Laylak: The vibe
I saw photos of Laylak before visiting, but the ethereal romance of this new Toronto restaurant can’t be captured in a still image. Follow the floating sparkle-encrusted, periwinkle butterflies and the golden script into a fine dining restaurant that will instantly enchant you. Just try to pry your eyes away from the intricate chandelier, a glowing garden of interwoven gold leaves and white flowers suspended above marble tables and velvety cream banquettes.
The atmosphere manages to strike a delicate balance between vivacious and elegant — bright Arabic melodies hum over excited chatter that never grows too loud. The service is attentive and friendly, yet reserved. On the night we visited, co-owners Youssef Harb and Hashem Almasri were both present, talking with guests and even bringing the occasional dish to a table. Laylak is warm, inviting and opulent all at once.
Laylak: What's on the menu
Executive chef Hazem Al Hamwi’s menu of authentic and halal Lebanese dishes is bursting with exciting flavour and texture combinations. The cheese rolls, crunchy fried cylinders of savoury halloumi and akawi cheese, are drizzled with honey and served with watermelon rounds, creating a balance of salty and sweet, crispy and juicy that is bewitchingly addictive. It’s an elevated dish reminiscent of Al Hamwi’s childhood — his mother would often offer him cheese and watermelon as a quick snack.
I’ve never found dips to be anything worth writing home about, but Laylak’s are the exception. The baba ghanoug is the best I’ve ever had — perfectly smoky, savoury and creamy. The labneh comes on its own, but I prefer it in the beetroot labneh, topped with arugula and pickled beets that are fresh and earthy.
The kibbeh safarjaleah features crispy pockets of ground beef treasure that come swimming in a zesty tomato sauce with glassy pearl onions and quince seeds for extra crunch, while the kefta and orfali kebabs are deliciously seasoned. Grilled octopus comes on a bed of herbs that look like decoration, but each tender bite is enhanced by the leafy greens. At Laylak, everything is full of intention.
The muhalabiah is the perfect syrupy sweet ending to a meal at Laylak. The creamy pudding is drizzled with rose syrup and topped with crumbled pistachios, giving it floral notes and balancing the sweetness with a slightly savoury crunch. The ashta with honey is another great dessert on the relatively long list. While the cottage-cheese-like texture isn't my favourite, I love the way the flavours mingle with sliced strawberries and honey.
Laylak: The drinks
The cocktail menu was still under construction during our visit, but they're already serving some knock-out tipples that deserve a permanent spot. Laylak has plenty of classic cocktails on offer, but the creative specialty cocktails are where it's at. The eponymous Laylak cocktail is as delicate and floral as the space itself. Blossoming with lavender, elderflower, butterfly pea, lemon, mint and gin, it's a fresh and sweet sipper that I could drink all night long. It also comes in a virgin iteration, alongside a long list of delicious sounding mocktails for non-imbibers who still want to enjoy themselves.
Next up: the Beirut Rose. Made with rum, chartreuse, rose water, cynar and apple juice, it has a herbal, slightly medicinal flavour that's balanced by floral notes. Neither sweet, nor bitter, it's a strong cocktail with a great roundness to it. Those who would usually go for an old fashioned should opt for The Phoenix, a delicious bourbon-forward serve with hints of cherry.
The wine list spans from Niagara to New Zealand, with Italy, France and Lebanon in between. Though, we opted for more cocktails with our mains instead of exploring the vino.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $140 before tax and tip
25 Toronto St.; laylak.ca