From baba ganoush to spiced lamb, Damascus Gate can keep all the family happy
Restaurant Title: Damascus Gate
Proprietor: Basil Ziadeh
Address: 10 Upper Camden St, Dublin 2
Phone: 01-475 2000
Cuisine: Lebanese and Syrian
‘Do they have kids’ food?” my three-year-old wants to know on the way to dinner in Dublin’s new Syrian restaurant. This earns him a brisk lecture on the non-existence of “kids’ food”. (Yes I know. Who’d be a restaurant critic’s child?) “Food is food,” I insist. “It will be delicious,” hoping in the name of nuggets that I’m right.
Damascus Gate is a bright spot at the shabby end of Upper Camden Street, after a darkened stretch of “development opportunity” buildings, many of which have developed a layer of grime on their peeling walls. The restaurant is in a former cafe and still has a cafe feel at the front.
One of the people behind it is Palestinian restaurateur Basil Ziadeh, whose Little Jerusalem in Rathmines is a great spot. His partner is Syrian former lawyer Ghandi Mallak, who won a landmark case on citizenship last month, and works the front of house.
It’s a bring-your-own-bottle place and they don’t charge corkage. Happily Jack Carvill’s, a lovely off-licence, is near. We pile into our table (two smaller tables pushed together) parking scooters, bags and coats alongside us, and the campaign to debunk the notion of kids’ food begins. Towards the rear of the restaurant the Middle Eastern styling increases and the back room is a shisha house where customers can smoke water pipes. A gang of lads looks up when I take a peek so I feel like a teacher who’s just stumbled around the back of the bike shed.
There are lots of typical Middle Eastern staples on the well-priced menu. We think about going for a selection of starters but find that everything we want is on a shared mezze plate.
Liam is having the lamb kibbeh, which is misspelt as kebab on the menu, and I’m trying the lamb special with spiced aubergine, which sounds like a moussaka-type dish. New menus are coming, we’re told.
Flatbreads and two bowls of hummus and baba ganoush arrive to keep us happy as we wait. “I like hummus,” the three-year-old shouts, surprising even himself as he lorries it into his mouth on a spoon made of flatbread. We order mansaf dajaj, a chicken dish, for him to share with his six-year-old brother. The nine-year-old is getting a hummus bel lahmeh.
And the three-year-old is spot on. His hummus is great and the baba ganoush is terrific. It’s packed with luscious, smoky burnt aubergine flavour and has a lemon tang with a scattering of sumac and pomegranate seeds on the top. There are more of both creamy pastes on the mezze plate along with some tabouleh, which dials up the parsley and tomato elements so that the couscous is almost a sprinkled seasoning rather than the main component.