I just got back from holiday in Syria. I was there for eight days and it was a non stop eating affair. I have no idea how I managed to keep the damage to my waist line to a minimum.
Way before I arrive home my mum usually would prepare a list of all my favorite dishes to cook while I am on Holiday so every lunch is a culinary affair. Some time days are not enough so my mum would double up and cook two dishes instead of one to make sure I am well fed before I go back to cold dark London. On top of that there is the compulsory dinners at my grandma's, best friend, aunt and uncle. Add to that a couple of meals out, a breakfast here and there... and you end up with few extra pounds and an upset stomach.
Now back were we left. In my first post on this blog I was wondering if Al-Halabi restaurant could be my Syrian Michelin starred restaurant.
In short, No.
To start the sitting was fantastic. The dinning room was beautiful, the decor was traditional Damascene executed to perfection and the staff were wonderful. The restaurant specialises in Aleppian food hence the name Al-Halabi meaning "the Aleppian".
The menu included the usual Mezzeh/starter dishes cold and hot. Most of these were straight forward traditional dishes. Some others have some kind of a twist to left them up. This was mostly a shy attempt with various degrees of success. We ordered Mutabal (smoked aubergine and tahini dip) which was the best I have ever tasted. The Lamb Tongues Salad (very adventurous on my wife behalf) failed miserably to deliver on flavour. The meat was under seasoned and so bland the only thing I could taste was the olive oil.
The rest of the menu reflected the exotic nature of Aleppian cooking compared to that of Damascus and the rest of Syria. Historically Aleppo was a flourishing commercial centre and with its location on the Silk Road ingredients, spices and indeed influences came from all over the world. Allepian food contains more spices compared to the Damascene salt and pepper. In addition it uses fruits in main dishes which is almost unheard of elsewhere in Syria or the rest of The Levant.
Example on the menu included Kebab Karaz (Cherry Kebab; grilled kebab in a sweet and sour cherry sauce with a sprinkle of Cinnamon on top), Kibbeh Safarjalieh (Kibbeh cooked with Quince and Pomegranate Paste) and Kibbeh Sumakieh (kibbeh with aubergine with Sumac sauce).
We ordered the excellent cherry kebab and a dish they called Lahmet Hanano which is baked lamp with warm tahini sauce. I really enjoyed the later but I knew I would before even tasting the dish as I am a big big fan of tahini. One thing I am still trying to figure out is how they managed to heat the tahini without curdling. If anybody have an answer please share your wisdom with me.
All in all, Al-Halabi is a very good restaurant serving excellent food but I can't say that they achieved the Michelin quality cooking I was hoping for. So the search is still on for that special restaurant or chef that can elevate traditional Syrian cooking that little extra notch.