The Lebanese Bakery: Beirut's manousheh arrives in London
From humble beginnings in the bakeries of Beirut to the trendy streets of central London, the traditional pastry manousheh has come far.
This baked flatbread is one of Lebanon's favourite street foods and a breakfast and lunch staple across the whole Levant region of the Middle East.
Manousheh (plural: manaeesh) literally means "engraved" in Arabic because of the indentations made by bakers as they press down on the rounded dough before throwing them into a rock oven.
The pastries are traditionally topped with a local cheese known as Akkawi, a white brine cheese with origins in the coastal city of Acre, or a mix of thyme, sesame seeds and other herbs know as zaatar.
Being North African and completely unaccustomed with manaeesh, I decided it was high time I cultured myself on this Levantine gem, as The Lebanese Bakery opened its doors in London's trendy food hotspot Covent Garden.
At the modern-styled eatery I met with the bakery's Beirut-born head chef Mohamed Taki, who educated me on the history of the dish and the newly-opened restaurant.
|As a child I would knock on the neighbours and say who wants a manousheh today and they would give me little bowls of whatever toppings they wanted: zaatar or cheese|
"It was a Sunday morning thing. As a child I would knock on the neighbours and say who wants a manousheh today and they would give me little bowls of whatever toppings they wanted: zaatar or cheese," Taki explained.
"I would get a pound from them to go to the bakery. You would have to go a certain time. Only when the oven was not so hot," he added.
The Lebanese Bakery is the passion project of Lebanese brothers Samer and Bassam Chamoun.
The restaurant opened its first branch in the Lebanese capital in 2016, but last month expanded its reach internationally by launching a branch in the heart of London.
The head baker said that the flatbreads on the menu focused on preserving their authenticity, while adding a modern twist and presentation to the time-tested classic.
"We insist on the ingredients being Lebanese and organic. We deal with certain farms for zaatar. We would not import it from anywhere else. We get our pomegranate molasses from a village church," he said.
|We insist on the ingredients being Lebanese and organic. We deal with certain farms for zaatar. We would not import it from anywhere else. We get our pomegranate molasses from a village church|
Without further ado, Taki served me up a piping hot array of flatbreads to feast on.
I started off with lahm beajine manousheh – the bakery's top selling item – which is topped with Lamb sujuk sausage and dibes rumman or pomegranate molasses.
It was crispy on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside, while the combination of salty meat and sweet fruit was a surprisingly good mix.
Next up was an Akkawi cheese manousheh.
This one was the real star of the show. The pure simplicity of famed Palestinian cheese gave it the perfect texture, as the cheese remains soft even after the pastry begins to cool slightly.
The Akkawi is flavoursome yet not overly pungent for people not used to strong cheeses which allows you to add other toppings such as salad, chilli or zaatar.
Last on the menu was a desert manousheh topped with strawberries and halaweh – a sweet made from sticky sesame seed paste.
This one was not overbearingly sugary and would go down perfectly with a hot cup of Arab tea.
If you want to try out a hip new Levantine restaurant for a quick bite to eat at breakfast or lunch time while in central London, then The Lebanese Bakery is worth a visit.
Alcohol served: No
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