Middle-eastern food will always have a place in my heart. When I have cravings for my mum’s home-cooked Arabic dishes, I often have to trek all the way from east to west London to have my mezze fix.
But I recently found out about Tabun Kitchen, opened for just a little over a year now, located in the hustle and bustle of Soho on Berwick Street. Perfect!
Founded by Hanan Kattan, Tabun Kitchen offers authentic, fresh and affordable Jerusalem-inspired food with a modern, healthy twist. This gem is named after a traditional Palestinian oven which is made outdoors and has been used in Palestinian cuisine for centuries. Hanan wanted to bring a touch of Palestinian hospitality to London by creating dishes that allow you to share with your friends and family.
Walking around the small cosy restaurant, beautiful quotes from Hanan can be seen on the walls. With amazing smells coming from the Tabun ovens near the bar, my husband and I knew that we were in for a treat. We decided to go in for the The Pasha’s Table – which is inspired by feast-like meals enjoyed at Hanan’s home in Bethlehem. The Pasha’s Table is named after Hanan’s grandfather’s generosity and love of life. He was know as ‘The Pasha’ after the title was conferred on him by King Abduallah 1 of Jordan.
To start us off, I went for a light and refreshing Cucumber Collins which was made with gin, fresh cucumber, elderflower cordial and lemon juice. A perfect cocktail for the start of the feast that we were about to enjoy.
First up on the menu was an Akkawi cheese and Za’atar manaeesh. Manaeesh is a thin and rather fabulous Palestinian ‘pizza.’ With a crispy base, soft Akkaiwi cheese (very similar to mozzarella) and topped with the amazing middle-eastern spice za’tar, this was utterly delicious and you can even see it being cooked right in front of you. The cheese was tangy and the za’tar brought a whole new level of taste to the pizza.
Next up was the crispy and authentic Jerusalem falafel. This excellently spiced and seasoned snack was hot and crispy on the outside and was soft and creamy in the middle. This chickpea concoction with fresh herbs is an Arabic classic and no 2 fafalel from any restaurant are the same. A spicy tomato sauce came with it – making it a match made in heaven.
One of my favourite cheese of all time is the halloumi. Whether it is fried or baked, this squeaky cheese will always be at my table in any Middle eastern restaurant. Our Nablus grilled halloumi was perfectly pan fried leaving crispy ends and the middle was perfectly firm but yet with a creamy texture. It was great for scooping the hummus with!
Like the ubiquitous hummus, Baba Ganoush is a dish of indeterminate origins: Levantine is probably as specific as you can fairly get, because it pops up, under a variety of names, from Turkey to Egypt as a dip, a salad, or a vegetable side. I’m a massive aubergine fan and when I can get my hands on baba ganoush I’m all over it. This smoky dish was beautiful – it was creamy and had delicate smoked aubergine chunks in the snack. It was topped up with sweet pomegranate which brought the dish a whole new texture.
You can’t come to an Arabic restaurant and not order hummus. The hummus at Tabun Kitchen is out of this world. Creamy, rich and with a garlicky taste, this was delicious. Topped off with a dash of olive oil, smoked paprika lifted the whole starter.
The pitta bread is just how I remembered it when I’ve previously had it in the middle east. Thin, light and with a creamy texture. It was perfect for scooping the remaining starters with.
Next up were some proper traditional Palestinian dishes that I was super excited to devour. In the set menu, the mains contained the Musaskhan chicken, a lamb Makloubeh and Fatet Jaj chicken. The portions were perfect after the copious amounts of starters.
First up was my favourite dish of all time (I could eat buckets of this stuff), the lamb Makloubeh. The dish contained lamb slow cooked for over 8 hours so the meat was succulent and packed full of flavour, served with savoury rice and thyme-grilled vegetables. The rice has been cooked in chicken stock and Arabic herbs and spices and was extremely moreish. The pomegranate might look like an odd addition to our dishes but they bring colour and texture to any dish.
The second dish was the Musakhan chicken. This was tender chicken roasted in sumac with caramelised onions and pine nuts on a flatbread. The chicken was rich in flavour and the caramelised onions juicy.
Finally was the Fatet Jaj chicken. This dish contained shredded chicken cooked in stock and spices with a lemony hummus sauce (used to dip the hummus in) on a bed of rice cooked in chicken stock and saffron topped with pine nuts and chopped chilli. The rice was again perfectly cooked and grainy and the hummus sauce brought a nice zing to the tender chicken and crunchy pine nuts.
We were so full after the starters and mains but we of course couldn’t resist the best desserts around. First up was the Muhalabieh – a rose-scented milk pudding topped with crushed pistachios and honey. It was creamy and the rose flavour was subtle and not over powering – perfect. The pistachio brought another texture to the dessert.
I left the best to last. The knafeh. I honestly don’t know where to start with this one. I remember trying to make it back home and it always ended in a disaster so I was so delighted when I had my first mouthful of this Palestinian dessert. It was crispy on the outside, soft and gooey in the inside – absolute perfection. The knafeh was a shredded pastry filled with salty Akkawi cheese and can be topped with any syrup you like – in this instance Tabun Kitchen used a sweet and subtle orange blossom syrup that really worked with the cheese and the pistachios. This was absolutely delicious and goes very nicely with some black tea.
Piles of mezze dishes, beautiful breads and an insistence on packing fresh vegetables, herbs and spices into everything, means that there is something for everyone when it comes to Palestinian food. These dishes not only offer a mix of cultural and foodie influences but it also brings together various cuisines from neighboring countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – creating one of the most interesting cuisines around. If this sounds like your bag, give it a try!
77 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 8TH