In my never-ending quest for the perfect weekend food stop, I visited two places that are strong on social media and received good recommendations. One of them fell significantly short of the mark, which is why I am doing them a favour and writing about the other one instead.
It is said that there is safety in numbers, and Al Manara street is certainly becoming an unlikely but popular safe haven for restaurants. What with Jones, Reem, Bertins and others all contributing to a street that resembles a Tetris game with SUVs and Audis, Bystro Restaurant and Pastry House is in good company.
Jones the Grocer has spawned another entrepreneur ex-employee who felt he too, could ride the wave of the gastro-chilled out restaurants that are popping up in Dubai like faster than you can say Sriracha hot sauce. A word of warning however, Bystro’s entrance is abrupt, sudden and unforgiving. One minute you are chatting away with your partner, oblivious to what lays behind the innocent looking glass doors. A swoosh of cold air and a blink of the eye later and you find yourself center stage of a busy restaurant, with a sea of faces staring at you, mid fork, as if you were expected to break into a cabaret routine for their enjoyment. It’s like a cross between Come Dine With Me, and So You Think You Can Dance. It is the stuff of my nightmares.
At first glance, the restaurant is busy, eye catching and exciting. The table configuration is erratic enough to create some unruliness and bring character to the room, whilst still maintaining sufficient order to stop it from falling into utter chaos. The bare bulbs bring that Melbourne industrial feel and the blues, purples and beiges of the furniture add a depth to the area. There is a large feature wall at the back that has some impressive chalk artwork/lettering and I can imagine the staff hissing at children as they innocently rub off various letters on a daily basis. The chalk man has a good gig there, looking at the number of children running around.
The menu is a double-sided card affair with a nice selection of café/pub items across breakfast, sandwiches, mains and salads. There is a hole-punched subsidiary menu that looks like it was put together by one of the children after they had rubbed off some chalk lettering. With an establishment that has such sharp owners and intelligent social media conversation, I would have expected something better looking for specials menu. They even have the hole-punch hole protector stickers that you can only buy in posh public schools or one of those Japanese shops that sell everything. The main menu was strewn with spelling errors and typos and sealed with a lipstick mark at the top – Rose Pink by Mac according to the Serb – and she knows her lipstick colours. I have explained before about the importance of the menu to a restaurant – it states your intent as an establishment, and I just don’t know what a menu with hole-punch protector stickers, typos and lipstick is intending to do with the food.
Nevertheless, Bystro was super busy and that certainly brings character and more importantly, credibility to the place. The staff were attentive and engaged – not manic, stress inducing busy, but enough to keep the place buzzing nicely. They have their Italian imported, custom-made cake display in the center of the room and I can see children, after rubbing off chalk and hole-punching specials menus, slapping their sticky fingers all over the glass and the staff hissing again at them. Perhaps. However, the cake display was awkward and I’m not sure it bought anything to my experience, apart from supporting that they have written pastry house on their menu. Certainly, in a busy restaurant, walking around the display proves to be difficult and clumsy.
Anyway, onto the food. Suitably impressed with the chalk artwork offerings, I opted for the roast with all the trimmings, which was sirloin beef with roast potato, vegetables and a Yorkie, which I can only imagine was called that because some pesky kid had rubbed out the rest of the letters. My partner homed in on the coronation chicken sandwich with the accuracy of a laser guided missile. Add to that a wonderful Fentiman’s drink and the waiter’s job was done.
Coronation chicken was, of course, one of the dishes served at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 1953. If Bystro’s coronation chicken was served back then, perhaps Prince Phillip might have been more agreeable in his years to come. It may appear to be a simple sandwich, but it is anything but that. The bread, a dark, soft wedge of baking mastery supporting delicately spiced, pulled chicken, enhanced with a charming grape and mango chutney and served with a cute paper bag full of seasoned French fries. It was a sandwich fit for a queen, and rather fitting that the Serb was eating it.
My roast, however, did not fare so well. The dish arrived at the sort of temperature that could only be achieved by microwave or a trip to the surface of the sun. The gravy was a gelatinous, over seasoned tidal wave that tsunami’d its way over everything on my bowl leaving the carrots and green beans holding onto each other for dear life. The meat, after I had pulled it to safety onto my Yorkshire pudding safety raft, was quite good, although sliced a little too thin for me to get any of the chew and texture that I like with my beef. My suggestion would be to give the chef a smaller ladle and allow the stars of the dish to shine a little more.
The cakes were chosen from the display and the carrot cake, although small in portion was big in flavour. Moist, decedent and delightful, the carrot cake was a little piece of sunshine at the end of my fork.
Bystro has found a voice in the busy and loud gourmet-gastro restaurant market. They have some excellent foundations to build on and although my roast missed its mark, the place was sufficiently busy for me to have faith that the rest of the menu is doing enough to create fans and keep people coming back.