Address: 56 Johnston Street Collingwood, VIC, 3066
Phone: (03) 9415 8818
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7am until 5pm
Weekends, 8am until 5pm
When you were on your way to work this morning, did you order your regular coffee without blinking? Did a habitual, monotone drawl exit your mouth and mumble, “skinnylattewithonesugarplease”?
While you were being predictable, I was drinking a freshly brewed Lebanese coffee, poured from a long-handled pot called a ‘rakweh’. It’s a strong, thick brew served in espresso-sized cups and usually flavoured with cardamom. It’s what every long black aspires to be, in the same way Jennifer Anniston wishes she was as exotic as Angelina Jolie. Plus it arrived on a platter with 'basbousa', a sweet, semolina cake drizzled in rosewater.
Bayte, which means house in Arabic, is the first venture of owners Conor Roverts and chef Julie Touma. Although the Lebanese coffee at this new Middle Eastern-inspired eatery is divine, their Allpress lattes hit the spot as well (yes, of course I had both). The owners are familiar with the hospitality industry, having worked as chefs in Lorne over the last couple of years. Conor runs around the café chatting to her customers, while Julie is in the kitchen keeping traditional Lebanese cooking alive and sharing it with the public. Julie learnt the ins and outs of Lebanese delights from her nan. In fact, her grandmother came into Bayte earlier in the week and gave the food an authentic tick of approval... although like all grandmothers, she also provided some constructive criticism!
There main reason Bayte is so damn exciting is because it is the most refreshing brunch spot to hit Melbourne for some time. You won’t find the ubiquitous smashed avocado with feta or corn fritters here. Instead, the dishes are bona fide Lebanese brekkies with more than just a pinch of the Middle East.
We sampled two items from the breakfast menu. The first was the Beyd bil Zaatar: perfectly poached eggs coated in the herby Middle Eastern spice mixture and served next to a creamy, homemade babaganoush stacked with garlic. It was paired with pumpkin kibbeh (a slab made from pumpkin, onion, a rice staple called burghul and spices) and warm flatbread, made onsite.
Also ordered was the ^Ameh, porridge made from pearl barley that popped in the mouth. Sweetened with orange blossom honey and served with spiced poached pears and a small handful of crushed pistachio nuts, it scored points for consistency as well as taste.
Bayte has the kind of menu that makes you uneasy, purely because you want to try it all. Next time I’ll order the Beyd me^li bil Summa^el Kafta Meshwi (fried eggs with sumac and barbequed lamb kafta skewers), or the Atayef bil Joz (semolina pancakes filled with walnuts, drizzled with rosewater and served with Ashtah and pistachio nuts). If you can’t decide what to gobble, go for the breakfast mezze, a selection of dips, grilled meat, fried eggs and crudities for either one or two people.
For lunch, there is a mixture of wraps (think sardine with fresh tomato, babaganoush and Lebanese cheese, or grilled lamb kafta with hummus onion and tabouleh) and a selection of mezze. Aside from the breakfast mezze, nothing on the menu is over $13.50.
For now, Bayte only does breakfast and lunch, but dinner will be up and running in the future. Both the warm interior and comfortable courtyard are begging to be used in the evening by local folk, who will definitely be craving some mezze and a glass of red after they visit.
The courtyard is a cosy space complete with wooden bench seating and a roller door decorated with a cartoonish image of a man on a donkey, drinking Lebanese coffee no doubt. Wooden plant boxes are fastened to the pale orange walls and umbrellas stand guard, should the sun decide to come out.
Inside, ornate light fittings from Istanbul are suspended from the ceiling, and Middle Eastern objects such as shisha pipes and decorative plates are peppered around the place.
Bayte is a split-level eatery, the bottom of which houses the coffee and cash register area, separated from the rest of the café by a brick bench. A small selection of sweets, including muffins and Lebanese treats, are displayed on the polished wooden bench top. Seating options vary from larger communal tables to bench spots and seats for two and feature a sleek, dark wood design.
There is a wonderful Lebanese proverb that states, “He who has money can eat ice cream in hell.” Okay, so it doesn’t relate directly to Bayte (firstly, they don’t serve ice cream, and secondly, you won’t have to reach deep into your pockets for a decent feed). But if you are after a truly unique Melbourne breakfast spot with a fragment of flair, an ounce of originality and a touch of tradition, Bayte is for you.