We’ve come to define Middle Eastern – or Levantine – cooking in a generic way.  Encompassing a range of regions, the term overlooks the region’s diversity.  Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan proudly rejects this and is much more specific.  Describing the food at his renowned restaurant in Bethlehem – Fawda, Arabic for “chaos” – as “modern Palestinian”, its menu draws from local produce, testament to the distinctive version of Palestinian cooking he’s developed through his relationships with a network of market vendors (on which, see the Eater’s enlightening article here).  Kattan pioneered the region’s first food tours and helped to rehabilitate the international image of the area’s cuisine from the standard “hummus and falafel” to a more refined and elevated style.

Luckily for us, Kattan has now opened his first restaurant in London, Akub.  An akub is a cardoon – a name that hints at the seasonal Palestinian produce he’s importing from the Zaytoun co-operative back home.  He’s also following the same pattern for ingredients local to the UK, though viewed through an emphatically Palestinian lens.  In that sense, Kattan seeks to reclaim the Palestinian identity of certain dishes and ingredients whilst allowing it to develop a new identity in a new city.

Nestled on a quiet street of Notting Hill, Akub is overlooked by the colourful rainbow of houses and stands out as a petite, earth green building.  Notting Hill seems to be enjoying a foodie renaissance of late – seeing a plethora of tempting Greek restaurants (Mazi, Suzi Tros, Zephyr), Middle Eastern spots (Akub, Counter) and small plates kind’a places (Strakers).  Akub is a star amongst those names. 

It may look small and innocuous from the outside but inside Akub packs four stories of serene restaurant space.  As soon as you step inside, you feel totally at home, as if the peace and tranquillity of the quiet streets nearby has followed you inside.  The interior works muted terracotta tones with cream plastered walls adorned with olive branches and cedar tables.  The indoor courtyard on the second floor is my favourite.  Featuring wooden beams, a large olive tree and bushels of fried foliage,  this space makes you feel totally at ease.  Even the tableware is from Jaffa-based Palestinian ceramicist Nur Minawi focusing on similarly earthy hues.  During the day, with the glass butterfly roof above, this would be an idyllic spot for a long lunch / brunch. 

Whilst the setting itself is enough to keep you here for hours, more importantly so is the food.  Fadi has created a modern Palestinian menu that celebrates the diversity of ingredients and culinary traditions from across Palestine while integrating locally sourced British produce.  The menu here is the kind of one that you can very easily end up ordering everything – from the Khobez (Bread) to the Ard (Land, i.e. veg dishes), to the Tawabel (Condiments!). 

Jumbo Red Lentil Moutabal (£7) – a pale, hummus-like dip – is absolutely the way to start your mezze here.  Made with red lentils, “tahinia” and cumin, it’s a welcome variation on the usual theme.  Unctuous with olive oil, spiced with cumin and smoothed with tahini, it’s utterly dreamy – particularly paired with Nigella Seed Crackers (£3).  These crispy, seeded crackers are begging for dippage into a umptuous spread and on that note a solid counterpart to all the veggie mezze here.

The Moutabal pairs particularly well with the Dagga Ghazzawei (£8) – a fine plate of winter tomatoes, green chilli, garlic lemon and plenty of dill.  Though this is a plate that stands on its own very well – the herby dill finish singing out and freshening up any mezze wonderfully well.

Malfouf with Laban (£8) – cabbage – is a solid addition to any mezze here and available vegan.  Layered above beetroot tahini (as opposed to garlic yogurt), spiced with cumin and finished with a scattering of pomegranate, it’s ideal for spring and feels uttery wholesome.  Though a small plate, this could easily double as a main.

Sheikh El Mahshi (£14) are baby aubergines filled with pickled herbs and walnuts.  A must.  Thans to its citrus fragrance, the filling reminded me a little of French lentil salad, and I wondered if Franco-Palestinian chef Kattan was making a deliberate nod to that classic.

There aren’t many Palestinian restaurants in London.  More known are Israeli restaurants.  In that sense, Akub is a confident newcomer that’s free and creative in its expression and storytelling.  The mezze here is a joyful kaleidoscope of herb-swirled tahini dips, flatbreads and veggies jolted by bright, hot, specifically Palestinian intensifiers.  A whirlwhind of flavours, textures and colours.  It’s worth remembering that for many Palestinian chefs – especially those based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – such expression is achieved despite the oppressive conditions of the longest military occupation in modern history. That makes a restaurant like Akub all the more worth celebrating – from brunch through to dinner, and everything in-between.

Akub, 27 Uxbridge St, London W8 7TQ

Website: https://www.akub-restaurant.com/

Rating: *****

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