New flavours are set to hit the London restaurant scene this month with the launch of #CookForSyria, a charity initiative hosted by Clerkenwell Boy, Gemma Bell PR and SUITCASE Magazine in aid of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. With support from Jamie Oliver, restaurants across the capital and beyond are backing the initiative by dedicating a dish on their menu to the cause, with £2 per plate sold donated to Children of Syria fund which is powered by Unicef’s Next Generation.
The month-long fundraiser will kick off with a dinner at 180 Strand curated by some of the world’s top chefs, including: Angela Hartnett, Yotam Ottolenghi, Fergus Henderson, Sami Tamimi, Nuno Mendes and José Pizarro. Each chef will put a Syrian spin one of their signature recipes, which could be Syrian steak tartare or a traditional English dish mopped up with Syrian flatbread. The initiative will also encourage supporters to host their own #CookForSyria supper clubs at home, with helpful tips from the chefs involved.
Understanding a culture’s cuisine brings us closer to it, sharing the beauty and history of a place through its flavours. Backed by some of the nation’s greatest culinary talent, every dish will offer celebration, conversation and a chance to taste the food of a country currently stricken by conflict but with a rich cultural past and, hopefully, future.
Legendary chef Angela Hartnett splits her time between the kitchens of her Michelin-starred restaurant Murano, Café Murano and The Merchant’s Tavern in Shoreditch, which she co-owns with head chef Neil Borthwick. She emerged as a star of the British food scene as a protégée of Gordon Ramsay, assisting in several of his fiery kitchens before launching two critically acclaimed restaurants at The Connaught in Mayfair. In 2007, she was awarded an MBE and has since offered her expertise on primetime television including Masterchef and Hell’s Kitchen. Angela’s Italian heritage has informed much of her cooking, as well as an appreciation for local produce which can be seen in beloved cookbooks such as A Taste of Home.
When you see pictures in the news and read about what is going on it’s a no brainer to support the cause.
It is similar to many Arabic cuisines in that it’s about eating together as a family, with lots of people around a table and sharing plates. It’s a style of eating I really like. They are also subtle in their use of spices rather than being heavy handed.
Olive oil and pistachio cake with yoghurt sorbet.
It’s easy to replicate at home and uses the spices used in Syrian cuisine.
The cake is a recipe we have used before but we’ve added some pistachios, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest which are all key ingredients in Syrian cooking.
Fergus Henderson opened St John Bread & Wine near Smithfield, London’s biggest meat market, 22 years ago. Housed within a former bacon smokehouse, it is fitting that this whitewashed restaurant champions nose-to-tail dining which sees a daily-changing menu of kid liver, offal and tripe alongside a hearty wine list. There are now three locations around the city and the St John has become synonymous with carefully executed comfort food like bone marrow or potted has, as well as those legendary doughnuts from their own bakery. Henderson is one of the world’s most iconic food figures and is often cited as a source of inspiration by his culinary peers.
I have been deeply moved by the plight of the Syrian people. Being part of this initiative, along with so many other brilliant chefs, is an honour. And if our humble bread can help this unhappy situation in any way, I will be happy.
Having just come back from Israel, I was struck by the commonality of the cuisine – Arabic, Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish. The power of the table brings everyone together.
The sharpness of labneh, the crispness of tabbouleh, the richness of the shawarma, the embrace of hummus… Such contrasts of flavour, all extreme in their own way and wonderful when combined.
Syrian onion bread with roast bone marrow and parsley salad. Roast bone marrow has always been on the menu at St John, so it is symbolic of our desire to feed people. Instead of our usual toasted sourdough, the onion bread comes in happy rounds to share around the table. The humble act of breaking bread is such a strong thing – it seemed appropriate for this occasion.
The bone marrow is a nod to shawarma, the parsley a nod to tabbouleh and the sumac in the salt gives a subliminal citrus undertone.
Be relaxed – a happy chef makes for a happy meal. Be fluid with your dough, imagine that you are massaging tired limbs. Therapeutic for all involved. And, it’s liberty hall once at the table.
Give me your address, I’ll be round with a bottle of wine at 7.30PM.
Born and raised in Lisbon, Nuno Mendes began his career in the kitchen of (now closed) elBulli, the three-Michelin-star restaurant in Catalonia revered for being one of the most experimental in the world. This set the bar for a pioneering career which include experiences such as The Loft Project, where Mendes served elaborate 10-course feasts in his Shoreditch apartment. In 2010 he opened Viajante in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel, an avant-garde restaurant which won a Michelin star just a year after opening and is heralded as the catalyst in the area becoming one of the hottest dining destinations. Mendes moved to Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone in 2014, which quickly gained cult status as a celebrity hangout and he remains head chef. More recently, he has been educating Londoners in Portuguese flavours at his Spitalfields restaurant Taberna do Mercado, where classic dishes are given a contemporary spin.
It is a privilege to be asked. We live in a bubble removed from many of the harsh realities of the world but simultaneously have the visibility and power to come together and support causes which are a concern for the global community.
I have always been fascinated by Syrian food and knew a fair amount already. It is one of the oldest cuisines in the world, full of unique flavours from Persia to Palestine and beyond.
For me, the ingredients which evoke Syrian cooking are Aleppo pepper, semi-dried spicy chilli, dates, preserved lemons, pistachios, rose water, orange blossom, dried mint, freekah, tahini and pulses.
