Damascus Chef pop-up at the Good Hope cafe – Hither Green SE13

Souq meze with a personal touch

The Damascus Chef (Abdullah Alawayed) and his partner host Syrian meze dinners at various locations in South London. Find out about their current pop-up events on the Eventbright website where you can reserve places. It’s currently £23.95 for adults or half-price for children and you pay locally, at the end of the meal.

We went to the ‘Souq meze’ pop-up at the Good Hope cafe, Hither Green (an award-winning community cafe run by the ForJimmy charity) on Friday night and joined the 6.30pm sitting (on Friday evenings there are 8.30pm sittings too).

Arriving early, the hostess welcomed us excitedly, and talked enthusiastically about the careful preparation that goes into making the dishes on this menu. Which rubs off on customers and makes for a good atmosphere in this small, cosy space, where candle-lit tables were decorated with pomegranate seeds at each place setting.


Meze with fresh bread to share

Top l-r: Fool mudamas bi humous (fava beans crushed with chickpeas, chopped tomato, parsley, olive oil, lemon + cumin) and humous (crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini, cumin + garlic)
front l-r: Mutabbel (flame-grilled aubergine infused with yoghurt, tahini, garlic + cumin) and lebneh (thick, canvas-strung cows’ yoghurt)


We ordered a bottle of Rioja (@ about £16.00 – very reasonably priced and very nice too) and were blown away by the fresh tastiness of the meze starters. The food is familiar as middle-eastern but with a specific Syrian style – for example, humous is made with a ratio of more chickpeas to tahini, and is thicker and creamier for it. The mutabbel (aubergine dip) was absolutely gorgeous and the lebneh (really thick, creamy yoghurt) was a winner too. Shared starters are served with a variety of fresh breads and are limitless (if you dare).

Next came this shurbat adas, a traditional Syrian lentil soup with coriander seeds and cumin:

Lentil soup


For main course, there was a selection of three dishes (we’d had to choose our main course in advance, when reserving):

Kawaj – Levantine courgette, aubergine and green pepper casseroled in tomato sauce, sauteed onion, garlic and fresh coriander; topped with fresh chives and served with yoghurt and cucumber, pomegranates, walnuts, pine-nuts + fresh tabouleh


Syrian lamb stew – Diced organic leg of lamb stewed with freekeh (smoked green wheat) infused with pine kernels, cashews, pistachios, almonds, green peas + raisins, served with optional yoghurt + cucumber (not pictured) + fresh tabouleh

I had this lamb stew. It tasted as though it had been slow-cooked and was steeped in many flavours. Really good.


Jaj bil muhammara – Chicken thigh braised with lemon, coriander + pomegranate syrup, on a bed of crushed mild chilli muhammara, served with walnuts, yoghurt + cucumber, and tabouleh salad


For dessert, the choice was baklawa with ice-cream, or ice-cream with watermelon. I had baklawa:

Jiljil wa hab ruman – Traditional filo pastry baklawa made with flour, syrup, honey, butter, egg white + pistachio, served with ice cream. Laden with fresh mint, pomegranates + pistachios.


For the fifth and final chai course, we had a choice of fresh mint, cardamom or cinnamon + walnut.

Chai – cinnamon + walnut tea


The verdict: Good value for such a freshly prepared, unique and tasty banquet. The hosting couple put their heart and soul into making this dining experience enjoyable and relaxing for customers – the kind of personal touch that you don’t easily find in high-street restaurants. And the choice of venue for this pop-up makes it even more worthwhile. Eat, drink and be very merry – your money goes to good places.


Pop-up info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Syrian, middle-eastern
– Location: venues vary – this was at the Good Hope cafe, 216 Hither Green Lane, London, SE13 6RT
– Contact: chef@damascuschef.com
– Website + menus: Damascus Chef website
– Damascus Chef events (reserve places): Eventbright website
– Photos of Damascus Chef: Damascus Chef on flickr


Meza – cosy Lebanese by Tooting Bec

A teeny tiny Lebanese restaurant within spitting distance of Tooting Bec tube station, Meza can accommodate about 20 diners at a time and has the feel of being squished cosily into someone’s living room.

It’s intimate (an open kitchen takes up half the room), popular, and gets booked up quickly. It’s also cash only.

