Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan will bring his interpretation of Palestine’s cuisine, based on the local traditions of its cities, to London later this year. Kattan will open Akub in Notting Hill after making his debut in the city at a residency in Fitzrovia, at Carousel, from 3 — 7 May.
The residency menu, a prelude to his fully fledged opening, focuses on six cities: Jerusalem; Jericho; Gaza; Nablus; Jaffa; and Bethlehem, where he opened modern Palestinian restaurant Fawda in 2016. Dishes will include a “make your own” version of hummus, tied to Jerusalem; a dandelion salad, tied to Jericho; and zibdiyet gambari, a prawn stew, for Gaza.
Akub, meanwhile, is a restaurant long in the making — and funding. Originally slated to open in 2021, its delay has bought time for the process of raising £965,000 to support the opening, with an initial menu promising the likes of hindbeh, a dish of braised dandelion greens; a version of risotto made with freekeh, the cracked grain made from green durum wheat; and a Bethlehem knafeh. The restaurant will draw on Kattan’s process in the West Bank, which leans on ingredients grown in Palestinian territories, as well as local ingredients from its new British home:
“Akub is a modern Palestinian restaurant that aims to share the rich diversity of ingredients and culinary techniques from the region. Hot bright salads of the Gaza coastline, deep stews from the rolling hills of Ramallah and foraged akub will feature alongside the locally sourced British ingredients.”
It will open at 27 Uxbridge Street, at what its investor page describes as a “first site,” supported by co-founder Rasha Khouri Bruzzo and investment company Prepline Holdings, which was involved in opening Jolt in Fitzrovia. Further information explicitly states that the aim is to “establish a boutique group of restaurants much like the JKS group [the Sethi siblings’ pioneering suite of restaurants] , but showcasing regional Middle Eastern cuisines.
Kattan is entering a city increasingly aware of the inadequacies of the language it uses to describe its restaurants, with Itamar Srulovich, of Honey and Co., among restaurateurs beginning to move away from flattening terminology like “Middle Eastern.” A revealing, if unconventional interview with his brother, Karim, is a useful primer to his perspective on this kind of terminology; on cooking as a Palestinian in Bethlehem; on situating his restaurant’s terroir in Israel-occupied territories while resisting their occupation through context and history; and on self-consciously cooking “modern” Palestinian food while not doing so out of a search for acceptance or acceptability from Western audiences.
I would say it’s Palestinian food because I do use recipes that are not necessarily from Bethlehem. I interpret them differently. Something like the national dish like musakhan, a dish made of onions, sumac, a lot of olive oil and crispy chicken. It is not really a dish from here, it’s more from the north of the West Bank. But I play around with it because north of Hebron, not far from Bethlehem, you have the best sumac trees that I’ve come across. So it’s really Palestinian. And it is also food from Bethlehem in a sense: I mostly use fresh products that come from a 20 km radius around Bethlehem. For the non-fresh products (salt, sumac) they come from further away.
To go back to the issue of self-orientalizing. Sadly we self-orientalize under labels such as Middle-Eastern, Levantine or Mediterranean cuisine, which don’t mean anything, to me. If you’re having a meal in Northern Algeria it has nothing to do with the meal that you could have in South Turkey. And if you are having a meal in occupied Jaffa, most probably the only thing in common with Marseille is that some of the fish are the same, but it stops there.
More soon on Akub, and Fadi Kattan.