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Byblos, Bangalore

Given that multiple surveys proclaim Italian to be India’s favourite foreign cuisine, it’s a wonder we haven’t been as enthusiastic about the foods of other countries of the Mediterranean rim. Apart from the occasional high-end Spanish or Syrian restaurant and the odd doner kebab or shawarma stall, India hasn’t seen much from the region, especially in the mid-to-high budget range. That may be about to change: Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant that opened shop in Bangalore in May, has already garnered repeat visits from the cognoscenti and the curious.

The good stuff

The food, undoubtedly: It’s good verging on excellent. Tipping their hat to the local market, they have a couple of paneer (cottage cheese) dishes and tandoori twists (in the falafel and shawarma wraps) but the majority of the menu stays true to Lebanese flavours. This can be off-putting for those accustomed to Indian masala-laden kebabs and gravies but the clean tastes at Byblos—the Greek name of a Phoenician city in present-day Lebanon, according to Wikipedia—are a stamp of their authenticity.

Over repeat visits, we’ve figured that the cuisine lends itself to eating out with a large group. The small-plates principle of Lebanese eating brings several manageable helpings of mezze to the table, ticking all the boxes and eliminating the long faces inevitable at, say, an office lunch party. What’s more, the restaurant is happy to customize the set platters: If you don’t want the Vine Leaves (dolmas, stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley), just ask for a second helping of the hummus (the chickpea dip that is probably Lebanon’s best-known export) or Mutabbal (smoked eggplant purée with tahini). For up to four people, I’d recommend the basic Mini Mezze Cold & Hot platter ( 475) and an extra serving of Babaghanoush (tantalizingly close to the baingan bharta, made deliciously different by a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, 150), Cheese Sambousek (light, very more-ish pasties stuffed with feta cheese, 210) or Meat Kibbeh (bulgur wheat casings packed with minced lamb and almonds, 190). All the mezze orders are accompanied by yeasty pita breads; they come at no charge and it’s easy to lose track of how many one is putting away.

If you’ve held back on the mezze—a pity, in my book—the charcoal grill platters are the go-to main course. These meat-heavy dishes, however, didn’t work too well for me: I found the Kebab Entabli ( 525) spicy-hot and some of the meats in the Byblos Mixed Grill ( 550) were definitely overdone. Grazers and vegetarians are better served here: On one visit, two of us followed up the mezze with Chicken Shawarma ( 275) and Samkeh Harra (chopped fish fillet in a bed of veggies, 280) and just about had space for the decadent Baklava ( 275). The portion sizes are generous.

The restaurant itself, spread across two floors, is spacious and well-lit. Reserve a table on the lower floor, which offers a view of the chefs at work at the brick oven and the shawarma spit and ensures the breadbasket is replenished regularly.

The not-so-good

The service, alas. Though I’ve noticed a slight improvement over three visits, it still leaves a lot to be desired, especially on the weekends. Not just the waitstaff, even the suits can be clueless about the food and its specifics. Some dishes on the menu were unavailable each time we were there. The menu itself is riddled with spelling mistakes.

Talk plastic

An iced tea-mezze-main-course-dessert meal would come to around 750 per head and allow for a doggy bag.

Byblos, 842/A, 100 Feet Road, Indiranagar, Bangalore. For reservations, call 25200411.

Sumana Mukherjee

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The outpost at Imbiss

Like most beer guzzlers in the city, we mark our calendars well in advance for the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce’s Oktoberfest, held annually at the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Monster-sized beer steins that require both hands for lifting, the best-of selections of wursts, and tabletop dancing at previous editions of the event have confirmed that Mumbai is ready for its own biergarten. But we only have two microbreweries that haven’t made any of their own beer since they opened earlier this year.

The latest outpost of Imbiss, a meat-only restaurant that opened in Bandra last September, is as close as we’ll ever get to a rustic Bavarian beer tavern. Strategically located just off Colaba market and much more spacious than the Bandra restaurant without a bar, the German-themed restaurant with a cavernous hallway, exposed brick walls and dim lighting, is perfect for residents of Cusrow Baug and homesick tourists tired of the “no beef/pork" signs at fast-food chains. The four-page menu is designed to surprise both meat-lovers (with blood sausage, quail, ox tail and tongue dishes) and vegetarians (Egg Plant Schnitzel is listed as its only veggie main).

The good stuff

It took us a good 15 minutes to go over just the list of beer foods and starters, handpicked by Homer Simpson: bacon dip, bacon and cheese bits fried in bacon fat, grilled cheese and bacon sandwich and spicy bacon-beef-duck cakes. My Parsi dinner companion couldn’t stop gushing over her “dream menu": Pork Spare Ribs, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Roast Tongue and Steak with Saurkraut, Bacon and Sausage. With a little help from owner Peter Mawiong, we finally paired an order of the Pork Spare Ribs ( 450) and German Potato Salad and Brats (Bratwurst, 175) with icy- cold lagers ( 200).

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Creamy Bratwurst

The not-so-good

Nearly all the food we sampled felt a little too salty and doused in excess gravy. The steak specialist who accompanied me complained her steak ( 275) was over-spiced, even after she had instructed the owner to let the meat shine on its own. They were out of the much-hyped rabbit stew, duck eggs, pretzels and a few other weekend specials at dinnertime on a Sunday.

Talk plastic

A meal for two with two starters, two mains and a breadbasket is under 1,200. Nearly all the starters, mains and sandwiches are priced at 100-300, save for house specials. Chilled suds start at 220 (with taxes). The Sausage, Pretzel and Beer combo is for 300. The restaurant didn’t have its credit card terminal in place at the time of our visit.

Imbiss, 3, Pipewala Building, 4th Pasta Lane, Colaba (22020455).

Prerna Makhija

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