Al-Halabi restaurant and Michelin stars

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.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

At first I thought you must be the cookery writer Anissa Helou writing under a pseudonym! She has a recipe for cherry kebabs, hot from Aleppo, on her blog at the moment:
www.anissas.com/blog1/?p=99

Kano said...

Hi there

You put a smile on my face. I am not Anissa, I am a genuine Syrian cook who happen to be a surgeon instead.

Believe it or not, 10 minutes ago I was thinking I should try to make cherry kebab and put the recipe on my blog. Now Anissa stole my thunder.

anissa helou said...

well, i didn't mean to steal your thunder. next time you are in Aleppo, try Zmerod. it may be the restaurant you are looking for. excellent.

Kano said...

Hi Anissa

It is a pleasure having you on my blog.

Can you bbelive I am Syrian and I've never been to Aleppo. Every Holiday I decide to go visit but never managed to find the time.

If Zmerod is that good, it is another reason to visit the city.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kano:I'm very happy to find your blog. I'm a spanish woman who loves Syria and her food is fantastic ! every time I go to Damascus I eat a lot and always I back thiner. I try to cook at home but it's diferent so I have to back again...

Anonymous said...

sorry, can you tell me where is Al-Halabi restaurant? shukran.

Kano said...

Hi Anonymous

Welcome to my blog. I am so glad you enjoying reading it and that you love Syrian food.

Al-Halabi restaurant is in The Four Seasons Hotel.

If you want my restaurant recommendation, I would go for Narenj in Straight Street (Medhat Basha St.) opposite the church. Have you been there?

natsyria said...

hello kano! I'm Nati, thanks for your answer. I know Narenj, I went there last year, in May, I liked it very much, this year I have discovered a very nice restaurant in Bad Sharki, LA VIDA LOCA, I hope you visit it when you back.

Kano said...

Hi Nati

I will difinitely try that restaurant next time I am in Damascus.

So how come you visit Syria that often? Just Holiday?

nati said...

Good evening Kano. I love Syria too much because the first time I went I felt like at home. The people are specialy frienly, the culture is a luxuary and de food... you know how is the food, so I have to back every time I can do it.
I hope we can meet there next time. Inshaalla !!

Kano said...

Hi Nati
We should plan it next time we go to Syria.

nati said...

of course Kano, I'm thinking in the next time !!!. Keep in touch

Anonymous said...

Hello Syrian Food Connoisseurs,

I am going to Syria for 10 weeks in December and am looking for some nice restaurants to visit. While I will be visiting Damascus, I will be for the most part around Safita, Tartus and Latakia. Any suggestions on restaurants and other things to do would be greatly appreciated.

Anthony

Kano said...

@Anthony

Welcome to my blog!

I hope you checked my post "Eat and Drink in Damascus, What the Lonely Planet Left Out"

http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/07/eat-and-drink-in-damascus-what-lonely.html

This is my best advice to sample true local food away from tourist traps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kano I will check it out now!

Anthony

Anonymous said...

love ur blog. keep it up! greetings
tim

Kano said...

@tim

Thank you for the nice words.

Rita said...

Hi! I'm Rita. Joumana from Taste of Beirut told me about your blog because maybe you can help me. I've found on internet that (I quote): “In Syria, quince is cooked in pomegranate paste (dibs rouman) with shank meat and kibbeh (a middle eastern meat pie with burghul and mince meat) and is called kibbeh safarjalie” and on http://www.lonelyplanet.com/syria/damascus/restaurants/syrian/al-hallab they told about this restaurant you are writing about. Well, as I have plenty of pomegranates and quinces at home (I have those trees in my garden) I’d love to try to make this kibbeh safarjalie. Do you know anything about this recipe or about this quince and pomegranate paste? Thanks if you can help!

Kano said...

Hi Rita

Welcome to my blog.

Kebbeh Safarjalieh is a traditional dish from Aleppo. They, unlike the rest of the Levant, like sweet and sour flavours in their cooking and use fruits in their dishes.

We don't cook Kebbeh Safarjalieh in Damascus although I had a go at cooking it myself with reasonable success (my wife didn't like it though) but I didn't put a recipe on the blog. I might do in the future.

Meanwhile, here is a recipe from a great blog Paris-Alep. It is in French but you can easy use google translate if you wish.

http://parisalep.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/kebbe-bsafarjaliye/

Kano said...

To KS, I hope you get the chance to read this

You sent me an email yesterday regarding Safarjalieh recipe. I tried to reply many times but the email kept bouncing back.

This is my email reply:


Dear KS

Thank you for the email.

Safarjalieh is an Aleppean dish so not something I grew up eating or cooking. Having said that i cooked it once and I liked it but my wife didn't like the quince very much so I never cooked it again.

If you want an authentic recipe here is a link to a great french blog (google translate is a great invention!) written by a lady from Aleppo:

http://parisalep.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/kebbe-bsafarjaliye/

I hope this is helpful.

Are you planning a guide book on Damascus by any chance?

Regards

Sara Sakhnini said...

Hello from Sweden, finally I found a good blog with traditional recipes, not only modern versions of the syrian food. I'm from Damascus, Midan.. My favorite restaurant is the one in " Asr el Nobalaa" I dont remember what name it has..

Kano said...

@Sara Sakhnini

Welcome to my blog and very sorry for the late reply. The blog hasn't been high on my list lately. I will start writing soon. It is been few months.

I hope you get a chance to try many recipes from my blog. If you do, please let me know how it goes.

Post a Comment