Barazi and Friends Syrian supper club: Food, friends and fresh Middle Eastern flavours
Food and friends (both old and new) have always been a match made in heaven. In many cultures, this pairing has been – and still is – cherished and kept alive. There is no real need for a particularly special occasion to justify inviting people over and preparing a good meal to share.
And it was, indeed, a love of food that brought together Rasha Barazi and Mia Bedran. Further encouraged by the sunny weather this season, the two launched their Barazi and Friends Syrian supper club on the last day of June, a lovely Saturday evening at Leadenhall Market. The Good Yard offered the setting, providing a cosy venue for the occasion.
Networking and social events can be a bit tiring, the majority of them asking guests to stand, glass of wine in hand, amidst easy-to-reach bowls of crisps. The concept of supper club allows diners to relax instead, enjoying a communal feast – this is usually a dinner, but the offer also extends to brunch and lunch.
“When you share something, you get to know the person at the end of the table: it is much more collaborative than having your own plate,” explains Bedran, one of the two organisers. The chef comes from Lebanon and got to know Barazi, from Syria, “because we both love Middle-Eastern food”. It’s as simple as that. The former had a mind to getting into the flatbread business, while the latter already had a finger in that particular pie: she had started organising a couple of similar events early in 2018, when Bedran came along to help and the team was created.
As further proof that full plates easily lead to a room full of new meetings, the space echoed with chatter and laughter less than two minutes after the starters arrived. Those lucky enough to dine al fresco enjoyed the breeze of a street closed to cars. Guided by names on colourful cards atop the crockery, we sat near people we have never met before, and yet we knew we had something in common: whether motivated by curiosity or long-standing love, we all had interest in Syrian food.
The meal couldn’t be described as anything less than enjoyably fulfilling. Every course came in large dishes or bowls, to be passed on and distributed among the guests at their leisure. The most gratifying characteristic was the (apparently) bottomless quantities: with no pressure to have to finish “your own plate”, the generous amounts invited everyone to overindulge, taste or move on to the next helping with ease, while entertained in conversations.
“The way we eat in Syria and Lebanon is very similar to what we experienced tonight: we like to taste small dishes and share. And it is a good way to meet people,” Mia confides. Indeed, this writer felt absolutely no shame in her appreciation of the hummus, and my neighbour couldn’t hide her enjoyment in tasting the stuffed vine leaves, the first being from a traditional recipe – with whole chickpeas and thick olive oil decorating the top – and the second pleasantly seasoned.
How the five diners next to us ended up at the same table? Word of mouth: colleagues, online bookings and a get-together motivated by the appeal of Syrian food.
The starters came in abundance. The broad bean salad – which could easily be confused with a main – was deliciously rich. To be eaten with or without flatbread, it was one of the most interesting dishes due to the many ingredients included, despite remaining rather light.
The main was an incredible rice cake filled with aubergine and topped with meat and a variety of perfectly toasted pine nuts and almonds. This was served with a smooth yet crunchy yoghurt and cucumber accompaniment and a colourfully seasoned fattoush salad. Like the broad bean dish, this side struck most of us for the wealth of fresh elements combined with crispy pita chips, with an overall good balance between the components.
Maintaining the delicious and light menu, the Orange Blossom Milk Pudding was a sublime finale. Don’t be tricked by the word “pudding”: a far cry from any sticky relative, this delight softly filled the mouth, releasing flowery undertones.
Lastly, Bedran told us how she felt about balancing an office day job with social cooking activities: “It’s a bit tiring, but it is really fun; we don’t really mind, we manage to juggle as we very much enjoy what we do”.
Barazi and Friends organise monthly supper clubs featuring Middle-Eastern food, with possible breakfast and brunch gatherings soon to come. But whatever the time of day you arrive, and whichever menu is on offer, you are sure to be in good company.
Photos: Maria Barrios