Damascus Chef: A feast for the senses

Damascus Chef: A feast for the senses
Yalla, let's eat! We visited Damascus Chef offering authentic Syrian cooking with local British ingredients - the first in our review series of Middle Eastern restaurants in the UK.
3 min read
Offering authentic Syrian cooking using local and organic ingredients, Damascus Chef is a must visit
Damascus Chef @ The Peckham Pelican, 92 Peckham Rd, London SE15 5PY. Four course meal for two without drinks (unlimited mint, cardamom or walnut tea included) £44.

Damascus Chef must be a first for London: A roving pop-up restaurant, serving delicious Syrian dishes using seasonal, local ingredients, all accompanied by the sounds of live oud music and poetry.

Run by Abdullah Alawayed and his wife, Fabienne, their concept is simple. To bring the flavours of traditional Syrian and Levantine cooking alive, with a creative, modern twist. Forget the stereotypes of greasy, fatty meat-heavy stews, these guys know how to fine balance the flavours and textures on your plate pretty perfectly.

We visit Damascus Chef during his weekly residency at the trendy Peckham Pelican in south-east London. Usually a laid-back bar and cafe, Abdullah and Fabienne’s pop-up is cooking up a storm in the kitchen every Wednesday of April. The stripped-back look with long wooden tables, open kitchen and sofas make for a cosy setting.

Fabienne gives us a run-down of the mezze starters: Lebneh made with yoghurt from a farm in Kent, hummous with sesame seeds, baba ganoush and fool mudamas with fresh bread. The smokey chargrilled aubergine (yes, they cook it themselves over a wood fire) is a treat, as is the lebneh. With pomegranate seeds topping the dips, each mouthful has an extra sweet crunch.

Starter Mezze
 Mezze starters from left anticlockwise: Baba ghanoush, hummus, fool (fava beans) and labneh    
The next course is a mulukhiya soup with coriander, garlic and sautéed onions. A common ingredient in Egyptian cooking, the onions in Abdullah’s version of the soup take the edge off the more bitter green leaf vegetable, mulukhiya.

We wash it all down with as much mint, cardamom or cinnamon infused tea as we want. A glance over at the kitchen and Abdullah is hard at work preparing the mains. The four course menu gives you a choice of three mains, and we opt for the kufta kerasi (cherry infused leg of lamb) and the jajbil muhammara (organic boneless chicken thigh braised with lemon, coriander and pomegranate syrup).

Jajbil muhammara [left], kufta kerasi
Jaj bil muhamara (left), kofta kerasi
It’s here that Abdullah’s cooking really comes into its own. Having grown up on a farm in north east Syria, he learned his trade in Damascus, fine-tuned it in Amman and is now drawing on his wealth of knowledge to concoct an exciting balance of new and traditional cooking. The cherry coulis with the lamb, and the pomegranate syrup accompanying the succulent chicken bring just the right amount of sweetness to the meat.

Both dishes are accompanied with a fresh tabouleh, with just the right blend of fresh herbs, lemon juice and bulgur. Simple but notoriously difficult, a good tabouleh is sure sign of a skilled chef, and Abdullah has got this down.

By now the poetry reading is in full swing. With only one dinner sitting each evening, Damascus Chef's concept is world away from the crowds of many London restaurants where you’re herded in and out at lightning speed.

Ice cream and backlava
Ice cream and baklava, topped with pomegranate seeds
Abdullah's cooking and attention to detail is obviously driven by a love for what he does, and the music, poetry and presentation make an evening at Damascus Chef a real treat for the senses. 

Halal: Yes
Alcohol served: Yes

Catch Damascus Chef in Peckham, or at his regular residency at the Good Hope Cafe in Hither Green. And if the wilds of south east London seem like a world away, he also does workshops and private dinner parties.

Follow him on Twitter: @DamascusChef