A Friday night mezze of authentic Palestinian cooking. In theory, this sounded like the perfect setting for a catch-up supper with my tapas friends on a wintery night, post-London’s first shower of seasonal snow. The offer of 50% off for mains was also in keeping with the January theme. The influence of the Middle East is noticeable on London’s current food scene, both when eating out and eating in. In my pantry, at least, spices like za’attar and sumac have become staples, as has humus/tahini for the roasted vegetable salads I’ve been whipping up. And inspired by trips to Oklava, the Barbary and, of course, Ottolenghi, I felt like Middle Eastern foods.
Tabun Kitchen’s founder, Hannan Kattan, is actually a film producer whose parents are from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Like many Palestinian households, her memories of growing up are centred around family and food. Here too, it all feels very homely. The centerpiece inside is the “tabun” oven, a feature of Palestinian cooking since pre-Biblical times. Aptly, our table had an excellent view of the modern steel version of the oven, from which the chefs in whites pulled out the “manaeesh” (Palestinian pizzas), against the backdrop of flickering embers and slightly questionable neon lighting.
The menu is fairly vege-friendly, with traditionally home-made dishes given fresh new twists. In keeping with the mezze theme, we ordered a bit of everything to share. Starters consisted of Jerusalem Falafel (£6.50), which were sumac-onion centred and served with a delicious but small tahini-tossed salad. The falafels were probably the highlight of the meal and were delicious on their own but perfect for scooping up huge amounts of roughly crushed hoummus which arrived in our Mini Mezze (£6.50), alongside moutabal (smoked aubergine), full mudammas fava beans and pillowly soft mini-pita breads. All three dips were delicately flavored and put our other dishes of the night to shame.
The Tabun Salad (£5.50) of pomegranates and sumac dressing likely took around 20 seconds to prepare, consisting only of roughly torn lettuce leaves and a couple of largely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with a scant scattering of pomegranates. I was hoping for finely chopped herbs and a more flavourful dressing. My own Middle Eastern salads – both the dressing and the core ingredients – are more inspired. The manaessh themselves – which I imagined would be the stars of the show – were equally disappointing, partly due to their lukewarm serving. My Spinach one (£8.50), topped with sumac, pine nuts, red onions and pomegranates was far too citrusy and meant I had to try and rescue it by dipping it in tahini/humus. My companions Akkawi Cheese one (£8.50) with olives, sundried tomatoes and sesame seeds was, for them, far too salty and did not come with any olives.
All-in-all, the Tabun Kitchen pales in comparison with other Middle Eastern offerings that have recently opened in London. I wonder whether it would be a better place for lunch for a take-away (falafel) wrap.
Tabun Kitchen, 77 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 8TH