Lovely Lebanese Dining at Rafael Sea Point

Words: Tam Selley

You’ll find a little slice of Middle-Eastern heaven on the corner of Main and Ellis Roads in Sea Point. Rafael, the youngest addition to the Mischu family group, offers patrons a true taste of Lebanese food and culture in the heart of Cape Town. You’ll find traditional flavours of baba ghanoug, za’atar and falafel, together with a healthy helping of welcoming Lebanese culture at this colourful corner café.

Dining at Rafael Cape Town

Lebanese eateries are few and far between in the Mother City, so when I was acquainted with Rafael and the promise of foreign Middle-Eastern spices, traditional Turkish coffee and homemade hummus and flatbread, I was eager to try this spot. Rafael is run by Mischu Coffee owner (some of the best coffee in Cape Town), Mikhael Bou Rjeily.

Inside Rafael

My first impression upon arrival to Rafael? Home. The space inside is honestly oozing with warm-welcome vibes and Mikhael goes out of his way to lead patrons through an experience of his Lebanese culture.

Named after his son, Rafael, the restaurant is a testament to the importance of family.

The space inside is cosy and colourful. Refreshing shades of white and blues decorate the interior of the restaurant, with dangling light fixtures and mosaic-patterned tiles. You’ll find tables set up with homemade mint lemonade and backgammon boards for guests to enjoy.

Rafael

At Home at Rafael

Growing up in Lebanon, Mikhael tells us that many of his childhood memories involved food. He explained that in the Lebanese culture, food and family go hand-in-hand and all family gatherings are bought together around the table. This is the intrinsic philosophy that Mikhael and his family live by and it is integrated into the way he runs Rafael.

Mikhael walks us through this experience by pulling up a chair and dining with us for the evening.

Sharing is Caring

While there are specials available at Rafael daily, like shwarmas and burgers, Mikhael encourages patrons to order various tapas off the menu to share as a table. Our evening started with a selection of cold mezze and man’oushe (Lebanese flatbread) with labneh, cucumber, mint and a new flavour sensation for me – za’atar, a herby concoction of oregano, thyme and sumac.

The cold mezze comprised of crowd favourites, falafel and hummus, baba ghanoug, bowls of olives, labneh and tzatziki. These were served alongside Kibbeh Bi Laban (meatballs cooked in mint garlic yoghurt) mini lamb kafta kebabs, chicken kebabs and a spicy aubergine and chickpea stew. Everything was wholesome, tasty and made immeasurably better when scooped up with warm flatbread that Mikhael encourages you to eat with.

Crazy for Kataifi

I’ve always been a massive fan of kataifi and its fine golden threads of crispy pastry. The result is a light and crisp experience that satisfies the craving for something deep-fried. I was happy to learn that the dessert menu at Rafael is kataifi heaven – kataifi cheesecake? Yes. Please.

Rafael

The sweet offerings are light and without too much syrup. We sampled the Labneh Kataifi Cheesecake, as well as the Kataifi Cone filled with toasted almond, pistachios and Nutella and drizzled with an orange blossom syrup. Both were simple, tasty and satisfying.

Turkish Delights

One of my favourite parts of the evening, however, was sampling the Turkish coffee served in traditional ibriks. The method of boiling ultra-fine unfiltered coffee grounds results in a dark and full-bodied brew that’s almost creamy-like in its consistency. Cardamom and sugar are also added to the coffee while it brews, and adds depth of flavour and sweetness. The coffee is allowed to sit for a few moments before being poured to allow for the sediment to settle and is served with crispy baklava.

Our evening at Rafael left us with full tummies and happy hearts. Being able to sit around the table with the owner himself and learn of the traditions and culture that Rafael was inspired by was a unique experience. For a wholesome evening with good food and great company, Rafael is where you want to be.

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