I visited Iakni Lebanese Bar recently and it got me thinking. Lebanese people have a particular zest for good things and fun that resists being quashed. They are a country tugged in equal parts by opposing forces, playing out ideologies on Lebanese soil. While Lebanon? Well to quote Cyndi Lauper, Lebanon “just wants to have fun”.
It’s hard to imagine the way things stand but once upon a time, it was the Arabs that led the way in enlightenment. They had mathematics, astronomy and belly dancers while Europe was still discovering plumbing and women wore chastity belts. Then again the Mongols once ruled the earth. Everything flips on its head if you give it enough time.
One thing has remained and I think will persist onwards is hospitality. Being hosted by an Arab is incomparable to anything else. They will give you the carpet under your feet if you mention you like it. I speak from experience. When my parents were first married, my father rolled up my mother’s carpet and handed it to the bewildered guest who complimented it.
The second thing? Well, the food. Lebanese food with its arrangement of mezze – the Arab version of Tapas is a delight. And at Iakni, it’s those dishes I enjoyed the most.
Ralph and his brother Miguel opened Iakni over a year ago. Ralph bends over our table and talks us through the small menu. “The menu is small because Kulo fresh.” He flips from English to Arabic with a sprinkle of Spanish as he speaks.
They cure their own olives at Iakni. And they are beauties. Black purple and fleshy, similar to kalamata olives but better. I am here with Marwa and she and I are on a perpetual quest to find good labneh. We haven’t managed yet. The labneh balls at Iakni are good though.
The hummus with meat comes with that telltale circular depression. This exists so that when you pour in the olive oil (emphasis on the word “pour” here), it forms a golden moat. And then, this is the part that so many non-Arabs get wrong, you take your bread and fashion it into a shovel of sorts. Then you use your bread shovel to scoop hummus and olive oil in. If you don’t have a tablespoons worth in there, you’ve done it wrong.
The kibbeh is gorgeous. Fat, moist with glistening pine nuts in the centre. A fatoush is citric to the point that it makes my eye twitch (a good thing).
I find my main disappointing. A Musakhan shwarma which does a disservice to the Palestinian original. Musakhan is a bone-in chicken, covered in sweet slow-cooked onions and smothered in sour sumac. It’s oily to the point that it will run down to your elbow if you are eating with your hands. And you should be eating with your hands.
That’s the only blip in what is otherwise a great lunch. Particularly when we end with a rose dessert and a thick Turkish coffee.
And I haven’t even mentioned the interior. Which I love. There is something of a French Bistrot about it. Perhaps in the way the white curtains are hung. Or the mirror behind the bar with glasses and jars arranged in an ascending pyramid with the top lobbed off. Perhaps it has to do with Ralph working with graphics previously?
For a list of Foodie in Barcelona’s Top 5 click here.
How about a guide of where to eat on a weekend trip in the joined neighbourhoods of the Born, the Gothic and Raval? Click here.
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