Can Syrian food be of a Michelin Star quality?

Benares was the first Michelin star restaurant I have been to. I was so impressed at the time. Two years on and after sampling food in few fantastic (mainly French or experimental) restaurants, it seems OK.

The food in Benares was excellent, the place was spotless, the service was nice and friendly and the poppadoms were the size of 50 p coin, but it is still OK. I don't think Benares problem has anything to do with cooking skills or presentation or service ..etc. The problem (and sorry if I am going to offend anyone) is Indian food is not compatible with the "fine dining" concept. Indian food is not supposed to be presented, cooked or eaten this way and no matter how much you reduce your spice level it is still spice the only thing you can taste. Try the Chicken Tikka Foie Gras on the menu and you will know what I mean.

So, does this apply to Syrian food?

I always struggled to find ways to improve traditional Syrian dishes. To give it this extra dimension to elevate it to a Michelin Star quality. The concept of vegetable and meat cooked in a stew like way and served next to rice give you very small space to maneuver. No matter what you try it is still mezze, veg and rice, or some kind of a grain pilaf. I bought a couple of Syrian cook books to see what else you can do but it is still the usual combinations.

I managed so far to create one dish of Seabass and warm lentil salad that have the potential to improve. It is still no where near a Michelin standard but with some changes it might get closer. This dish is not particularly authentic Syrian but you can definitely taste Syria in it. Great! but, lets face it, it is still a single dish.

I was about to give up but a new inspiration came along.

Silvena Rowe came on Saturday Kitchen program on BBC1 and cooked Kenafeh wrapped king prawns with pine nuts taratur. The dish looked amazing. I haven't tried to cook it as I am waiting to taste the original but I can imagine the flavours really working together. I was so excited.

Many people reading this will be thinking, What does this recipe got to do with Syrian food. Guess what! this recipe is from a restaurant in Syria.

For those who doesn't know Silvana Rowe she is a Bulgarian chef dubbed "Queen of Eastern European Cuisine". Lately she has been interested in Eastern Mediterranean cooking. She spent time travelling around the area sampling food and bringing recipes and ingredients to the UK.

She tried this recipe in Al-Halabi restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus. I know the dish doesn't sound authentic Syrian and I accept I have to try it first before judging but if it taste of Syria I will pass it as Syrian.

If this dish is anything to go by and the rest of the menu in Al-Halabi is of dishes of the same level of execution I might be up for a winner. Could Al-Halabi be my Syrian fine dining experience? I will have to see.

I am off to Damascus this weekend and I can't wait to go there. I will till you what I think when I come back.

Watch this space!


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