No taste like home: Palestinian chef revives grandmother's recipes at new UK restaurant

The menu at Akub is a nod to the traditional cuisine of different parts of Palestine

Fadi Kattan, owner of Akub, is on a mission to offer authentic traditional Palestinian cuisine to Londoners. Photo: Fadi Kattan
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When Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan was planning to open his third restaurant in London’s competitive hospitality scene it was his grandmother he looked to for the inspiration he needed to deliver something unique.

Drawing upon his vivid childhood memories of helping the family matriarch host flamboyant dinner parties in the back garden of her Bethlehem home, the businessman found the answers he was seeking.

His jadda’s home cooking and decor are everywhere to be seen in Akub, the restaurant he is set to open in the trendy West London neighbourhood of Notting Hill.

Its menu is rich with traditional dishes from his homeland, including sea bass cooked in the Levantine spirit arak, a Gazan tomato salad and a dessert made with dried yoghurt — a nod to the heritage of Palestinian Bedouin.

Key components of his late grandmother Julia's “fabulous dinners” feature throughout the list, which includes crunchy mansaf balls, vine leaves stuffed with skate, and freekeh risotto. The rose petals he uses to garnish desserts are the same type that blossomed in her garden in the West Bank.

Speaking to The National, Mr Kattan, 45, expressed his excitement as he prepares to present “a modern Palestinian cuisine with quite a personal touch of classics and tradition” to Londoners.

He is keen to emphasise that his menu is vastly different to the meze-style cuisine on offer in many restaurants in parts of Palestine, largely designed to cater for tourists and foreign pilgrims.

“What we’re bringing is home cooking,” he said. “Akub is bringing a taste of Palestine to London in a cool neighbourhood.

“It’s in a beautiful typical Notting Hill house,” he added, noting that it has been decorated to reflect the “cosiness of Palestinian homes”.

Fadi Kattan has created a menu derived from his grandmother's tried-and-tested recipes. Photo: Bethlehem Cultural Festival

Asked how he believes his beloved grandmother would feel if she could see his accomplishments, Mr Kattan said: “Julia would be very proud.”

“But I can also hear her telling me off over some recipes — as she was always very determined in her own ways of cooking — and then secretly smiling as she would still have liked what I cooked.”

Notting Hill is famed for its antique markets, annual carnival and its namesake romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.

Mr Kattan is best-known for his Fawda restaurant in Bethlehem, which since 2016 has proved a hit with locals and visitors alike.

Earlier this year he made his London debut with a week-long residency at Carousel in Fitzrovia.

For Akub, alongside his business partner, Rasha Khouri, he worked with small and medium-sized farmers to source local ingredients for his dishes.

He hopes to capitalise on the post-pandemic appetite of Londoners to break out of their culinary comfort zones and try something new. He believes the lockdowns have made people adopt “a more adventurous approach to food” than they had previously.

“One of the reasons we came to London is because London has become the most open-minded culinary capital in Europe,” Mr Kattan said.

“With Akub, we want to share some of our poignant memories, tastes and smells, whilst embracing local seasonal produce in the UK.

“We chose Akub for the name, cardoon in English, as this short-lived flowering thistle embodies the essence of Palestine and the quick tempo of the shifting seasons.”

Mr Kattan is from one of the oldest ­Christian families in Bethlehem, and grew up in the holy town just off Star Street, its most famous boulevard.

The chef is not the only person on whom his grandmother left an indelible mark.

Her rich legacy lives on today in the work of the Arab Women’s Union in Bethlehem — the first in the town — which she established to help refugees displaced during the Nakba, or Palestinian Catastrophe, of 1948.

Running a home and doing charity work was no easy feat but he said the family matriarch took it all in her stride.

On some occasions she cooked for up to 60 guests, many of them colleagues of her husband who worked as a doctor at the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem.

“She was very particular with the silverware,” Mr Kattan recalled. “I got the love of cooking and the love of hospitality from her.”

Akub has 68 covers and is set across three floors and a heated courtyard. Lunch and dinner will be served from Tuesday to Sunday.

Updated: January 20, 2023, 10:42 AM