On the 20th December, what I can assure you feels like a lifetime ago as I sit here and write, I had the pleasure of visiting Tabun Kitchen in Soho for a Palestinian banquet.
The restaurant is modern and was surprisingly packed for Tuesday lunchtime. As I walk in the door my mouth waters at the sight of crispy baklava sitting behind the counter, the edges bright green with crushed pistachios, the Middle Eastern sweet instantly reminding me of holidays to Turkey as a child.
After the excellent first impression, things went decidedly down hill, and we ended up having to wait a wee while for a table. This wasn’t because of poor service, but in true “first world problems” of a food blogger style, I needed a table by the window for natural light. Extreme I know, but when it comes to my work, it has to be something I’m proud of and I feel like these photographs really do justice to the exquisite food.
The 2 hours wait in total made me extremely hangry and subsequently I ended up browsing the cocktail menu…! I’m rather glad it did as I am now delighted to make my recommendation for a Rosewater Collins, a simple concoction of gin, rosewater, sparkling water and lemon juice. #healthypartygirl!
Moving on, the food menu is an amalgamation of authentic Jerusalem-inspired home cooking. Founder Hanan Kattan grew up in a Palestinian household, her mother’s family from Jersualem and her father’s from Bethlehem. She says “the story of Palestinian food and cuisine is the story of life, family and friends”.
Rather fitting, I was having lunch with two of my oldest friends and the playful nature of our mezze starter, the dipping, passing, serving and chatting as we went definitely made for laughter and conversation. The warm mini pitta breads baked freshly in the Tabun open oven were to die for, particularly after the wait, and more probably the gin in my drink! We tore and dipped them into little pots of hummus and babaganoush, garlicky and topped with jewels of pomegranate and a drizzling of golden olive oil. We also had a moreish plate of salty fried halloumi with creamy smashed avocado, as well as, Jerusalem falafels with a sumac onion centre served alongside a colourful tahini-tossed aubergine salad.
On to the main event, and we were already starting to feel full. The waiter brought us three of the restaurants speciality dishes, all beautifully presented and equally as stunning in taste. Very unusual for me as I don’t often eat red meat, but my favourite was the Lamb Makloubeh. The meat was rich, yet so tender and flavourful, served alongside yellow rice and great juicy slices of grilled aubergine, tomatoes and courgette, as well as a cucumber and mint yoghurt sauce. I have a rather scarring memory, again from Turkey, where we once ate lamb in the countryside that had been butchered earlier that day. I couldn’t eat a mouthful then, however, I’ve come to realise that this was the more traditional and organic way of eating meat I would often condone now, in small quantities for its wonderful flavour and source of protein, iron and B12.
We also shared Musakhan Chicken, which consisted of a soft sumac flat bread containing sumac-marinated chicken, caramelised onions, pine nuts, and a yoghurt, cucumber and mint sauce. I love the way Middle Eastern cooking uses yoghurt instead of things like mayonnaise or sour cream. Yoghurt, granted the right kind, is a probiotic, and probiotics, when administered in the correct amount can confer many benefits to the host. This is because they are rich in microbes and bacteria, which populate the gut. Such benefits include enhancing the immune system and promoting healthy digestion, all without compromising on the creamy and cooling contrast to spicy meats and veg.
Last but not least we tucked into Fatet Jaj Chicken. A milder plate of lemon roasted chicken with rice, hummus sauce, chopped chilli, sautéed garlic and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Probably the lightest of the three, and favourite of my two friends.
Absolutely no room whatsoever for pudding, I would like to go back not least to try the tahini ice cream, although rose scented milk pudding didn’t sound too appetizing to me. What also caught my eye on the menu were the delicious sounding Manaeesh Palestinian Pizza’s, for which I would definitely also return, although this time I’d be happy to sit in a dark table at the back to avoid the two hour wait necessary for the lighting requirements of a seemingly self important food blogger…I’ll leave you to decide my status!
All thing considered, with Tabun Kitchen we aren’t talking the virtues of squeeky clean, free from eating. We’re talking about authentic, flavourful and colourful food that’s both nutritionally balanced and packs in a host of fragrant and powerful spices including chilli, sumac, za’atar, thyme and cumin to name but a few. Most healthy in my opinion however, is the Palestian ethos of coming together around food, sharing, chatting, laughing and marking the meal in a mindful, happy and relaxed manner. I can’t thing of any better reason to encourage you to book a table this January!