Birmingham, for all of its quirks and charming little coffee shops scattered around Temple Row/Colmore Row/St Paul’s Square, had been missing something with a little more depth, a little more character, and (most importantly for me), a decent halal sandwich. Whilst some of the more seasoned Birmingham readers may argue that those *more Muslim friendly* places can be found in the areas of Sparkhill and Small Heath, I’d really rather not have a large side order of male-dominated environment and greasy tables with my sweetly brewed tea, thank you very much.
This is where Damascena stepped in, and more than filled its space. In fact, it’s gained so much popularity, not only did it win “Moseley In Bloom Most Captivating Cafe 2014”, it is also opening its second branch in the city centre (yay for those who cannot be bothered to drive/take the bus to Moseley) in early 2017. I can’t wait. It’s going to solve dilemmas of the “where shall we go to sit and recover from our unwarranted shopping trip? I fancy a good cup of tea but also a snack would be great, but I really don’t want to pay £4.50 for glorified cheese on toast, thanks but no thanks” variety.
On this particular visit, it was a cold, grey Saturday afternoon, and as usual NR and I were experiencing the full joys of Birmingham city centre traffic. The only thing keeping us (well, me) going was the thought of what lay beyond this madness of congestion: 3pm tea with two of my favourite people on the planet, at my number one spot. My (forever running late) YL was to join us…much later.
As it was NR’s first visit (this place only opened the summer we graduated, so NR has missed out), we had to make up for lost time and the first thing I did when we stepped in through the glass door (after finding a corner table – it was Saturday and the place was suitably packed, of course) was order us the infamous Mint Tea. Now, I always get confused when I go up to order as my confidently spoken ‘mint tea, please’ is always met with ‘what kind of mint tea? Moroccan mint tea or just mint tea?’ This throws me for about 5 seconds before I realise whilst I’m pretty sure they’re the same thing, what I always go for is the ‘regular fresh mint tea’. Priced at £2.50, it’s around the same as you would pay for a flat white at a chain coffee shop, and so it could be worse.
NR could only stay for the tea, and so YL and I were left to the food (which I ordered for the sole purpose of writing a review; sorry-not-sorry that you will probably go on to read a biased account of the menu). I say YL and I, however it was mainly me who ended up eating as YL had so conveniently consumed the routine tareli roti prior to leaving…I roll my eyes as I write this but truthfully, I wasn’t complaining at the time. Give me all the foods.
I ordered a Fatayer platter, served with fattoush, pickles, olives and my choice (sorry YL) of baba ganoush. The three Fatayer I chose (sorry (not sorry) again) were spinach and sumac with feta cheese, minced lamb with pine nuts, and mixed cheese with feta and mint. Honestly, we’ve both ordered this before, and we were as satisfied this time as the first. The pastries were cooked beautifully (they are more similar to a soft bread than a puff pastry), the portion was a decent size for two, and the fattoush and olives complemented everything beautifully. The fattoush salad in itself is something to write home about…or you know, a blog post.
To finish, I asked for a small selection of Syrian baklava. Turkish baklava is undoubtedly the more obvious and common choice, and Damascena do cater. However, I wanted to taste something authentic on this occasion. Whilst slightly smaller and definitely containing more nuts than its Turkish counterpart, we weren’t disappointed. My only wish is that we had saved some mint tea for the end, as it would have gone rather nicely, I think.
The great thing about Damascena is how much variety the menu offers. Whether you are in for a casual dinner, a light lunch, afternoon tea, a coffee fix, or even brunch, Damascena delivers. An extensive menu boasts everything from simple toast (served with butter and a choice of jam, honey or marmalade) to something for the more seasoned palate; Kibbeh, Makali salad, Manageesh, and M’tabal.
The drink menu is equally impressive. A few favourites of mine include the fresh mint tea (duh), freshly squeezed lemon and ginger juice with honey, and the Arabian spiced coffee, served complete from a Dallah with dates and a tahini dip. The fist sip will take you straight back to the courtyard in Madina…
But that’s not all. Damascena also offers a drool-worthy selection of cakes and sweet treats. Displayed (very enticingly) in glass cabinets as you walk in through the door, the baklawa and fresh cream cakes are a perfect accompaniment, whatever your cup of tea – yes, pun intended. They also have a range of loose tea, imported dates, ma’mool and tahina for sale, so you can attempt (and if anything like me, most likely fail) to recreate the Damascena experience at home.
Whilst I’m raving about the menu now, when I initially discovered Damascena an eventful two years ago, it was the ambience of the place that really won me over. It breathes an aura of quiet sophistication; echoes of an intellectual and cosmopolitan Syrian culture sits just beneath the warm tones of red and blue paint, the intricate glass light fixtures and the patterned kitsch cushioned seats. I love this place, and I love that it captures the strength of Syrian culture.
Damascena is the place to go if you enjoy basking in the serenity of a beautiful culture; portrayed tastefully through the pieces of art work on the walls; you enjoy attention to the finer details of decor and a warm, inviting atmosphere…or if you just fancy a really good cup of mint tea.
Guest post by SA
Damascena Coffee House | Delicatessen
133 Alcester Rd, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8JP
All food and drink served is Halal