kind of reminiscent of my favourite white bean dip that I make at home all the time, but tahini-er (totes a word). And the flatbread! Pillowy and soft, yet with just the right amount of chew, ever so more-ish.

But let’s not just fill up on bread! Served alongside the flatbread were the sigara boregi, cigar shaped pastries filled with haloumi, feta and kasseri. I could have done with about ten more of these little babies instead of the one I had to be satisfied with so that everyone could try one. So tasty! Light, crunchy pastry encasing a salty, cheesy filling with the teeniest touch of spice.

My first individual vegie dish was the burnt eggplant with Persian buttermilk dressing, mint and crispy onions. The eggplant was beautifully soft and quite mildly flavoured. It was pleasant but not whizz-bang memorable.

I was most looking forward to the fried cauliflower with caramelised onions, currants and pie nuts, and boy howdy, it did not disappoint. This was the best kind of fried vegetable goodness, all sweet honeyed onions slapping up against charred cauliflower florets in a combo known as deliciousness.

A small bowl of broad beans with soft onion, almonds and bastourma was my next pointedly vegie dish. While most of the flavours involved were quite pleasing, the broad beans had tipped into slightly bitter territory, and since I tend to like broad beans when they’re early season and more sweet, this dish didn’t particularly grab me.

What did grab me was the BBQ asparagus with egg and lemon sauce and a sprinkling of nigella seeds. So simply done, but SO delicious, all caramelised, slightly burnt ‘gus undercut by tart lemon, soooo good.

The most wildly received dish by the whole table was the freekah salad with almonds, ewe’s milk feta and pomegranate dressing. It was the first time a few of us had had freekah before, and my mum in particular was very taken with it’s nutty flavour, and the tasty, clean-palated nature of the dish as a whole.

My next vegie plate was a fennel dish, with the fennel lightly braised in a creamy and slightly tomatoey sauce, tossed through with crispy pita curls. The aniseed flavour of the fennel did get a bit too much about halfway through the dish (and I’m someone who really likes aniseed! Go figure), but I loved loading up the pita curls with soft fennel and sauce.

There was also this amazing cos lettuce and herb salad with sweet and sour dressing – literally it was just greens and radish rounds, but it was so deceptively tasty!

This was so, so much food that I very nearly didn’t take up on the waitress’s offer of dessert. But it seemed a shame not to have a least a tiny sweet treat to round the meal off with, so we had a little nibble of some turkish delight and halva. The turkish delight was quite nice, though a little bit tough at the edges, like it had been left out in the fridge for a bit too long. Megan went mad for the halva, and I thought it was pretty great too, all pistachio’d deliciousness. A pot of fragrant┬ámint tea was a leavening and refreshing end to it all (although Mum and Megan, who finished with the Turkish coffee, reported back that it was kind of horrible).

Rumi provided a really varied, interesting exploration of a cuisine that I have long wanted to be more intimately knowledgeable of. There was a high proportion of truly memorable dishes experienced, and even the less memorable ones weren’t bad, just more of an acquired taste. I’m certainly keen to try Rumi’s sister restaurant now, the ‘Lebanese pizza’ purveying The Moor’s Head. I wonder if there’s a hummus pizza? Someone should get on that.

Rumi

116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9388 8255

rumirestaurant.com.au