Food is magical. It’s a common thread that mystically connects all of us, bridging the gap over the 7000 languages and patchwork of unique cultures that make up our world. Food is comfort, joy and nostalgia; it is who we are. Beautifully put by Cesar Chavez, “The people who give you their food, give you their heart”. This understanding is the foundation on which The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen in Cape Town is built. And that, in turn, makes it a magical place.
Nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of Imam Haron Road in Claremont, The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen is a contrastingly colourful, bubbly and welcoming space specialising in Levantine cuisine. Levantine food is a celebration of life; it’s simple, fresh and heartfelt. Lemon, garlic, herbs and olive oil make common appearances, and warming spices are skilfully used to amplify the existing flavours in fresh produce.
The bakery is co-owned by Khaled El-Alfy, a former civil engineer from Egypt, and Clara Bubenzer, a chef of German descent. With synergistic east-meets-west backgrounds and a shared passion for Middle Eastern culture and food, they’re an exciting force in the growing Cape Town foodscape.
With its glowing reputation, I decided to visit The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen to understand what all the hype was about. Stepping inside, I was immediately enveloped by smells of freshly baking bread and the happy babble of customers and staff alike. The bakery is quaint and cosy with a few wooden tables and delightfully rustic enamel crockery; the walls boast duotones of blue, symbolic of the ocean and sky against the ‘mountainous’ wooden floor. After a warm welcome from Khaled and Chef Clara, our table was laden with rich cardamom-laced Turkish coffee, refreshing mint tea, an oozy cheese & za’atar manakish, a plate of rainbow dips & pita and falafel with tahina sauce. With every bite, it became increasingly clear that both heart and soul go into this food.
All the ingredients used by Chef Clara and her team are fresh-fresh-fresh, and most of them reside in the average person’s pantry – familiar things like garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, aubergines, tomatoes, lemons. And with such simple ingredients, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. Making good food is a talent, but making good food from humble, seemingly ordinary ingredients is an art. Additionally, Clara and her team prepare many items from scratch: homemade spice blends, jams, pickles, cordials…even their own yoghurt, of which they have to make a whopping 20 litres a week to satisfy the tzatziki and labneh cravings of their customers.
The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen is best known for its famous falafel and puffed pita. Now I’m not talking about the doughy frisbees that you find in your average grocery stores, nah-uh. These pita are pillow-soft and puffed sky-high above the rest. So soft, I’d happily curl up inside one for a quick doze. In fact, their pita are so loved that the bakery has to pump out as many as 1200 on any Saturday! In addition to that, they also make saj (similar to wraps), handbag-shaped ka’ak and manakish every day in an authentic gas-fired oven brought all the way from Lebanon. Sandwiched between a bed of compressed sand and 800kg of rock salt, this oven reaches outrageously scorching temperatures in order to puff, crisp and toast their breads to perfection.
Moving to their infamous falafels, they are by far the best, and I expect will always be the best, I’ve ever tried: beautifully moist on the inside with a nutty flavour and a sesame seed-speckled crunchy exterior. Khaled spent one year perfecting this falafel recipe until he was happy with the outcome. Growing up in Egypt, where they are traditionally served with a fava bean ‘stew’ from trolley carts for breakfast, Khaled is more than familiar with how authentic falafel should taste.
Now the cheese & za’atar manakish I had, boy oh boy, was it tasty! It’s like the love-child of a pizza and a quesadilla. With one half covered in mozzarella and the other in house-blended za’atar, the manakish is sliced like a pizza, and then folded over double-decker-style so you get the best of both worlds in one bite. Other topping combos include labneh, cheese & egg and grass-fed beef mince with pomegranate molasses (called a sfiha manakish).
If you’re a first-timer at the bakery, you must definitely try the Tasting Plate so that you can experience the joy of deep-diving into the myriad of delicious dips on offer. These include authentic baba ganoush, homemade harissa, mohammara, hummus and labneh. Their baba ganoush and harissa are elevated by charring the aubergines and red peppers directly over flames, infusing them with a delicate smoky complexity. My personal favourite on the Tasting Plate, and what Clara describes as ‘life changing’ (which it was), was the toumeya. It’s a mind-boggling, thick and creamy aioli-like emulsion of milk and oil, with lashings of garlic – it doesn’t sound like it should work, but heck it does!
To round off the whole meal, I enjoyed the most texturally-satisfying walnut baklava which was soaked in an orange blossom-scented syrup. It’s a winner, there’s nothing more to say.
The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen is a place for everyone to enjoy. It’s halaal with plenty of vegan & vegetarian options. Their weekly specials include 50% off all coffees between 8am and 10am, 2-for-1 Tuesdays on falafel sandwiches and Manakish Mondays where you can get two cheese & za’atar or two sfiha manakish (or one of each) for only R115. Don’t have time to sit down? All their breads, dips and mezze items can be purchased from their packed-to-go counter. They also have a pantry brimming with Middle Eastern items sourced from far and wide: halva, orange blossom water, dried Turkish figs, a variety of pickles, date molasses, tubs of tahini…a foodies dream! A word of warning: you will probably leave with an extra armful of items you didn’t intend to get. Have a look at their website for their online shop and find out more about their epic catering services here.
Although only at the bakery for a short sit-down lunch, I got an overwhelming feeling of being ‘home’. It could have been the smell of fresh bread and aubergines being smoked over the fire. Or perhaps the simplicity of the food, layered with toasty spices, herbs and garlic. Or maybe it was the contagious smiles and whole-hearted hospitality from the staff. Either way, that soul-warming feeling is one that makes The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen a unique food experience. Everyone at the bakery – the staff, loyal customers and walk-ins – are all intrinsically connected by that common thread: a love for delicious, feel-good food. With so many different things to try, they’ll be sure to see me again sometime soon. Maybe I’ll see you there…
WIN WIN WIN!
Stand a chance to WIN 1 of 4 Mezze Boxes from The Lebanese Bakery and Kitchen. Packed with signature treats from the bakery and complete with four sets of cutlery, these mezze boxes are perfect for picnics, gatherings and family dinners. Each box contains:
- 4 pita
- 2 packs of crunchy baked dipping bread
- 4 dips (hummus, tzatziki, mohammara and smoky baba ganoush)
- 2 mini cheese & za’atar manakish
- 2 mini meat fatayers
- 8 falafel with a side of cucumber pickles and 100ml tahina sauce
- 4 pieces of baklava
You don’t want to miss out on this epic giveaway! Enter by filling out the form below.
Question: What shape is ka’ak bread?
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