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.
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.
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