The first thing that greets you upon entering Petra Cafe is the potent whiff of shisha. The second is that unmistakable, irresistible aroma of shawarma meat being slowly roasted in its own fat. It's an entertaining medley of senses, and certainly one that sums up Left Bank's newish Middle Eastern eatery. We went along on a Saturday at lunchtime yet there was a marked sense of disorientation about the place, with chairs still perched on tabletops and not a server in sight. The handful of people languidly puffing on their hookahs just outside, though, reassures you that everything's in order and this is a primo place to wile away the hours.
We knew what we came for, so as soon as someone emerged behind the counter (it didn't take long) we placed our orders: a lamb kebab on a plate ($15) and a chicken kebab sandwich ($10). In need of a weekend pick-me-up, we also opted for a Turkish coffee ($3.50) each. More on that later.
Let's set one thing straight right away: Petra Cafe knows how to do a damn good shawarma. The lamb, with a glorious coating of fat, is blissfully succulent and tender and packs a fresh chargrilled flavour that gets our seal of approval. It sits on a bed of perfectly cooked, aromatic rice, accompanied by a generous dollop of hummus, tabbouleh and a side salad.
Petra Cafe's kebab sandwiches, oddly enough, are neither a pure kebab nor a sandwich — more along the lines of a wrap. Make no mistake though, they are very, very good, and our marinated chicken was incredibly flavoursome.
Downing a strong Turkish coffee is arguably the best way to round off a hearty shawarma meal. For those new to the world of Turkish coffee, we're not recommending that you give it a go, we're telling you to. It's a potent yet delightfully sweet brew, laced with the fragrance of cardamom and topped with a cheeky layer of foam.
Tucked away from the hubbub of Cuba Street, Petra Cafe is a fantastic, secluded hideaway for lovers of shawarma, shisha, Turkish coffee and desserts, or all of the above. Open till the early hours of the morning, it's an ideal spot to grab a quick midweek lunch or to crash after a wild night out.