Damascena: Irresistibly exotic

An infallible rule of the universe is that whenever I walk into Damascena, I always do so with the intention of not over-ordering and ignore that worthy pledge within moments.

The place is simply so hospitable and its food so exotically tempting, and reasonably priced, that it’s beyond my feeble willpower not to choose more dishes than I know I will finish.
It’s an absolute delight – a Syrian cafe that has steadily expanded and improved since it opened in Moseley less than a couple of years ago.

The place

It’s situated in an old flower shop and is a long, thin space.
But the owners have a good eye and have made full use of the area without making it feel at all cramped.
Indeed, it’s rather homely – with nice little Middle Eastern touches in the decor and table settings.
There’s a courtyard at the back which will be a wonderful place to sit should the sun ever decide to shine on rain-soddened MoHo any time soon.

The service

It’s informal, but efficient and professional, with the lovely young staff friendly and informed.
Find a seat, choose from the paper menus on the table, go to the counter and order.
Food emerges swiftly (but not so swiftly as to cause suspicion) from the kitchen, even at peak times.

The food

Middle Eastern specialities dominate the menu.
A recent breakfast had me scoffing Damascena fuul – a substantial bowl of crushed fava beans rich with onion, garlic, tomato and chilli that’s served with flatbread. It is quite possibly the greatest hangover cures known to man.

A Monday evening dinner with my wife included a selection of dishes that we shared.
Makali salad combined aubergine, courgettes, crisp squares of flatbread, crunchy cubes of spud and various other bits and pieces with sumac and a home-made garlic dressing. It was a delight.
Shawarma featured ridiculously tender lamb fragrant with sweet spices on a bed of properly coarse hummus with excellent flatbread.
A platter of pastries included spinach, sumac and feta, tahini lamb with pine nuts and salmon and soft cheese – all of them nicely-crafted and terribly tasty.
The aubergine dip, baba ghanuuj, was smoky and flavoursome.
Pickled vegetables and fatttush salad – with pomegranate, feta and toasted bread – were refreshing.
I progressed to a couple of chunks of authentic Turkish delight, my wife to pistachio baklava.

The drinks

Damescena is unlicensed but even I – no stranger to the pleasures of alcohol – don’t miss booze when I visit.
There’s a fantastic range of coffees, teas and soft drinks you’d recognise and a good number of Syrian drinks you probably wouldn’t.
My usual tipple is mint tea, though I’m a fan of the punchy ice rosewater and tamarind juice.
Hit the Turkish coffee if you need a proper whack of caffeine.

Need to know

Expect to pay around £12 a head for plenty to eat and drink.
Choose carefully and it will be cheaper.
Do try the sweet pastries, despite the dental dangers.
There are vegetarian options.
It’s child-friendly.
Alcohol isn’t allowed.
There’s a P&D opposite.

133 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8JP. 0121 449 9245.

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