Poised one story above Collins Avenue, in front of the Royal Palm South Beach, is Byblos, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant poised to be the season’s newest hot spot. The new décor is some of the best on the beach and makes diners feel more like they are at a trendy eatery in Beirut or Istanbul than South Beach. The restaurant is a Toronto import, owned by Hanif Harji of Icon Hospitality and Charles Khabouth of INK Entertainment. The restaurant’s fare has been described as “Middle’terranean” and features a cross-section of cuisines, with Lebanese and Persian notes. At the helm is executive chef Stuart Cameron, a native of Australia, who has created a high-end menu of homemade Turkish breads, top-notch olive oil, mouth-watering mezze and sweet jeweled rice, a rendition of Persian wedding rice that makes everyone want to get married. Haute Living sat down with Cameron, who oversees both the Miami and the Toronto locations.
HL: Your execution of this cuisine is masterful. Were you an expert in this region’s cuisine before opening Byblos?
SC: Not exactly, but I have always loved it. When I was a teenager, I was a DJ and on Sundays and Mondays, I used to go down and buy records next to a Lebanese restaurant. I would eat there every week and really enjoyed those flavors. Very recently we opened a Spanish restaurant, and I really got into ingredients like peppers and olive oils, so this is a further exploration.
HL: The Persian rice dishes are very popular and very unique to serve in a restaurant like this. How do you make them?
SC: It’s a little crazy, but we actually cook them all to order. I didn’t want to have “pre-cooked” rice, so we figured out a way to do it in about 30 minutes.
HL: So there is plenty of time for people to enjoy their mezze and house made bread.
SC: Yes, get some Maltese spiced olives, lamb ribs and Labneh with honey, oil and barbari bread, that will keep you occupied until the rice comes.
HL: Tell us about the cocktails. They are so memorable.
SC: They were created by an amazing mixologist using flavors from that part of the world like rose water, lime and pomegranate. Very Mediterranean. They’re fantastic.
HL: What don’t we know about Byblos?
SC: We have a wood-burning oven, someone to make all of our breads in-house, and as organic and local ingredients as we can.
HL: What is the most important thing in the kitchen?
SC: To love the ingredients…. and to have the best ones! The spirit of Byblos Miami is that everything was made by hand and as organic as possible.