Byblos Uptown marks the third location for ICONINK, with Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth catching lightning in a bottle for the now eponymous brand, with locations in Miami and downtown Toronto, and they’re only getting started.
This location revamps Mark McEwan’s recently shuttered North 44, a modern open concept space that was overdue for some tweaking. The Yonge and Eglinton corridor is bursting with new condo life, and quite a lot of high profile restaurants (Bar Buca, cough cough) have opened recently. It’s a signal the city is maturing, suburbs are are not relegated to just chain restaurants or pubs, they’re ripe for this sort of project, Byblos will no doubt be a hit in Midtown.
The two level space is rattan-chic, with soaring textured artwork covering the walls, and hand-woven basket lanterns competing for your eye. The living room layout proves lounging can actually be this easy. It’s downright cozy, with pillows, rugs and houseplants layering the look. Studio Munge, a familiar collaborator with ICONINK delivered on the project, with a wood burning stove in the open kitchen anchoring the warmth of the room. In fun design nod, Alessandro from Studio Munge inverted the carpet, giving the stairs and raised seating area a boost and an unexpected look.
The upstairs bar area is eclectic but connected to the downstairs courtesy the rustic lighting. Alessandro calls it ‘purposefully slapped together’, a statement that echoes his comfort mandate, it’s vibrant and rich, yet approachable and familiar. Live music will be a component of the weekend, adding a purpose to plan a night out without subway ride attached to it.
The drinks are top notch, naturally, and feature two that are created just for uptown. The hand-shaken Uptown Girl gets a sweet touch from housemade honey syrup, and a naughty note from a spray of absinthe. Seven Wonders is a gin based cocktail with of-the-moment egg white foam. Cocktails start at $15, and feature a section dedicated to non-alcoholic options highlighted by their tea punch service (starting at $38 for 2-4 people).
The core of the food menu is similar to the other locations, a point of pedigree for the brand. They do things carefully, never rushing into projects and it pays off. I’m currently working on my resume after Executive Chef Ben Heaton rejected my request for the recipe for the Roasted Lamb Shoulder for two ($55), a dish so perfect that of course it’s meant to be shared. I would be tempted to return and order it for one, reserving anything I can’t finish for a souvenir lunch the next day. M’taabal an eggplant dish is chef’s favourite, with earthy cabbage, mint, and some of Chef’s wonderful in housemade barberry bread. More shareable plates include the Roasted Red Beets ($14) with crushed pistachio, on labneh with fennel and more bread. Meatier proteins come in raw form with Steak Tartare ($19) and a dollop of labneh. No one argues with more labneh.
Almost everything on the menu hits the fire on the open flame. In house made breads are various and highlight the pastry team’s abilities using fire to bake bread. The mp West Coast Cod falls apart after meeting the flames, and rests in a butter sauce with dried lime rose petals.
Byblos Uptown might be following in the footsteps of its southern sister restaurants but it’s got an identity in its own light. It’s rare when destination worthy dining suddenly occupies the same street you go to spin class on, after all these years, but for a time, that title belonged to North 44. The torch has been passed, and the future is bright friends.
Byblos opens Thursday, December 6th, and is available for reservations here. Thanks to the Byblos team for the invite! All photos by Libby Roach.