Wellington-based Syrian restaurant Damascus has had multiple incarnations since 2017, when it started as a gazebo, an electric pizza oven and a couple of tables at Wellington’s food markets.
It was founded by Syrian-born chef Hasan Alwarhani and his partner Flora Quintana, who then set up shop as a pop-up three nights a week at Brooklyn’s Vogelmorn Hall in 2019. Their venture became so popular that the duo decided to find a new, bigger location in the central city.
In September 2022, they opened Damascus permanently on Tory Street, a stone’s throw from fresh produce haven Moore Wilson’s.
Inside, the light-toned fit-out pays homage to Syria with a curved alcove displaying the kitchen, and mirrors and shelves also shaped like archways – a common feature in Middle Eastern buildings. There are golden, Middle Eastern filigree light shades hanging from the ceiling and geometric Syrian designs on the light blue walls.
In the 60-seater restaurant, the couple chose narrow tables on both sides of the room so that patrons could be close and intimate with one another. This sense of community is reflected in the sharing menu.
Alwarhani’s family recipes dominate the selection, and it wouldn’t be a Syrian menu without the freshest of homemade flatbreads, falafel, or traditional Syrian wines, he says. Cold meze includes hummus topped with turnip pickles, radish, pine nuts and Aleppo peppers; muhammarah (roasted capsicum, chilli and walnut dip); and the Syrian staple of baba ganoush.
For the meat-inclined there’s shish tawook – chicken, yoghurt, aromatic Damascus spices (cardamom, Aleppo peppers, dried ginger) and garlic sauce; or lamb sajak – minced lamb, spices and Damascus dressing, which is a spicy, lemony garlic sauce. Several salads add a fresh component, such as fattouche and shamander with green peas, tahini, onion, lemon juice and coriander.
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