Name: Laylak Contact: 25 Toronto St., 647-368-8838, laylak.ca, @laylak.toronto Neighbourhood: Financial District Previously: Mirto Owners: Youssef Harb and Hashem Almasri Chef: Hazem Al Hamwi Accessibility: Washrooms on main floor; a few steps up to the main dining area
Laylak co-owner Youssef Harb, who immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1985, has had an eventful career in the entertainment business. For the past decade, he’s run a Mediterranean cruise company called Stars on Board that features Middle Eastern celebrity entertainers. (He also shoots a reality TV show, currently on its ninth season, that follows the talent during these cruises.) Though the concept of taking it easy seems foreign to Harb—he swears by power naps and claims to sleep only two hours a night—he sees Laylak (pronounced “lie-lack”) as a relaxing project and something of a homecoming.
The menu features traditional Lebanese dishes, each with a modern twist or a touch of fine-dining flair. Spreads—like muhammara, a dip of pulverized roasted red pepper, walnuts and pomegranate—are artfully plated, finished with rich olive oil and bright microgreens, and served alongside chef Hazem Al Hamwi’s pillowy pita. A highlight of the hot appetizers is the Laylak pasterma, a house-baked flatbread topped with local aged beef, heirloom tomatoes and mildly salty akkawi cheese. Mains include kibbeh safarjaleah, sweet-and-sour meatballs prepared with quince and pomegranate, and whole grilled branzino with some heat courtesy of urfa chilies.
Mediterranean influences carry through to the bar menu. While the wine list covers heavy-hitter regions like France and Italy, sommelier Lorie O’Sullivan makes a point of highlighting Lebanese bottles. Her top pick is the 2020 Jeune Red by Chateau Musar, which confidently takes the place of Cabernet in the by-the-glass section. Bar manager Wei Zhou is also committed to telling the restaurant’s story through his drinks. His eponymous Laylak is a balanced cocktail with sour and sweet notes and hints of lavender, a plant native to the Mediterranean and Middle East. The gin-based beverage is finished with a sprinkling of butterfly pea powder that turns it light purple.
With high ceilings, elegant padded walls, pillowy ultrasuede banquette, custom floral light fixtures and colourful blown-glass bottles, the atmosphere at Laylak is like dining inside of Jeannie’s bottle.
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