Since interviewing a Lebanese woman in Christchurch for Next magazine some time ago, I have been searching for good Lebanese food in Auckland and have finally found it! The Lebanese Cafe on K-road is a pretty basic looking takeout but the adjoining dine-in space has its own special charm. Basic furniture but some nice middle eastern curtains and adornments (not sure how I feel about the disco lights on the ceiling). Not flash but clean and very pleasant.
The first thing we noticed were the delicious complimentary fresh dates and apple tea. Such a nice touch. The second thing we noticed was the extensive menu of items we had never encountered. It took quite some time for us to order but when the food came we were very pleased with our choices. And it was bang on $20/head for three of us.
It’s hard to know where to start. The standout for me was the Kofta Kebab ($14.99), a meat pattie covered in the most incredible sauce. It was made from yoghurt, tahini, garlic and lemon and it was unbelievably creamy and smooth. Although it was distinctly Middle Eastern, it did share flavour qualities with a béchamel (only thinner and more garlicky). My next favourite would have to have been the Kibbe ($11.99). These are really traditionally Lebanese and it’s rare to find them anywhere. They are bulghur wheat shells stuffed with spiced mince. The whole thing is then deep fried and served with the usual Middle Eastern accompaniments and these ones were really delicious.
The Fatoush Salad was a heavenly tangy concoction ($5.99) of cucumber, tomato, pieces of lemon (not chunky wedges but much smaller triangles), red onion, sumac and crispy fried pieces of pita bread (as thin as thin-cut potato chips). The tang of the salad was offset perfectly by the savoury nature of the pita crisps and all flavours and textures we represented. What a magical combination.
The Foul Medames Salad ($6.99) was foul beans in a tangy/savoury sauce. The sourness of the dressing was perfectly balanced by the substance and flavour of the beans and it was served with a generous layer of fresh tomato on top and pickled radish on the side (not like the type you get in Japan, something unlike anything I had ever tasted). The Mixed Kebab was a combination of three different marinades (tikka, shish tawook, and shish). It came with thin, fresh exquisite pita bread plus sauces, hummus, salad etc. This would be the closest thing to what you would get in most kebab joints around Auckland but even this was a cut above with tender meat and very fresh salad flavours.
They also have all the usual suspects: wraps, rice dishes, shawarmas etc. Their whole roast chickens done lebanese-style and traditional desserts of Qatayf, Baclava, Kunafa and Mahalabiya will definitely have us heading back for a second sampling. They also had gorgeous-looking sides and traditional drinks too. As we left we noticed a table of four all smoking a Shisha and according to their facebook page this is becoming more and more of an attraction of the cafe.
This would have to be a new addition to my top five ethnic places in Auckland. Go there soon before everyone finds out.