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A bubble of Syria breaks new ground

Chance to sample spices and flavours at pop-up restaurant that’s both educational and enjoyable

17 March, 2017 — By Tom Moggach

Bubble in the garden of JW3 where Syrian food is served

A GREAT bubble in the garden” is a poetic description of an unusual pop-up restaurant on Finchley Road.

Taste of Syria – which runs until Sunday 9th April – is hosted by JW3, the Jewish community centre, in partnership with charity World Jewish Relief.

This event offers a chance to support their work while sampling the spices and flavours of that war-torn country: from fattoush salad to chicken marinated with saffron and orange.

We visited on a weekday evening, winding our way down to the gleaming inflatable dome in the JW3 piazza below street level.

The chef here cooks on an outdoor grill and in an adjacent canvas tent, which lends an intrepid, ad-hoc feel to the whole experience.

Taste of Syria is an impressive feat of organisation. For a start, it offers meat – in contrast to the excellent (and permanent) Zest restaurant at the JW3, which serves fish and dairy.

In kosher law, this is a potential problem as meat and dairy cannot be cooked or eaten together.

As a result, Taste of Syria functions entirely independent of the main restaurant, with no sharing of cutlery, sinks and the like – hence the wooden knives and forks.

The organisers even invited a rabbi judge to sign off on these complex arrangements. “Amongst the Jewish community it’s quite ground breaking,” explained Josh, the restaurant manager.

The dome itself is a surprisingly cosy space, with hessian sacking on the floor, a Syrian soundtrack and a handful of small tables.

The cooking is creative – Syrian flavours with a few twists and turns, such as stuffed aubergine (made to a Calabrian recipe) in pitta served with zhug sauce. You pay £12 for a main and a side dish (or £14 for a selection).

Sides include classic Syrian salads or young kale leaves with toasted almonds and a sweet dressing.

The kitchen had sold out of chickens wings with muhammara, the addictive paste of walnuts, peppers, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses and spice.

But the lamb “kefta” was spot on, the grilled meat wrapped snugly with shredded cabbage in a warm flatbread.

There’s only one pudding, a chocolate “meghli” – akin to a liquidized rice pudding – with a coconut and nut crumble.

Don’t expect to linger. Taste of Syria takes no reservations and tables are turned around in less than an hour.

£1 from each meal is donated to World Jewish Relief, a charity established in 1933. There is a video about the charity’s work on a loop in the restaurant.

By 1938, it was responsible for bringing over around 10,000 unaccompanied children, mainly Jewish, from Nazi-occupied Europe. Now their priority is helping some of the almost five million refugees fleeing the Syrian war.

All in all, Taste of Syria is both educational and enjoyable. Grab a drink at the Zest bar before you step into the bubble.

Taste of Syria
JW3 Centre
341-351 Finchley Rd, NW3
020 7433 8988

Taste of Syria runs until Sunday April 9, Monday to Thursday 5-10pm, Sunday 11am-10pm.

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