We have taken the Firehouse steak tartare and seasoned the meat with flavours common in Syrian cooking [as mentioned above]. We’re serving it with warm Syrian flatbread and a hot sauce of dried mint and pepper. I am so excited by this dish, I was so inspired by the flavours of Syria and where it took this dish – I love it.
They have taken it in another direction. It is not dissimilar to a kibbeh – mincemeat fried with cracked wheat and spices which is served raw in some cultures.
Use the best quality, grass-fed, marbled beef and sear it on all sides in a really hot pan. Make extra amounts of all the condiments – the hot sauce is awesome and worth keeping. Hang the yoghurt the day before and let the meat sit in the marinade for a couple of minutes before you plate it.
The best way to enjoy this cuisine is to eat mezze style with lots of small plates. Cook a range of dishes – vegetables, proteins, pulses, some cold, some hot – and wash it down with amazing Syrian wine and warm flatbread. Eat with your hands, lick your fingers, be tactile with the food, share everything and enjoy the conviviality of the meal.
In the late 90s, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi met working as pastry chefs at west London deli Baker & Spice. Both had grown up in Jerusalem – Ottolenghi on the Jewish side and Tamini on the Palestinian side – moving to Tel Aviv at similar ages before heading to the UK to pursue a career in food. So began a culinary partnership which led to the launch of their first deli, Ottolenghi, which opened in Notting Hill in 2002. Londoners flocked in droves to pile their plates with vibrant salads, citrusy greens, glossy aubergine, exotic grains and nutty cakes. Three delis followed, with their Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired recipes sparking a food revolution across Britain. The pair have written two cookbooks; Ottolenghi: The Cookbook explores the endless possibilities of vegetarian cooking while Jerusalem sees them explore their hometown’s multifaceted culture through food.
It’s the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Doing what we can do to raise money and awareness is quite literally the least we can do.
This is the food which bookends everything we do. The food of Syria is similar to the food of Palestine and Lebanon – the food we grew up with. There are regional variations, of course, but this food forms a great part of our cooking. Smooth hummus topped with lamb or our favourite, muhammara, a paste of red peppers and chopped walnuts, spiced with Aleppo chilli. There’s also Aubergine purée, one-pot dishes spiced with cumin, cinnamon and allspice, rice or wheat dishes sprinkled with pistachios or mixed through with caramelised onions and lentils. These are the dishes which we eat when we want comfort and the sort of dishes we’ll be making to generate funds to hopefully provide comfort to those in great need.
We’re cooking muhammara, a classic Levantine dip which you can eat by the spoonful it’s so good. Scoop it up with pitta or it’s the perfect addition to a full table full of food. We’re also cooking a dish called harak osbao which directly translates to mean ‘he burnt his finger’ – a reference to it being so irresistible you can’t help but get stuck in. It’s a mix of lentils and pasta with lots of flavour injected in with the tamarind water, chicken stock and pomegranate molasses in which it’s cooked. Fresh herbs, sharp sumac, refreshing pomegranate seeds – it’s beautiful comfort-food fit for a feast.
Aleppo chilli and ground cumin in the muhammara, the pomegranate molasses in the harak osbao. The lentils and fresh herbs: these are all classic Syrian flavours.
Make sure the oven is as hot as you need it to be for to roast the peppers because you want their skin to be black and charred before they get peeled. The dip can be prepared a day or so in advance, as the flavours actually improve over night. Serve at room temperature rather than fridge-cold.
For the harak osbao, seek out a block of tamarind rather than starting with a ready-made paste. This makes a world of difference as the flavour is so intense without any of the acidity which can occur.
The more dishes you can fit on your table, the better! A Syrian meal should be a feast, the table heaving under plates people can pass around and share. A lot of the dishes are great at room temperature which means you can prepare a lot in advance. The muhammara is even better the day after it is made which helps: just don’t serve it fridge-cold. Make sure there’s lots of soft pitta to scoop everything up and some homemade mint lemonade to raise in a glass. For pudding, follow a little set-milk pudding with some squares of sweet baklava, eaten with either a short black coffee or some mint tea.
A regular fixture in the food pages of national newspapers, on our most beloved cookery shows and author of three cookbooks, Spanish chef José Pizarro celebrates the flavours of the Basque country and beyond. Born in Extremadura, western Spain, Pizarro explores the regional flavours of his country, from the pintxos bars of San Sebastian to fish plucked from warm coastal waters and his mother’s own recipes. After co-founding Brindisa – a brood of Spanish restaurants across London – he launched his first solo venture, José, in the heart of Bermondsey. The intimate, rustic restaurant is inspired by the bustling tapas bars of Barcelona, served carefully sourced produce and simple, market-led tapas. He followed this opened Pizarro next, just a few streets away. Last year he opened the doors of a third restaurant, José Pizarro, which sees 20 years of culinary success culminate in a menu of reinvented Spanish classics.
Garlic, lamb, spices and herbs. It’s really sensual cooking, where you feast with your eyes, nose and mouth.
Neck of lamb with pesto and mint aioli.
The lamb, of course, as well as bright colours and the garlic and mint in the aioli.
Buy good meat from a butcher you trust. Keep the ingredients simple and use fresh vegetables.
Bring all food together at the table, cooked with local ingredients from the area – and enjoy. Make plenty of mezze and sharing dishes and, of course, bring lots of love!
Visit cookforsyria.com for more information.