We've been meaning to check out Bayte for ages, but every time we've felt like cafe food with a Middle Eastern vibe we've opted for the lazy (and consistently brilliant) option of Mankoushe. We finally got our act together on the weekend and trekked off to Collingwood.
It's a cosy place - particularly during miserable weather when the courtyard is out of action. We lucked into the last vacant table at about 12:30 and then watched a steady stream of people turned away or forced to wait. The breakfast menu has some excellent options: walnut-filled semolina pancakes with rosewater, pistachios and Persian floss ($15), zaatar spiced poached eggs with hommus and pumpkin and pinenut kibbeh ($14.50) or baked eggs with okra and tomato spiced stew served with shanklish ($15).
We pondered for a while, but eventually decided that the mezza options on the lunch menu would give us a broader sampling of what Bayte do. Cindy started out with rosewater soda ($3.80) while I put away a coffee or two.
But onto the food. First up a really excellent baba ganoush ($5) that had a deep smoky flavour and smeared perfectly onto the freshly baked khoubiz el saage (chargrilled flatbread, $3.50). The bread was so good that we went back for a second (despite the slightly annoying fact that they charge per piece).
Next up: a serve of the kibbeh rass bi la'teen (fried pumpkin kibbeh filled with caramelised onions and almonds, served on hummus, $7.50). This was possibly my favourite dish of the meal - the sweetness of the pumpkin nicely offset by the onion and hummus and the whole thing built on a solid base of frying.
We shifted from fried goods to salads for the next course: roasted quince salad with zaatar labne balls, pomegranate and an orange and white vinegarette ($15). This was almost dessert-like in its sweetness - at least until you stumbled across one of the whole roasted garlic cloves dotted throughout. The quince reminded me a bit of poached pear, which worked perfectly with the spiced labne balls. I could have used more labne, but I suppose cheese is best served in moderation.
Cindy's never seen a roast potato she didn't want to try, so we were always going to order the batata meshwi (potatoes barbecued and served with homemade tomato sauce, $7).
They were a complete success - look at that crispy skin! The sauce tasted more like a slightly fruity chutney than a simple tomato sauce and worked just as well smeared on leftover bread as it did on the spuds.
Our final course was the one I was most excited by: falafel with almond taratour, radish and baby coriander ($5 a pop).
First of all: $5 per felafel is a bit of a stretch, when places like Tiba's, Half Moon or Mankoushe crank them out so much cheaper. To be fair: these are biggish felafel balls and pretty good ones too - heavy with spices and with a smooth sauce on top. The radishes provide a bit of freshness to cut through, but I must admit I was hoping for something a bit more exciting.
On the whole though, Bayte was very, very impressive - an interesting menu executed well. There are loads of vegetarian options, and vegans could probably scrape by (I imagine if you called ahead they'd be reasonably accommodating - the menu has plenty of veganisable options). Service was efficient and reasonably friendly in spite of a fairly intense lunchtime rush. It's not the cheapest lunch in town (we would up at around $60 total for lunch + non-alcoholic drinks), but you don't walk away feeling like you've overpaid - there's a quality to the experience that lives up to the prices. I'm pretty keen to try out some of the breakfast dishes at Bayte, so I imagine we'll be revisiting before too long.
Nothing but rave reviews for Bayte - check out Petit Miamx, I'm so hungree, thehangrybitch, MEL: HOT OR NOT, Fitzroyalty, Foodie About Town, Erinn-Louise, EAT AND BE MERRY FOR TOMORROW WE DIE(T), We Love Melbourne, Poppet's Window and The Mob Review.
56 Johnston Street, Collingwood
veg breakfasts $6.50-$15, mezza dishes $3.50-$15 (you're looking at about $20 a head for a big meal)
Accessibility: Bayte is split level - there's a small step up on entry and then another couple of steps up to the top level. Things are pretty jammed, particularly when there's a rush on. We ordered at the table and paid at a medium-level counter.