A purposeful Michal Caasmann traverses the Düsseldorf METRO store, headed for the spirits section. He is looking for the traditional Slovakian schnapps slivovitz. While you won’t find it on the drinks menu of the Byliny restaurant or bar, it has become part of the closing time ritual – whether for a toast with the team to another successful day or a relaxed round while sitting with guests. The fact that it comes from Slovakia is no coincidence. On the contrary, as Michal’s home country, Slovakia plays a central role in the Byliny enterprise. After all, both the restaurant and the bar bear a Slovak name: in Michal’s mother tongue, ‘byliny’ means ‘herbs’. And the guests encounter them not just on their plate or in their glass, but also as plants on the shelves and in pictures on the walls. Once he has found slivovitz, Michal continues striding along the aisles, which he knows well. He carries his shopping list in his head. He needs cheese, fig mustard, basil syrup and lemons for the Byliny Bar. For the coming evenings, the menu calls for a summery cheese platter and, fittingly for the summery temperatures, a house-made lemonade with basil syrup and fresh lemon slices.
Delivery service and purchasing
But that can’t possibly be the entire purchase – don’t a restaurant and bar need more food than that? ‘We order most of it from the METRO delivery specialist Rungis Express,’ Michal explains. ‘Twice a week Rungis Express brings us fresh products like fish, meat and vegetables.’ Whatever else they need at Byliny at short notice, Michal buys on his weekly visit to the METRO wholesale store. ‘My trips to METRO are great for inspiration,’ he says. ‘I stroll down the aisles, check out the offers and see what’s new.’
While Michal is putting the last items in his trolley at METRO, his business partner, Norman, is back at the restaurant preparing the day’s lunch. Tasks are clearly divided between the owners. Norman is responsible for the creative work in the kitchen. Michal handles the organisational duties, such as bookkeeping, personnel planning and purchasing, and oversees the bar counter in the restaurant dining area. Four regular employees support the owner duo, two in the kitchen and two in service. Michal describes the intimate atmosphere: ‘It’s like a little family. And our guests really appreciate that – they don’t come to Byliny, but to visit Norman and Michal and their team.’
The two chefs met in 2013 at the Hyatt hotel. In late 2016, they decided to found the Byliny restaurant. True to the name, the kitchen is full of small bowls of all kinds of herbs and spices. Two large pieces of bright red ham dangle from the ceiling – home-made, Norman reveals: ‘We prepare the ham according to my father’s recipe. After two weeks in the marinade, we dry it for three to four weeks in our cellar.’ Norman’s home-smoked ham has had a firm place as an entrée at Byliny since the start. It’s the only constant on the menu, the rest of which changes every four weeks. ‘With a choice of five dishes for the main course, our menu is small – but super,’ Michal says. ‘We serve good home cooking with high-quality ingredients, done in a contemporary way.’ Whereas perennial hearty favourites like beef roulade are often on offer in winter, the menu in summer tends towards lighter dishes featuring fish and seasonal vegetables.
From spring green to cottage-cosy
The 38-year-old Norman is in charge of the cooking for the Byliny Bar just around the corner as well – although it doesn’t have a kitchen of its own. Instead, the chef prepares all of the food in the restaurant and Michal rolls it over to the bar in the afternoon in a handcart. ‘It’s a lot faster and more practical that way,’ Michal explains with a laugh, loading the dark-green cart with his purchase before adeptly manoeuvring it over cobble- and kerbstones. Coming from the green hues of the Byliny restaurant, which bring to mind a breezy spring day, Michal enters the cosy, cottage-like ambience of the bar. Guests in the Byliny Bar are welcomed with big rugs, wood tables, benches and groups of chairs with lambskins, and a flickering fireplace. Small wonder, given that skiing is Michal’s great passion.
Select wines and Slovakian schnapps
Alongside classic cocktails, the owners offer their guests in the bar an international selection of fine wines. The food menu features weekly specials like ‘Ribs and drinks’ or the ‘Byliny Burger’. ‘With the Byliny Bar, we want to try out new things in the future,’ Norman explains. Opening the bar was a challenge for the two business partners at first. While they already had their own culinary establishment, operating a bar requires additional knowledge. The trained chefs therefore brought in professional support from trained bartenders.
‘We’re developing further, and we’re learning a lot from our team – as well as from our guests,’ Michal emphasises. ‘They give us great new ideas – whether it be for an innovative drink or an event.’ So it isn’t a surprise, then, that the owner slips into the bartending role now and again. ‘The Byliny Bar is Unterbilk’s living room,’ he explains, smiling. ‘It’s a place where people in Düsseldorf get together in the evening to enjoy a new cocktail, hear a concert or “dance into May”.’ With a bottle of Slovakian schnapps, he finally joins two guests who have settled comfortably at an outdoor table in the evening sun. They raise a glass together. To the expansion, to the team, to Norman and Michal – in short, to Byliny!