Sarah Cotterill heads to Bradford for a mouth-watering mezze at Kunafa Tea.
You think you have a good level of cardiovascular fitness, until you take a trip to Bradford. It’s surprisingly hilly. Just trying to cross the road safely is a challenge. For this is Thornton Drift. The city of cars. Motoring between the multitude of concrete shopping centres, the sound of chugging exhausts and the sweet smell of shisha follows you. Grand intersections of Gothic architecture are dovetailed with the likes of Jean Junction; where windows of bald mannequins model denim jackets styled in every which way. Pavements are a-glow with festoons of twinkling lights celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
A muhammara to die for; a coarse paste of salted almonds and flame roasted red peppers. It’s nuts. I’d go back just to look at it.
In keeping with the celebratory mood, Kunafa Tea shares a unit with a flashy fireworks shop on Thornton Road. I had a tip off that this authentic Damascene eatery served up their first Eid breakfast last week; complete with creamy bowls of ful bejewelled with pomegranate seeds, chickpea fatteh, plump falafels, and copper pots of Arabic tea. In the area for a performance retelling the story of the workers and immigrants of Oastler Market and Fountains Café, it seemed the perfect opportunity to call in for little a pre-theatre mezze.
Kunafa Tea was opened in 2021 by a family of Syrian refugees, who set about using their homecooked Levantine cuisine to build bridges and unite the communities around them. Despite a rollercoaster of recent challenges in the industry, they’ve stuck their ground and developed a strong customer base, who are evidently willing to travel a fair distance to sample familiar flavours.
Straight opposite the door, a neon sign welcomes you against a backdrop of faux foliage; I heart kunafa + tea, in a romantic red. In fact, the whole interior has a romance to it. From the ornate filagree lanterns, to the marble tabletops decorated with pink posies; the gold cutlery and rattan furniture. A large floor to ceiling window opens up views of the racetrack and a derelict yard beyond. A long radiator on the wall beside us offers a lovely warmth, a rare treat in these frugal times. So comfortable are we in such surroundings, that we miss the square plated QR codes in front of us to scan and view the menu. A less welcome residual of 2020.
The couple sipping vivid Strawberry mojitos behind us was all the persuasion we needed to order the same; tall tumblers of zippy lime and fresh mint, swirling with macerated fruit. Not thick or syrupy at all. The Moroccan mint tea comes in a pewter teapot on a hammered copper plate. The gilded handle and Cinderella spout form an elaborate vessel that proves style over substance. But the lack of insulation is no hardship given the rich refreshment inside.
Then the mezze platters arrive. Black rectangular dishes slathered with savoury hummus, smoked baba ghanouj, sour moutabal, and a mohammara to die for; a coarse paste of salted almonds and flame roasted red peppers. It’s nuts. I’d go back just to look at it. We instantly order more of the Syrian flatbreads to accompany the dips, which appear all puffed and burnished in floury woven baskets. Each one is torn up before it has the chance to deflate from the oven.
The hot mezze showcases horseshoes of halloumi, filo rolls of spongy cheese, and paprika spiked chunks of batata harra potatoes. The chef’s fryer is obviously scrupulously clean, as everything tastes exactly as it should. A silver oval salver houses flat layers of aubergine topped with a mass of sweet garlic-laced onions. A masakkaa but not as you know it. Burnt but not acrid, wet but not slimy. It’s an Ottolenghi-esque triumph. A juicy bowl of tabbouleh sits inside the shell of an iceberg lettuce, green with herbs and scattered with pops of pomegranate. A banquet fit for a king.
As we rush for the show, robbed of the chance to try the special kunafa dessert; a mound of buttery pastry encasing a creamy milk centre, the staff insist we take a tringle of baklawa and slab of hreeseh semolina cake for the road. Both are doused in syrup and studded with pistachios, the best kind of mealtime curtain closer. Outside, a RZR Storm Hunter-style buggy pulls up at the traffic lights, blasting music from its built in soundsystem. BD1 never disappoints.
Kunafa Tea: 150 Thornton Rd, Bradford BD1 2JH
Cold Mezze Platter 9, Hot Mezze Platter 7, Tabbouleh 7, Masakka 6, Flatbread 9.