So what’s the difference between Syrian and Lebanese food?” I asked the agreeable chap, who was wearing a fez and colorful national dress, at the new Damascus Gate restaurant on Upper Camden Street. “None, really,” he replied, “but like the Irish, so many Lebanese people have gone out of their country and settled around the world that people are familiar with Lebanese food – they would not perhaps recognize Syrian food if I just said that.”
The welcome had been warm as they offered us the choice of two tables, in the more casual front section, or in the room to the rear, which had beautiful and imposing seating made from North African dark wood. We chose the more exotic section, complete with appropriate music, which also gave us a view into the traditional ‘smoking’ room or shisha bar.
I couldn’t but comment on the wonderful array of sweet treats lined up on the counter in the front section, from baklava, to date-stuffed pastry confections, almond and orange twirls, and amazing chocolate-orange tarts. “They are all made here. We have a big kitchen downstairs,” our agreeable friend told us. I could see these being a huge draw, particularly as the restaurant opens all day from breakfast through to dinner. You can bring your own wine, and there is no corkage charge.
I love the mezzz (starters) selection in restaurants, and here they were broken into vegetarian or meat (€5-€8). Hummus damashky was vegetarian, with sesame, lemon juice and olive oil, while hummus bel lahmeh was topped with minced lamb marinated in olive oil. Other options included stuffed vine leaves; tabbouleh; lentil soup with fried onion and tomato sauce.
Brendan enjoyed his substantial chicken-stuffed fatayer pastry parcels (€6 50) backed up with garlic mayonnaise, mixed salad, and aubergine puree, and topped with pomegranate seeds. From a choice of three mezze selection at €10.90 each, I went with al sham mezze, which included deep-fried bean patties; falafels; triangular lamb-filled pastry sambosas; a bolb of pomegranate topped baba ganoush aubergine puree; hummus drizzled with olive oil, lemon and chilli; and yoghurt and cucumber salad. I love cold food and varieties of salads and middle Eastern food is great for vegetarians, with huge range of pulses. I was almost hard aground after the mezze selection – so order carefully.
Main (€13-€18)included a good range of principally chicken and lamb dishes, cooked both on and off skewers in multifarious ways from sabanch be lahim, which hand lamb cooked with spinach and chickpeas with rice and lemon; to Amman chicken, which was a chicken fillet stuffed with parsley, garlic and olive oil- a little like chicken kiev – and slow-cooked in the oven. We went for two dishes from the Damascus Gate specialties. Brendan chose farroug mahshy (€18), which proved to be an alarmingly large “baby chicken”, stuffed with bulgar wheat, minced lamb and pine nuts, on a platter with pickled cauliflower and carrots – you would need a hefty appetite. Couscous be allhem (€18), a rustic-style lamb stew served with a large amount of couscous, was pleasant, but a bit bland for my tastes. I did very much enjoy a side dish of moatbal (€6.50) - grilled aubergine puree mixed with tahini and lemon juice; and batata alakefak (€5.50) - cubed, fried potatoes dusted with chilli, garlic and coriander.
I had to try the various sweet treats (€4.50) and, for me, it is the mezze selection and sweet treats that are the stars drawing me to Middle Eastern food. With our BYO bottle of wine (€10.99), our evening with optional service came to €89.89.
A lot of fun can be had here - and there is even a microphone for Middle Eastern karaoke nights.
10 Upper Camden Street, Dublin 2.
Tel : (01) 475-2000