The Syr­ian Sup­per Club

As far as we’re con­cerned, there’s no bet­ter way to in­tro­duce or re­mind oth­ers of Syria and its cul­ture

The Wharf - - Shoreditch, Stratford, Hackney Bow - By Florence Der­rick

On a driz­zly Wed­nes­day evening, some 50 people are ush­ered through the door of a bak­ery af­ter hours.

In­stead of sour­dough loaves be­ing rolled out on the coun­ters of the E5 Bakehouse (in Lon­don Fields, half an hour from Ca­nary Wharf), red len­til soup is slowly stirred, cit­russy sumac is sprin­kled, mint leaves are chopped.

The Hack­ney bak­ery is host­ing The Syr­ian Sup­per Club, a monthly tick­eted din­ner that has been rais­ing money to­wards hu­man­i­tar­ian projects in Syria since the civil war be­gan eight years ago.

As the room is mainly strangers – lo­cals who shop at the bak­ery, hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers, food­ies, jour­nal­ists – we spend the first hour over cock­tails and snacks in the form of vivid-green falafel driz­zled with tahini and crisp bread dipped in smoked aubergine and al­mond dip, and strained tar­ragon yo­ghurt.

“I started The Syr­ian Sup­per Club with my friends Louisa, Ge­orge and John­nie back in 2012,” says MD Rose Lukas as we take our seats in a hid­den-away din­ing room for the main course.

“The idea came from get­ting to­gether with friends, eat­ing, drink­ing, talk­ing, hav­ing too much fun late into the night. It’s some­thing Louisa and I used to do a lot of when we lived in Da­m­as­cus.

“As far as we’re con­cerned, there’s no bet­ter way to in­tro­duce or re­mind oth­ers of Syria and its cul­ture, and at the same time do­ing some­thing good, which is of course to raise money.”

Rais­ing money has never tasted so de­li­cious – the main event pairs roasted chicken with freekeh and crispy onion-topped lentils – and the proof is in the pud­ding. To date, Syr­ian sup­pers have raised more than £250,000 to­wards projects in the civil war-torn coun­try, which we learn about as we nib­ble on date halwa dessert.

“The money that we’ve raised goes to­wards our char­ity, Hands Up Foun­da­tion, which fo­cuses on fund­ing the salaries of med­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tion staff,” says Rose.

“Where pos­si­ble, those projects are in­side Syria, run by Syr­i­ans and im­ple­mented on the ground by our part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“The rea­son we fo­cus on salaries is be­cause it en­cour­ages qual­i­fied Syr­ian pro­fes­sion­als to stay in Syria and make a liv­ing for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, but at the same time pro­vide vi­tal ser­vices in ar­eas where they’ve al­most com­pletely de­te­ri­o­rated.”

It feels promis­ing to break bread with a room of people who gen­uinely want to play a part in chang­ing the Syr­ian story, in what­ever way they can – some vol­un­teer with refugees in the UK, oth­ers sim­ply at­tend events such as these – while keep­ing the at­mos­phere in firm cel­e­bra­tion of the coun­try’s cul­ture.

We eat, drink, talk, and have too much fun, late into the night. And by the end of the night, Da­m­as­cus, and an op­ti­mistic fu­ture, feel just a lit­tle less far away.

The sup­per club in riotous full swing at E5 Bakehouse Florence Der­rick tastes morsels and some­times takes big­ger bites on be­half of The Wharf

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