Gemmayze Cake Lounge Pays Homage to Teta Afaf

On a quaint street corner nestled in Gemmayze, a stone’s throw from the famous night club Loge, sits a cake lounge called Afaf. The juxtaposition is striking, as the former heaves with loud music, while the latter provides sanctuary from even the slightest noise in the street.

Thank the triple-panel glass wall, just one of many fixtures carefully thought out and installed to give Afaf the right air and aura. A giant whisk doubles as a door knob. Beautiful silver trays attached to legs serve as coffee tables. Ornate chandeliers festoon the ceiling. Comfortable divan seating outfits one room, while cool concrete slabs characterize another. Imaginative two-faced statues custom-made in East Asia lord over the walls. Wooden foot stools reflect an impromptu acquisition at a Turkish bazaar. Photos upon framed photos pin a face to the name Afaf, which in Arabic translates to chastity or virtue.

But who is Afaf? And how does she figure into this avant garde cake lounge that boasts homemade bundts like lemon poppyseed and hand-churned ice cream in mistika flavor?

Cake lounge? To the uninitiated, Afaf resembles an art gallery!

Afaf is the beloved grandmother of one of the shop owners named Farah Malhas. Hailing from Turkish-Syrian ancestry but making her home in Amman, Afaf left an indelible impression on her daughter’s daughter, who wanted to pay homage to the woman who helped rear her. In the eyes of Farah, her grandmother is the epitome of the perfect matriarch, hostess, and confidante, and it is her express wish to channel her inimitable spirit to anyone who pops in for a visit.

There's Afaf, and she oversees everything, quite literally!

Farah acquired all of Afaf’s original cake recipes and reproduces them fastidiously, taking care not to skimp on ingredients or quality. In fact, a financial advisor would grimace if he knew that the mistika ice cream is fashioned from real mastic, whose price by the kilo soars into the three figures. How will the lounge turn a profit, let alone break even?

For Farah and her business partner Amani Kandil, the be all and end all is a product borne out of passion, a setting carved from paradise, and hospitality akin to – you guessed it – a grandmother’s. Once you attain that trifecta, the enterprise will set itself into motion, essentially greasing its own wheels and rolling along just fine.

The two 30-something ladies, who met in graduate school, are themselves emblems of warmth and kindness, greeting customers congenially and inviting them to make themselves at home in whatever corner or cushion calls out to them. On any given day, you’ll find a rotating selection of cakes, cookies, and ice cream, all baked by the petite and proudly tattooed pastry chef Farah. The kitchen is well within sight, separated from the dining space by a glass wall perhaps to indulge curious patrons. Black and lime-green KitchenAid mixers flesh out a laboratory-like bakery where cleanliness reigns on high, precisely as it does chez Afaf.

In the background, the kitchen; in the foreground, a table with elaborate feet

Yes, there are chandeliers in the kitchen!

Pastry chef Farah insists on a spotless kitchen evocative of Afaf's

During my visit on a Sunday afternoon, I was treated to a hearty cheese sandwich inside sliced whole-wheat bread garnished with lettuce and tomato and pierced with heart-studded toothpicks. Chocolate crinkle cookies dusted with confectioner’s sugar came next, marked by a crispy exterior and fondant core. 

A whole-wheat cheese sandwich (L), flanked by chocolate crinkle cookies

I would have nibbled on more than merely one, but I knew there were other goodies to try, namely the best mistika ice cream this side of the Mediterranean. Packed with pistachio and yielding gently to the pastry fork, this frozen novelty is deliriously good. I dare you to hunt online for the recipe: you’ll fail miserably.

Homemade mistika ice cream

I knew I could have ended on that aromatic note, but how could I forego sticky toffee date cake that crumbles exactly as you would expect of a homemade variety? It washes down impeccably with coffee, served inside an elegant porcelain cup likely originating from Afaf. In fact, much of the silverware was bestowed upon Farah by her grandmother, who is planning a trip to Beirut in the coming months to confer her blessings.

A slice of sticky toffee date cake

But until we have the rare privilege of meeting her, we can taste her delectable treats and bask beneath her smiling portrait at the cake lounge. The artistic palimpsest of a venue, which irrevocably weaves elements of Afaf, Farah, and their close kin spanning markedly different eras, provides an unusual backdrop that quickly draws you into its fabric, until eventually you find your own comfy nook and cranny, much like an English muffin.

Speaking of which, afternoon high tea is promised soon at Afaf!

The afternoon high tea trays will soon be decked with dainty bites

Youssef el Hayek St., Gemmayze


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