Following the huge success of the Choose Love Store in Soho, Help Refugees has teamed up with the incredible Imad Alarnab to save Hope Hospital. Imad was a successful restaurateur in Damascus with two restaurants but during the war, his restaurants were destroyed and he was forced to flee the country in search of safety for his family. When he arrived in the UK, Imad found work as a car salesman and was able to bring his family to join him in England. Over time, he began to dream of running his own restaurant again. He opened a series of pop-up restaurants in London that sold out every single night. This time round, instead of doing it for himself, he wanted to raise money for the people who really need it, through teaming up with Help Refugees.
Fully staffed by Help Refugee’s volunteers, Imad’s Choose Love Kitchen is based in the heart of Shoreditch, just minutes’ away from the famous Columbia Road flower market, where he uses his experience in the restaurant business and his passion for cooking to serve a traditional 3-course meal and give diners a ‘true taste of Syria.’ All the profits raised will be used to fund Hope Hospital, a children’s hospital that has saved thousands of lives in Syria’s Aleppo region.
Hope Hospital became the first ever crowdfunded hospital in early 2016, providing incubators for new born babies, treatments for pregnant and postnatal women and lifesaving surgical operations to those injured in the conflict. It is the only paediatric hospital in the Aleppo region, serving a community of over 250,000 people.
The venue is small but beautiful, with red brick walls lined with spice jars, a small kitchen area and long communal benches lined with pretty candles and flowers. It almost feels like one big dinner party, with a small kitchen area and sharing-type food to build a wonderfully lively atmosphere from the moment you sit down.
By the time we arrived the tables were already set up with bowls and plates full of beautifully colourful mezze. These were our starters and included incredible dips with plenty of pitta for dipping, salads, stuffed vine leaves and mountains of creamy hummus with crisp, crunchy falafel.
This type of food is one of my absolute favourites at the moment – I love being able to have loads of different things on my plate at once, and how can you go wrong with bread and all the dips.. especially when the baba ganoush is deliciously smokey and the hummus velvety smooth! Surprisingly my favourite dip was the white one (which I think we narrowed down to be the kashkah) – bulgar wheat in a wonderfully creamy sauce (though the menu said this one was vegan so goodness knows what magic Imad worked in the kitchen!). Even the salad was incredible, packed full of herbs and fresh veg with huge chunks of cheese and artichokes.
After devouring the starters the main dishes were brought out, also in big sharing bowls with very generous portions. I loved the beautiful patterns on the crockery and it was the perfect compliment to the colourful dishes – much needed after a freakishly rainy day in London!). Surprisingly the lamb was my favourite – minced and served with peas and freekah with a lovely thick sauce.
Dessert was ‘Syrian ice cream’ which came studded with huge chunks of pistachio, a pistachio swirl and the most intriguingly delicious white topping – thin wisps of sugar which tasted like candyfloss, but without the sticky mess that usually makes me avoid it at all costs! The ice cream itself was incredibly creamy (yet again – vegan!?) but not very sweet, so the sugar topping was perfect, and the nutty chunks provided a wonderful texture.
As well as helping to serve food, the volunteers are on hand to answer any questions and take donations on the night. There are two sittings for 20 people per night (and two per day on Sundays) where you’ll have an hour and a half to enjoy this lovely three course feast. Tickets can be bought online (via this link) and cost just £40, and it’s also BYO with a £5 corkage donation that will go directly to Hope Hospital.
So you get to be fed well and feel good about it.. it’s a win-win!
Follow the hashtag #ChooseLove or view their social media channels @helprefugeesuk & @imadssyriankitchen