26th July 2012
Tonight we have our first Syrian pop-up restaurant. It is a funny expression ‘Pop up’ and makes me think a cardboard cut-out might spring to life in a swirl of dust from the floor, possibly smacking us in the face. The ‘smack-in the-face’ bit could still happen, though the reality so far has been a little different. An idea born of Barnetts and extended out to others, we took it and ran with it. We like Syrian food, we would like other people to try Syrian food and perhaps like it too, if they don’t already. Invites were out and responded to with speed so there was no room for this idea to be put in the pot of nice-thought-but-not-today-thanks; it must be done. And it seems that things do not spring to life before your eyes from the ground, pop-ups require quite a lot of propping up and foundation-laying before they will stand and even then, there is extra architecture needed. The menu, but what to have and when shall we cook and when do we shop, are there chairs enough and plates, do we sweat the onions or sauté them, how do you spell Baba Ghanoush, one H or two, what time should people come. Oh by the way there are 3 vegetarians etc.
Food-wise there is so much to choose from, but then think of cost, taste, appeal, look. We plumped for cherries, sour ones and chose Kebab Karaz, a dark and rich delight of a dish from Aleppo to punch you on the tongue, cut through with Laban Bikhyar, cooling yoghurt. And of course mezze – lots of lovely mezze to get the engines started. The only problem with mezze is that it is so delicious that you don’t really want anything else after it. We practiced the Kebab Keraz last weekend and it didn’t go quite as planned, the lamb like lumpy burgers, the sauce tasted right, but we had complaints of too sweet and ‘oh but you burnt the nuts? This is why practices are good, to knock out some of the curve balls and smooth over the surface.
On Thursday afternoon, the house is filled with food; a four-tier parsley cushion sits on one of the kitchen chairs, a cloth in between each layer, but it is not to be sat on. Hummus waits in the fridge, chocolate lurks in the freezer, onions sweat on the stove and everywhere plates, bowls, knives and forks. There is still work to be done and that second hand will not stop ticking.
27th July 2012
It is done, we did it. The helter-skelter of final preparations rushed into a whirlwind of frying, chopping, cleaning, squeezing and furniture moving. A feeding of the fifteen instead of five thousand but it felt like a feast, we started with a curly cocktail, Tamarind Jebel Quasioun, shaken and stirred by a master of the art and quails eggs with cumin. The table was strewn with bowls of green, green parsley tabbouleh, smoky aubergine Moutabal and roasted butternut squash tahini that just melted in the mouth. Then the Kebab Karaz, a purple pile of meatballs and cherries, with nutty green rice to add to the mix. We ended with Chocolate pistachio bites and Qamruddin, an apricot drink, often drunk during Ramadan. The road was bumpy and sometimes just disappeared around the bend, a few moments in the desert with tumbleweed whistling past and then we would be off again. Bumpy indeed, but we did fly and I think we would like to fly again, a little higher next time and a little straighter.