Back in 2012, four British friends who had spent time in Damascus decided that they needed to do something to support Syria, which had reached levels of humanitarian crisis that sadly have barely waned since. As a reminder of the country’s rich food culture and passion for generous hospitality they decided to run supper clubs to raise money for the appeal, which supports health and education projects inside Syria and on the Syrian-Turkish border. The response has been enormous, with over £250,000 raised from events in more than 100 places (as far flung as Melbourne, Hong Kong and Washington DC).
Though the original venue was in East London (aren’t they always?) the team now also hold Syrian Suppers in Bristol as well as West London and South London, more precisely at Brick House Bakery in East Dulwich. The latter was started by Charlotte North, Nathalie Mouzarkel, Louise Hopper and Geoff Howard (aka Geoff the Chef, for reasons you can probably work out on your own) in early 2018, all of whom have a personal connection to Syria. “I travelled to Syria in September 2010. It was my first experience of the Middle East and it blew me away,” says Charlotte, who now works as a diplomat on Middle East policy. “I think we often assume that the Middle East is a threatening place to be and that trip taught me to ignore the negativity. The people I met there were extremely hospitable and welcoming.”
“My memories of Syria before the war often revolve around food – whether it was trying labneh or baklava for the first time, or walking round the souk in Aleppo eating figs and smelling spices – so I thought food would be the best way to do something.” Clearly Charlotte isn’t the only one who feels this way, as the monthly dinners have been pretty much sold out for five years now.
The menu is always evocative of the community it’s designed to support. Geoff takes flavour inspiration from the southern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa; “We combine a fusion of traditional and contemporary elements, layering beautiful, fresh ingredients with an abundance of herbs and spices. Think labneh with pistachios and fresh oregano, almond and garlic soup, lamb meatballs with avgolemono, cabbage leaves stuffed with dill and mince, bay leaf panna cotta, cardamom crème brulee.”
As well as a feast all attendees at Syrian Supper Club South London are treated to a guest speaker, who shares personal stories and perspectives on the country and its people. “Before the war Syria’s population was 22 million. In 2016 the United Nations identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance. Whether they have stayed behind and are living through the conflict or have left Syria to start again, a generation of Syrians are paying the price and I think we have a responsibility to help.” says Charlotte; “We hope [inviting a speaker] is a way of bringing the issue to life and maybe challenging people’s assumptions a bit.”
Hearing anecdotes about families, food and everyday life from a country that Brits generally only come across on the news makes Syria’s crisis feel a lot closer to home, and only the most cold of hearts would not be moved by the good intentions behind these events. Buy a ticket and splash out on an extra glass of wine while you’re there; you’ll go home with a head full of facts, a heart full of emotion and a belly full of flatbread.
For more information and to book tickets visit the Syrian Supper Club website