Damascena

Damascena, Moseley

So, that award that I’ve been begging people to vote for me on.  I won it.  Officially Best Food Blog in the Midlands for 2017, two years after starting this little old heap of rubbish as a bit of fun.  I happen to love writing this blog; it’s a diary of my hobby, a chance to vent and also to give praise to those that deserve it.  It’s given me headaches, arguably broken up a long term relationship and definitely given me a new partner who shares the same love that I do for edible bits on a plate.  For that alone it is worth it.  It’s opened more doors than it’s shut, introduced me to new friends I’d have never met, and given me a few new enemies.  I’m chuffed to bits that I won.  If you voted for me then I sincerely Thank You.  Honestly, the support I received was genuinely overwhelming and far more than I deserved.

Now enough of the humbleness – that shit doesn’t suit me one bit.  Let’s get back on to the food.  I won this award on Monday night, an evening that cascaded badly into the very early hours of Tuesday with a collection of people that should know better, but rarely do.  When we finally awake the girlfriend decides to treat me to a celebratory lunch a very short stroll away at Damascena.  She does this for two reasons; 1) It is the closest option and she has tiny little legs, and 2) she has impeccable taste.  Of course she does, she’s with me.

Damascena used to be Moseley’s worst kept secret.  We’d whisper it’s name and flock there together for mint tea.  I once sat in there during the depths of winter and watched a man in shorts tell his first date about his troubled relationship with meat.  It’s that kind of place.  I love it, but so does everybody else:  The place is always full, even when they recently opened a second branch in the city centre.  It’s why I used to stick to ordering it on Deliveroo instead of fighting the crowds.

We order way too much food that still fails to hit £25.00 for the two of us.  I insist on the M’sakhan because I always do.  The long marinated brown bits of chicken thigh have tang and pepperiness from sumac and olive oil which seeps on to the flatbread underneath.   Roll it up and chomp away.  Another flatbread is smeared with a course mixture of spiced minced lamb.  It’s pungent and aggressive and possibly the best £3.15 you will ever spend.

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I’ve never had a savoury pastry here before and I know now why.  Its a weak link on the strongest of chains, the cheese and dried mint mixture too bland to threaten anything.  A comment is passed that it tastes like the cheese stuffed pizza crusts which is too accurate and observant to ever come from my mouth.  The proper treatment for bland cheese follows; halloumi marinated and charred, so that the middle only offers relief from flavour.  The pops of pomegranate from the sweet and sharp salad it comes with are a lovely contrast.

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A mezze defeats us and we ask for it to be packaged to take home.  Later on we take the folds of supple flatbread to the best hummus in the city.  We fight over roasted potatoes turned amber by hot spices before dredging them through creamy m’tabal.  Baba Ghanuuj is another home for the flatbread, the aubergine deftly spiked with garlic and showered with lemon acidity.  There are peppers and tomatoes roasted until the texture has merged into one, heavily seasoned and softly spiced.  It’s a lot to take in and we almost forget to pick at the lightly dressed olives.  £7.95 will buy you all of this.

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It’s taken me a long time to properly write about this place, partially down to laziness, though mostly because I shared that same dreadful opinion that us Moseley folk should keep it to ourselves.  It’s a frankly ridiculous notion; food this good should be embraced and shared across the city.  Damascena get flavour as good as anywhere.  Now get in the queue and try it yourself.

9/10

 

 

 

Damascena, Moseley, Via Deliveroo

Mention Damascena and you will most likely get a hushed response like it is a dirty secret. It seems that despite numerous awards and a fair amount of press, some people would still have you believe that this is a hidden gem for only those in the know. It’s not. Everyone knows this is the place to come for the best m’tabal and shawarma, they just don’t want to talk about in case another hipster takes their place on the majlis to sup on chai.  And who can blame them – I hate it when my favourite majlis is taken.

I love it there, though I happen to hate queuing more and I now generally prefer to let those nice people at Deliveroo take the stress away by bringing it to my doorstep. It seems to be a healthier takeaway, one that fills my heart arteries with glee instead of ghee. Falafel may be fried but there is no oiliness to the crisp exterior and we feel no guilt as we dredge it through a thick hummus nutty with tahini. Eighteen months ago I wrote about a little place up the road in Kings Heath when I alluded to Damascana making the best hummus in Birmingham. Its a view that hasn’t changed.

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Minced lamb is loosely compacted and doused in a warm tahini sauce that lifts the meat.  It is fresh with parsley and oregano and best enjoyed piled on to flat breads which are the perfect vehicle from plate to mouth.  Add some of the pickles from the falafel tray and you have something really special. Halloumi is marinated and grilled, the bland cheese taking on the sweet pops of pomegranate and crunch of raw onion.

I always order a m’sakhan flatbread and the counter staff always try not to smirk as I fail to pronounce it.  Order it from inside Damascena and the bread will be layed flat, with the spiced chicken and onion mixture piled on to its centre point.  Here its folded like a wrap, the olive oil seeping in from every angle.  Its as good as a chicken sandwich can be; the tender brown meat long marinated in olive oil and sumac so that it takes on a sharp citrus notes.  Slithers of almonds offer bite, chunks of softly braised onion do not.  When Damascena opens its second premises early next year in the city centre, you could do far worse than make this your lunch of choice.

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Four dishes, enough to feed two, for little over twenty English pounds.  We even had enough left to make a small lunch the following day.  Its cooking of character, the sort you imagine that the team sits to eat together long after that the last hipster has left and enjoys as a communal.  Its a gem, not a secret, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Food this good deserves to be shared on the widest scale possible.

Deliveroo supplied the credit for this meal.  For £10 credit from your first order please use roo.it/simonc3898

Damascena Coffee House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato