Tucked away down a pretty Notting Hill street, Akub is the latest addition to the neighbourhood’s thriving culinary landscape. Franco-Palestinian restaurateur Fadi Kattan – who also owns Fawda restaurant in Bethlehem – brings his unique spin to a rich diversity of ingredients and traditions from Palestine, while also integrating locally-sourced British produce. Here’s why Akub is our restaurant of the week.
Going out to eat for a living as I do, the question I’m most often asked is: “So, have you been anywhere interesting lately?” Regrettably, it’s not always easy to answer in the affirmative (alas, not everywhere I go is amazing!). Ever since visiting Akub in Notting Hill, however, I’ve delighted in having a good reply ready. I’m yet to meet anybody whose interest isn’t piqued by this new modern Palestinian restaurant from Franco-Palestinian restaurateur Fadi Kattan. Palestinian restaurants are rare in London and the food, in spite of the popularity of Middle Eastern food more broadly, is not well known.
The follow-up question, invariably, is “So what’s Palestinian food even like?” Kattan, who also owns restaurant Fawda in Bethlehem, wouldn’t presume to offer one single definitive answer: he can only tell his story, informed by the teaching of his grandmothers, by his culinary studies in France, and by the cooks, farmers, and growers he’s worked with over the years. The narrative evolves at Akub, meaning cardoon, where he’s working with traditional Palestinian produce (supplied by Fair Trade co-operative Zaytoun) and with British seasonal produce.
We decipher the menu over spritzy glasses of soda and date syrup in the window on the top floor of the townhouse, looking down at the pretty pastel street below. Some dishes are familiar, others call for some Googling. We’re familiar already with labaneh, here served as a trio of colourful balls, rolled in purply sumac, verdant za’atar, and fiery turmeric and Aleppo pepper. Simple but compelling. We double down on cheese and add grilled nabulsi to our order, a brined white cheese, with a contrastingly coal black crust of qizha, or nigella seed paste, unique to Palestinian cuisine. The cheese, chewy and pleasingly squeaky, sits in a pool of what looks like engine oil, a bold, monochromatic dish I would happily return for.
There’s a strong focus on vegetables and lots of healthy pulses; add a selection of bread (including nigella seed crackers and za’atar bread) and some multi-coloured pickles (turnip, chillies, cauliflower…) and a vegan or vegetarian diner could have an absolute feast. The risotto of freekeh, roasted green wheat, powerfully smoky and savoury, is a must-order.
If there was one standout, however, it was the ‘crunchy mansaf’ which my lunch date insisted we order on the strength of a photo she’d seen on Instagram. Instagram’s as good a guide as any: these parcels of lamb, rice, and dried fermented yoghurt (jameed) had all the yielding texture and intense flavour of a slow cooked lamb stew but in shareable, snackable form (mansaf, eaten in Palestine and Jordan too, is more usually served over rice layered atop flatbread).
Even now weeks later, I find myself thinking about them, and all the more so since reading writer Sue Quinn (@penandspoon)’s account of Palestinian women making her the same dish in the village of Umm Al Khair, where they live in poverty, without running water, without electricity, and with the constant threat of demolition.
While Akub shines a light on the people and producers of Palestine, London is its home city. Its staff are multicultural – head chef Mathilde Papazian is French and Armenian – as are its customers. The produce and techniques that can come into play open up exciting possibilities for the cuisine. How will it evolve? It will be fascinating to find out. This is just the start of its story.