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.

 

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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:

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Lentil soup

 

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

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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

 

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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.

 

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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:

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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.

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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

The Gurkha’s Diner – excitingly different Nepalese food in Balham

FourAndHalfStars

A former Head Chef of Bombay Bicycle Club Balham in the nineties, Krishna Shah – who has a reputation for creating fine quality and diverse Nepalese and Indian cuisine – opened The Gurkha’s Diner in Balham in 2003.

Tonight was my first visit and given how busy other pubs and eating places were on Balham High Road, it was surprisingly quiet.

For us, that wasn’t a problem: we received attentive service and fine quality and excitingly different food and drinks.

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Gurkhas diner – surprisingly quiet on a Thursday eve

To drink I had Gurkha beer (dry, slightly malty lager – a nice change) and we shared a few appetisers between six of us:

~ tareko squid @ £3.90
~ dayalu – potato pate made with lentils, spinach + herbs, served with sesame pickle @ £3.75
~ momoch – steamed dumplings (dim sum style) filled with tender lamb + herbs, served with achaar @ £3.90
~ saffron chamri – roasted cheese, saffron flavour @ £3.90
~ bhate prawn – chuli-cooked (ie. cooked over charcoal) prawns on sticky rice, with lime + soy sauce + sesame seeds @ £4.75
~ courgette @ £3.90

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Tareko squid, saffron chamri (roast cheese) + courgette

Most of these starters were new to me, certainly different from the ones you see on Indian menus. They were all cooked and served to perfection and even though the squid was my choice, the ones I’d choose again would be (in order of preference) momoch (stunning lamb flavours and quite light too), saffron chamri and dayalu.

Just sharing a variety of appetisers (meze or tapas style) would make for a really enjoyable meal, without even venturing to the main dishes.

That said, the main courses were equally good. Two of us shared rice, a Nepali bread (wholewheat, freshly baked in a clay oven – really soft and light) and three veggie (side) dishes.

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Vegetable dishes:
~ dhahi bhanta (aubergine with a good spicy kick) @ £4.25
~ lukla simi (mixed beans + peas) @ £4.75
~ pasa chamri (cheese with peas + onion) @ £4.50

The dishes served here are really great quality and varied. Including a couple of beers each and the tip, the total bill came to £144 for six (£24 each) – unbelievable value.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit and exploring more of the menu.


*UPDATE 2012*
Consider more of the menu explored. Many times.
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Nepalese beers

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Salmon munillo maccha @ £10.25

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Chuli gurkhali chicken – cooked in tandoor

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Spinach chicken


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dessert menu

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: Nepalese
~ Address: 1 The Boulevard, Balham High Road, London
~ Postcode: SW17 7BW
~ Tel: 020 8675 1188
~ Nearest station: Balham
~ Website: Gurkhas diner website
~ Location: Gurkhas diner Balham map

Gurkhas Diner on Urbanspoon

Square Meal