Akub's townhouse is located on a street filled with picture-perfect pastel-coloured houses that could be straight out of the film Notting Hill. Its muted shades and the simple yet tasteful interior is infused with a soft Mediterranean energy. As we step in, the dreariness of the day is immediately forgotten.
After a kind welcome, we are invited to sit in the mid-level courtyard filled with a warm light and potted olive trees. Around us, the crowd is non-ostentatiously cool and at times converses in Arabic. Next to our tawla (dining table), an elegant elderly couple seems to know exactly what to order. We watch their plates arriving with envy.
Akub is the brainchild of Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan, whose mission is 'to preserve the memory of traditional Palestinian dishes'. Kattan has become an authority and an ambassador for contemporary Palestinian cuisine that is too often hastily described as Middle-Eastern. The staples of his brunch consist of labaneh, humous, eggs, za’atar, fresh bread and olive oil. “These are the dishes that I grew up with', says Kattan 'and they take me back to my first memories of having breakfast in my grandmother’s house.'
The boys order Beyd, fried eggs served on homemade bread, flavoured with za-atar and sumac and spiced Zahra Cauliflower Fritters. I am opting for the Fava Bean Foul consisting of slow-cooked beans accompanied by tomato, garlic and parsley and the Grilled Nabulsi Cheese. Soon our table is covered with small dishes. Rich cumin stew, hummus dip, onions deep-fried in sumac and perfectly doughy bread. The diverse flavours find a beautiful harmony and it is a wonder to think that most of the ingredients are locally sourced.
As I watch the boys eating their eggs silently while sipping their Taybeh beers, in true Bethlehem style, I ponder on Kattan's cuisine. There is a certain humility to it. Kattan, who trained in Paris at the Institut Vatel, is not trying to seduce with fussy combinations. His approach to Middle Eastern flavours is paired-back, almost respectful. It tells the story of Palestine and it makes the experience of eating at Akub all the more relevant.
But then we taste the sumptuous Arabic Coffee French Toast, a fluffy pan-fried brioche served with a resplendent whipped laban (an exquisite yoghurt), crushed pistachios and a drizzle of thick Arabic coffee and cardamom syrup. The dish oozes with brio and comfiness and shows perhaps the glitziest facet of Kattan's Palestinian cuisine. We are all smitten.
We regretfully leave Akub and find ourselves stepping back into the not-so-unusual greyness of a spring day in London, slowly coming to the realisation that we've just had the privilege of experiencing a true slice of Palestinian refined savoir-vivre. And we just feel wonderful about it.
|What||Akub restaurant review: Brunch the Palestinian way|
|Nearest tube||Notting Hill Gate (underground)|