It’s no secret that as a city London is pretty hot on decent Middle Eastern cuisine. Finding region-specific, authentic eateries however, is a slightly trickier affair. With that in mind - and taking into consideration my own unabashed passion for all-things-flatbread - you can only imagine how smug I was to uncover the recently-refurbished Palestinian foodie haven, Tabun Kitchen in Soho.
Taking its name from the traditional ‘Tabun’ oven (a stalwart in Palestinian cooking that pre-dates the bible), the restaurant was founded by Hanan Kattan, who uses her family’s recipes from Jerusalem and Bethlehem to inspire her own delicious dishes. But it’s not just the menu that reflects Kattan’s heritage; the family-feel runs through the very core of this place - from the traditional caged lighting and splashes of vibrant colour on the chairs, to the cosy set-up and neighbourhood feel of the restaurant. Forget stuffy waiters and pristine prowess, and instead think a genuinely-familiar offering, where the casual ambience is just as important as the geared-to-sharing plates on the menu.
Though I’m a sucker for MIddle Eastern bites I’m a novice when it comes to Palestinian food, and the menu provided some great opportunities to rectify that. Bursting with colourful and herb-heavy dishes spanning everything from ‘Palestinian pizza’ to a Jerusalem-inspired burger, this place isn’t messing around when it comes to big flavours and bold modern takes on the more traditional offerings.
As is the spirit of the restaurant and in-line with my unfaltering approach to food envy, me and my date shared everything on the night, starting with a mezze plate of Moutabel (smoked aubergine, tahini and lemon - £6), Tabbouleh (parsley and bulgur wheat - £6.50) and freshly-baked Tabun bread (£2). Packed with smoky flavour and with enough colour to light up any sorry Instagram feed, the starter plates carry more depth than the menu gives them credit for, with the Moutabel’s spiced aubergine being the strongest on the table. It’s also worth noting that the portions here aren’t shy and you could probably get away with ordering a few mezze and smaller plates to share for the whole meal.
The Lamb Makloubeh (slow-cooked lamb, thyme-grilled vegetables, rice, pine nuts - £14) and the Lamb Tahini Kofta (with pine nuts and chilli - £9) also fronted in the beautiful aesthetics department, toting rich complementary parts to the plates as a whole. The kofta was lightly spiced and delicious, but the melt-in-your-mouth lamb in the Makloubeh was outstanding. No self-respecting foodie or chronic over-thinker hasn’t pondered the question of what their 'death row meal' would be should they find themselves in the unfortunate position of needing to choose, and I’m happy (ish?) to say I’ve picked mine in Tabun’s Makloubeh.
To finish - on recommendation - we opted for the ‘Knafeh’; a traditional Middle Eastern dessert served in a sweet pastry, oozing golden syrup...and melted cheese. I hear you - melted cheese in a sweet pudding, it shouldn’t work -but it just does, and any naysayers need only a few bites to convince themselves otherwise.
Dinner at Tabun Kitchen is a really nice experience. Beautiful food, cosy interiors and Kattan’s obvious passion for every aspect of Palestinian dining shines through; this place is a bonafide Soho gem.