Sameer Bawa’s taste buds are seduced by the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors of Café Mez
If I say that there is a real dearth of Middle Eastern restaurants in Delhi/NCR, I’m sure no one will accuse me of exaggeration. There are only a handful of restaurants and I am surprised why over the years Levantine food concepts have not captured the imagination of restaurateurs. Having spent a few years in Dubai, I can say that Indians have a palate for Middle Eastern flavors and textures and it’s only a matter of time before the cuisine becomes a rage in India. Luckily, concepts like the recently opened Cafe Mez in DLF Cyberhub, Gurgaon reinforce my perspective and give my deprived “Arabic food” body some respite.
I visited Cafe Mez a few days ago and was immediately transported to a different world as soon as I entered the restaurants. Large windows letting in plenty of natural light, casual but comfortable seating, and a soothing blue and white color scheme made it feel like I could very easily eat at a cafe in Beirut, dine at a Greek restaurant in Athens, or enjoy a Lebanese meal in Dubai. . Well, that was the impression if I looked at the optics in isolation.
“I wanted to create a cafe where you could enjoy great breakfast options from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and, at the same time, use the freshest ingredients to create an all-day dining experience. “, explains Ashish Dev Kapur (co-owner, Café Mez). Super-talented chef Megha Kohli is running the business in the kitchen. I know Megha from her time at Lavaash through Saby and she comes with a lot of pedigree. She has an individual style and most of the menu items are a clever blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean elements. Almost every dish dances on the periphery of authenticity due to a unique twist. Most preparations carefully spin the needle between creativity and authentic flavors. And I’ll tell you how.
We started with the Muhammara salad, Gazan guac and Fattoush. Red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses are the main ingredients for a Muhammara with olive oil and spices, but I loved how the dip is decorated with black olives and cucumber peels. Even without that, the dish would have been complete but I loved that little touch. Also, when you look at a Fattoush salad, in its original form it is grilled pita or khubz with a mix of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions drizzled with sumac and molasses pomegranate. Chef Megha’s version is sans grilled pita and drizzled with lemon herb vinaigrette and feta which adds the Mediterranean element to it. I have to admit that on an individual level I missed the toasted pita in the mix of things and feel like a fattoush is incomplete without it. The Gaza guac however was an amazing preparation. So unique, so subtle yet so familiar.
Then there was the bacon and egg pie. I once tasted this during a meal at Lavaash by Saby a few years ago and had very high expectations. It was that and more. It’s Chef Megha’s version of Georgian bread with an egg and cheese in the heart, topped with generous chunks of bacon. When you cut the bread, the runny egg yolk oozes out of the confinement and deliciously laces the bread. Gastronomic paradise! For the main course, we asked for the Chicken Shawarma roll and the Iranian Lamb Koobideh. The shawarma was decent with succulent pieces of chicken and pickle engulfed in a pita and served with fries, but the highlight was the Koobideh. Tasty and juicy minced lamb skewers on a bed of thin bread with a side of spicy onions and tzaziki. Absolutely brilliant. Each bite is an experience in itself. A preparation definitely for the Gods.
I ended the meal on a sweet note with Ponchikis, an American donut filled with Nutella or rose-flavoured cream. It’s a portion of two ponchikis and I chose one of each. Best decision ever as the custard and chocolate provided a great contrast. Overall we had a fabulous meal. The restaurant has a fully stocked bar and you can spend a lazy afternoon with cocktails or enjoy your favorite bottle of wine with the good food. The service orientation of the staff is also top notch and they will ensure that you have an enjoyable dining experience. As I walked out of the restaurant, my taste buds couldn’t thank me enough for the tantalizing interplay of flavors and textures. I made silent promises to myself that I would be back soon. Very soon!