There’s a 1.5 hour turnaround time on tables (our table this evening was booked for 7.30pm and by 9pm we were being asked to leave, to accommodate another sitting). But service is fast and attentive (without feeling rushed) and it’s well worth booking ahead for.

Falafel with garlic sauce

The menu is fairly short and sweet, and while you can choose a selection to share, we – at our server’s excellent suggestion – went for a mixed meze at £15 a head.

This included more than enough for six of us, of the following:
~ fresh pitta bread
~ hummus (normally £3.45 a portion)
~ moutabel (grilled aubergine, tahini + lemon juice and often called ‘baba ganoush’, normally @ £3.95)
~ tabbouleh (parsley, crushed wheat, olive oil dressing, normally @ £4)
~ wara einab (stuffed vine leaves, normally @ £3.75)
~ bemieh bil zeit (okra, tomato, coriander, normally @ £3.75 a portion)

~ falafel (normally @ £3.95)
~ grilled kallaj (haloumi bread, normally @ £3.95)
~ kibbeh (croquette stuffed with minced lamb, pine nuts, onion @ £4)
~ sambousek lahmeh (deep fried lamb and onion pastry parcels @ £3.95)
~ fatayer spinach (spinach, onion + pine nut pastry parcels normally @ £3.95)

~ soujouk (spicy sausagues @ £3.95)
~ mixed grill comprising chicken shish taouk, kafta meshwieh and lahem meshwieh
~ barley (?) with crispy fried caramelised onions


Meat mixed grill

These freshly prepared dishes kept arriving at the table in a steady stream and all proved popular, particularly the moutabel (baba ganoush) stuffed vine leaves, and spicy sausages.

We shared two bottles of a very palatable house red wine (@ £12 a bottle) and, including a 10% tip, the total bill came to £22 a head. Excellent value for fresh, good food.

Home deliveries
As of summer 2013 deliveries are now available from Meza if you order through MyDeliveryCab at https://www.mydeliverycab.co.uk/Meza-Tooting

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, Turkish, Middle Eastern
~ Address: 34 Trinity Road, London
~ Postcode: SW17 7RE
~ Tel: 07722 111299
~ Nearest station: Tooting Bec or Balham
~ Time Out review: Time Out’s review of Meza
~ Location: Meza map

Other nearby restaurants
~ Gurkha’s Diner

Square Meal

Meza on Urbanspoon

Al Hamra – Lebanese restaurant in Shepherd Market

Three of us (at work) decided to go out for lunch today. It was a last minute idea and – this close to Christmas – wasn’t surprising that most nearby restaurants in the Mayfair/Shepherd Market area were booked up.

Fortunately, we were able to reserve a table at Al Hamra, which turned out to be fairly quiet over lunchtime.

Al Hamra in Shepherd Market

Al Hamra describes itself as “the finest Lebanese restaurant in London” (quite a superlative; quite a claim – we would see). Their menu has an un-customer-friendly warning that the minimum order is £20 per person excluding drinks, even at lunch time. And there’s a cover charge of £2.50 per person.

So, be warned – don’t come here if you’re after a light lunch in the region of £10 – £15, as you’d end up being charged £22.50 minimum (plus drinks and service) anyway.

The three of us shared a few dishes including:
~ Baba ganoush – smokey aubergine dip
~ Houmous and pitta – chickpeas + sesame seed dip
~ Olives
~ Grilled halloumi – Grilled Cypriot cheese
~ Falafel – ground chick peas, broad beans, etc rolled into balls + deep fried
~ Chicken wings
~ Foul Medames – mixed beans
~ Fatayer – pastry filled with spinach

Meze at Al Hamra

The total lunch bill came to £102 (so £34 each). While the food here is good, it’s probably a bit over-priced.

I suspect we’ll stick with our regular lunchspot, Ye Grapes (Thai) – also in Shepherd Market – in future.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, middle-eastern
~ Address: 31-33 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London
~ Postcode: W1J 7PT
~ Tel: 020 7493 1954
~ Nearest tube station: Green Park
~ Website: Al Hamra website
~ Location: Al Hamra map


Nearby dining:

~ Ye Grapes – good Thai food in Shepherd Market

Al Hamra on Urbanspoon



Mekan meze – Catford

Mekan, a fairly new Turkish restaurant in Catford, is minimalist with a factory-style brick-wall interior and a neatly designed menu. While everything looks nice, it is – acoustically – a bit of a nightmare as the bare walls and lack of furnishings absorb no sound. With only a half full restaurant it can be difficult to hear the person next to you.

