Ask any outgoing foodie to name their favourite Indian, American, Turkish, or Persian restaurants, and they’ll probably machine-gun you with names in a quick “skrrrah-pap-pap-ka-ka-ka” fashion. Indeed, Londoners are fortunate enough to be extremely spoilt for choice, but even so, there remain a number of cuisines that are either scarce, or absent altogether from the restaurant scene. Palestinian cuisine is one such example, and given the rich heritage of the region, this is nothing short of a crime.
Taking note of this unforgivable void in London’s vast culinary arena, Hanan Kattan set about trying to fill it, and her restaurant – Tabun Kitchen, is, in her own words, a testament to her childhood of family, food, and a Palestinian culture of hospitality. Eager to experience her “modern interpretation” of traditional Palestinian recipes, Steak and I attended a press dinner last month to sample their festive menu.
Having battled the winter chill outside, and resisted the urge to set fire to my companion to keep myself warm, I decided to reward myself with a bowl of “Bethlehem meatball soup”. Though noted to be an “intense broth”, this soup was actually rather light and thin, with sharp, citrus notes that would be better described as “refreshing”. The inclusion of soft rice and tender meatballs did well to embolden its body and substance, but for the most part, this humble starter didn’t offer anything particularly exciting.
Bethlehem Meatball Soup
Steak meanwhile, began with a selection of “mini mezze”, which included falafel, hummus, udssieh (a mixture of fava beans and hummus), and a maftoul tabbouleh (a sort of Palestinian cous-cous), all served with a side of tabun bread. Funnily enough, this mixed mezze was a bit of a mixed bag, with the hummus and uddsieh coming out as unanimous favourites for their textures and general moreishness, whilst the maftoul and falafel proved to be fairly bland and unmemorable.
For mains, I opted for a Lamb Makloubeh, composed of slow-cooked lamb on a bed of rice, aubergine, and pine nuts. The lamb itself was tender, flavoursome, and retained a relatively reasonable amount of moisture, whilst the fleshy texture of the aubergine did well to marry it to the underlying bed of rice. Overall however, I felt that the dish was far too muted, and desperately in need of an additional element – something with a touch of vibrancy to truly bind and elevate these equally subtle components together.
Steak meanwhile, had chosen a plate of roasted sumac poussin to be her victim. The chicken was soft and succulent, and delivered a subtle zest of its sumac marinade. What really elevated the dish however, was the incredibly bold sharpness of the caramelised onions, which delivered a firm kick to the palate. Together with the crisp textures of the accompanying fried flatbread, this was perhaps the only noteworthy dish of the night.
Roasted Sumac Chicken
For one reason or another, dessert seemed to take a bit of a funny turn, as the sea of Knafehs that many of us had ordered proved to be exceedingly dry and bland. It was certainly a great shame, given how much we were looking forward to our healthy fix of cheese, pastry, and syrup.
Sadly, the Hariseh cake fared no better, as its texture was far too dry and hard, and whilst it did sit in a pool of orange blossom sugar syrup, it didn’t seem as though the syrup had managed to soak its way through the entirety of the cake.
Value For Money: 2.5/5
Although our own meal was complimentary, we do share the opinion of many fellow bloggers and diners that Tabun Kitchen is a little pricey for both the volume and calibre of food that is on offer. The festive menu would have amounted to approximately £40 a person, and depending on the number of dishes that you order, you can probably expect to pay around £30-£40 per person for the regular tapas-style menu. Whilst this is in no way unreasonable for a restaurant in the heart of Soho, we do feel that the food itself simply does not warrant the expenditure.
Much like our food, the service seemed to limp behind its true potential. Though the team at Tabun are all wonderfully friendly and courteous, service seemed to be incredibly slow, and what should have been a two hour meal ended up being a three to four hour extravaganza, with many guests ready to fall asleep inside their bread baskets . In fairness however, our group comprised of approximately 20-30 people, and given the relatively small size of the restaurant, one can only assume that the kitchen team somewhat struggled to maintain an efficient workflow.
Decor / Ambience: 3/5
The restaurant itself has been redesigned since its launch in 2016, and the new decor is both bright and welcoming. There certainly isn’t a great deal of space, but this helps to create a somewhat cosy atmosphere in which to dine. Tabun Kitchen can be found a short walk away from either Tottenham Court Road, or Oxford Circus stations, and public transport is advised.
For all its good intentions, Tabun Kitchen falls short of its potential to be an exciting addition to the London restaurant scene. Whilst the team certainly do bring the flavours of Palestine to the streets of London, these flavours are somewhat restrained, the dishes somewhat underdeveloped, and the execution somewhat floundered. Granted, we were part of a large group who sampled a festive menu – which is, by definition, mass-produced. But, given the relatively mixed reception they have received elsewhere, one cannot imagine the regular menu faring any better, and to that end, we cannot foresee ourselves returning anytime soon. Perhaps, with time, the delivery of their vision will evolve, but for now, we’d advise holding out for another authentic Palestinian fare.
Halal status: All the meat served at Tabun Kitchen is halal. Alcohol is served on the premises.
Address: 77 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 8TH
Telephone: 020 7324 7767
Disclaimer: We were invited to sample the festive menu at Tabun Kitchen.