Urban Bites - All New Saturday Brunch, Lebanese style.

As many of you may know, I've lived in the Middle-east for a good one year, worked for a Lebanese cafe for another year and a half whilst in Sydney and was blessed to have sufficient exposure to the cuisine, at least, much more than a lot of my fellow dining companions. Not to boast, but I was truly appreciative for a middle-eastern cuisine vocabulary that extended beyond hummus and shish kebabs.  Hence when the invite to Urban Bites - the restaurant inconspicuously sounding more small plate concept than a communal Lebanese joint - I was truly flipping out. My memories of breakfast plates, aromatic hummus awarma and the sprightly impressions of herbaceous fattoush in summer had me hitting the ground running.

Urban Bites located on Telok Ayer Road sees a bevy of activity during weekend lunches. Quick Shish Tawook wraps and healthy vibes associated with hummus have been well received by the surrounding working community. However, 10 years into the business and the restaurant is seeing a major overhaul by Chef Khanashat's daughter Christine Khanashat who is determined to update a large majority of the dishes to appeal to the well-heeled crowd's sophisticated palates. With young and talented Lebanese Executive Chef, Haroutioun Ara Sayegh taking over reigns on the stoves, things have taken a drastic turn - for one, the restaurant now opens on Saturday, offering an authentic Lebanese brunch. It's clever, its a breathe of fresh air where champagne brunches and staple egg offerings are a dime in a dozen.

The space spills contemporary vibes, red-brick dishevelled walls, an exposed stone oven ablaze in the corner and eye-catching blue banquette seating stowed against the walls. The space is lit like a hobbit's den and there really isn't a special feature in the space that screams for attention.

This is a reflection of its unfussy menu. Start off with the Original Hummus ($13). The Lebanese feast begins with warm pita bread served with some of the silkiest chickpea dip I have ever been served. Tahini is especially predominant here and the perfect spike of lemon juice constitutes a classic of uncommon depth and seriousness. I loved it, and even more so when slathered on the Cheese Manouche ($16) -  stuffed lavishly with four Lebanese cheeses. I diligently scraped the dish of hummus of every last morsel in accompaniment to the crusty baked bread. 

Not your usual tomato stew heavy Shashouka, Urban Bite's version consists of pulled lamb and three poached eggs steeped in a shallow bath of house made tomato sauce that forms a coagulated mess at the bottom of the shallow dish. The Eggs with Lamb Shashouka ($20) is a game changer, the amount of care lavished on the slow cooked lamb shoulder bathed in aromatic Lebanese spices upping the ante. $20 may seem an awful lot for egg, but pardon me, this is good, and you'll want to eat it slowly, with frequent breaks to rhapsodise on the harmony of this perfectly composed brunch plate. The simple combination is elevated to greatness with deep fried kale leaves, a tasty somewhat bitter contrast to put the rich combination into perspective.

Vegetarians, Urban Bites has got your back covered. The Fettet Cauliflower ($15) fuels the fantasies with roasted nobles of cauliflower lying on a frothy bath of velvety homemade yogurt. It manage that trick of being both invigorating and indulgent. The killer detail is the deep fried crispy pita chips -  a logical extension of textural contrast. Some dishes are cooked to be admired. Others are to be a eaten with vigour (and silent guilt). This is both.

The more commonly recognised big rich flavours of Middle Eastern grilled meats are evident in the next dish - The Mixed Grill ($33) festooned with shish taouk. shikaf lahmeh (beef tenderloin), lamb kafta and kafta chicken and flanked by a tiny dish of toum (pure garlic whipped delirious heights) so delicious that you'll proceed to use fries to scoop up the remainder. Indeed, it's hard to believe that the same kitchen churning out the classic vegetarian styled dishes could project the heated vibes onto its grilled meats. I won't pretend; this is a dish I would order on a whim and not want to share. I'm impolite like that.

I doubt I would have ordered the Lebanese Big Breakfast ($20) mainly because it takes a certain amount of meat to satisfy me; but I'm glad I got to tread around it. Soft labneh (middle eastern cream cheese made from strained yogurt) doused in EVOO and zaatar has all the live cultures to get your systems kick-started in the morning. If you're looking for something a little unique for brunch. This is it.

Dessert sends me off in maniac fits. I had my qualms at first about the Osmaliyeh ($12) seeing my deep confounded love for manager. But the good creamy thing studded with crunchy filo pastry turned out to be a prodigal son of sorts, the same magic sticks meets clotted cream curds, strawberries and a sweet syrup of orange blossom and rose water. I find myself wondering if anybody would judge if I sank too much syrup into my dish after an absurd claim that I detested rose water. Then I look down and see I've cleaned the plate, albeit too gregariously.

Looking for a magic carpet ride? This sweet treat will take your palate on a couple of flavour somersaults, doing a smooth exit out the door in a pleasant food comatose state. Urban Bites, the name still baffles me. But where Lebanese cuisine is concerned, there is vindication.

Urban Bites new Saturday brunch is available on Saturdays from 9 30am to 4pm (last order at 3 30pm).

Urban Bites
161 Telok Ayer St.
t: 6327 9460

Operating Hours:
Mon - Fri: 11am - 10pm;
Sat: 9 30am - 10pm

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