Meze at Mekan

Our visit last night was a birthday treat so I wanted to ‘splash out’. We ordered a heap of hot meze dishes to share including:
~ borek (feta cheese, mushrooms and vegetables encased in a light, filo pastry – very good too)
~ patlican soslu (very tasty stewed aubergine)
~ peynirli mücver (Turkish patties made from grated courgette, cheese, parsley etc – I’ve made these at home and they’re absolutely divine)
~ hellim (grilled haloumi cheese – great, I don’t think you can go wrong with this)
~ kalamari (battered squid rings with a garlic sauce – slightly soggy batter but good enough)
~ whitebait (breadcrumbed, fried whitebait covered in fresh lemon juice)
~ sucuk hellim izgara (spicy Turkish sausage with more grilled haloumi)
~ falafel (chickpea, cinnamon, sesame seed and vegetable balls – the cinnamon flavour was intense and almost coffee-like and very good but there was another bleach-like flavour which cut through it, that I didn’t enjoy)

Having eaten plenty and enjoyed a good bottle of rioja, the total bill came to £50 excluding service. Mekan is definitely not a ‘splashing out’ type of restaurant – it is most certainly cheap and cheerful, with good (but not outstanding) food and drink. We had great service, there’s lots of veggie options on the menu and it’s one of the few good places to go in Catford. We’ll be back.

On ‘being back’…
Chargrilled salmon

Iskender kebab

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Turkish, middle-eastern
~ Address: 11-13 Bromley Road, Catford, London
~ Postcode: SE6 2TS
~ Tel: 020 7998 1598
~ e: catford@mekanrestaurant.co.uk
~ Nearest train station(s): Catford, Catford Bridge
~ Website + menus: Mekan website
~ Location: Mekan map

Nearby dining – Catford SE area:
~ Catford Bridge Tavern
~ Catford Chippy
~ El Poco Mexico
~ Sapporo Ichiban

Mekan on Urbanspoon

Maroush – Sidi Maarouf

I was heading over to the Marble Arch area (west Oxford Street) to meet K the other evening, trying to eliminate some of the endless dining opportunities available to us, as I walked. There’s so many appealing restaurants in west central London, it had the potential of being a long drawn-out decision.

Luckily, I found I had a craving for spicy turkish sausages and grilled halloumi. And I was walking in the direction of Edgware Road (Lebanese Central) after all.

After a short circuit around Maroush-land (Edgware Road is a mini-town of Maroush delis, cafes, expresses and restaurants) we settled on a Maroush restaurant which was formally Signor Marco (an Italian style Lebanese restaurant with cheesey music and dancing, much frequented by us when we worked nearby, around 2001). It’s now Sidi Maarouf serving middle eastern meze and Moroccan tajines.

We shared a selection of kemia (mixed Moroccan meze) including the best baba ghanouj (roast aubergine dip) with warm pitta, spicy Turkish sausages, grilled halloumi cheese, side salads and olives, and a portion of spicy minced lamb briouat triangles, along with an initial thirst-quenching Almaza Lebanese beer and a bottle of Australian Viognier with food.

Decor is North African and the ceiling is a sea of beautiful silks, lit from behind with different coloured lamps which give a lovely soft glow of varying shades around the room (though possibly not favoured by the local fire safety department…).

The cheesey music remains albeit different artists from Signor Marco’s day. Reverberating twangs from an electric organ reminded me more of the roller-discos I was taken to as a child in the 70s than the exotic middle east. And the keyboard player was texting on his mobile phone while leaving the organ to play at the same time, but hey – that’s entertainment.

Fruit bowl dessert at Maroush, Lardbutty restaurant of the week

All in all: great food, decor/ environment and amusing entertainment, very reasonably priced.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, middle-eastern
~ Address: 56-58 Edgware Road, London
~ Postcode: W2 2EH
~ Nearest tube stations: Marble Arch – Edgware Road branches
~ Website + menus: Manoush restaurants website
~ Sidi Maarouf web-page: Manoush Sidi Maarouf page
~ Location: Maroush map

Sidi Maarouf on Urbanspoon