It is not easy to open a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Singapore; most of the ones we had been are already permanently closed. But Urban Bites at Telok Ayer, which serves Lebanese food, was started by chef-owner Ghazi Khanashat, also known as the “Godfather” of Lebanese cuisine, TEN years ago and it is still going strong.
Now the family business is passed to his daughter, Christine, who runs it with a Lebanese chef, Haroutioun Ara Sayegh. Together, they are adding modern touches to Khanashat’s original and traditional recipes while staying true to the spirit of Lebanese flavours. Whenever possible, they use sustainable food sources and bring in ingredients from Lebanon. They have also included a weekend brunch menu, which we tried along with some signature items and some new dishes.
Weekend Brunch Menu
The cheese manouche ($16) is a flat bread stuffed with four cheese, jeddal, feta, mozzarella, and akkawi, and baked in the stone oven. For the Lebanese pizza that uses four cheeses, I find it not cheesy enough; it can be more.
The fettet cauliflower ($15) isn’t for everyone–someone at my table didn’t like it–but I love it. Garlic-chili roasted cauliflower and toasted crunchy chickpeas are doused in a homemade yogurt and then it is topped with crispy pita chips and pomegranate seeds. Accompanied with bread. If you like yogurt and other sour things like me, you’ll like this. But it would be better if the cauliflower fills the bowl and then yogurt is poured into it; currently, the vegetable is floating on the white sea.
Mr Fitness’s favorite is the lamb shashouka ($20) but it’s not mine. Pulled lamb and three poached eggs are served in a skillet with housemade tomato sauce, feta cheese, kale leaves, and a side of bread. My experience with shashouka is that it is tomatoy that gives an umami, but this one has little tomato sauce, which makes it feel like it’s eggs on lamb.
But my least, least favorite has to be the Lebanese Big Breakfast ($20): Labueh yogurt cheese, fattet hummus, bread, hardboiled egg, assorted vegetables. There is no focus in this dish and it is a mere composite of elements taken from other dishes.
The hummus ($18), which is made freshly twice a day, is probably my favourite dish here. I’m not a fan of chickpeas but there is something so addictive about this mashed chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil.
I like meat so I finished the mixed grill ($33) but to be honest, the char-grilled kebabs–chicken, beef tenderloin, minced lamb, and minced chicken–are a tad overdone and tough.
Ooh I like this one. Falafel salad ($18): mesclun greens, cucumber, beetroot, avocado, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, falafel, with tahini dressing. It’s clean and refreshing and packed with superfoods. Very nice for lunch!
I couldn’t appreciate the dessert, osmaliyeh ($12), although everyone else did. It’s a three-tier dessert of strawberries, homemade sweet clotted cream, and flash-fried filo strings, with a side of rose syrup. I don’t like the crunchy filo as dessert–it’s like eating a snack–and I don’t like pouring syrup because it’s additional sugar.
On the whole, Urban Bites, the stalwart of Lebanese cooking in Singapore, is a sincere and interesting restaurant, and there will be many years to come with the young management and constant striving for improvement.
161 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068615
T: +65 6327 9460
10.30am–10pm, closed Sun
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.