Saturday, 22 June 2019

An authentic taste of Syria
in Terenure at lunch in
the new Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate brings an authentic taste of Syria and Lebanon to Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I think everyone remembers local shops and shopfronts from their childhood, teen and adult days.

They seem to act as colourful landmarks, setting out the boundaries and perimeters of the places we remember, securing their places in our identities or inviting us back into the security of formative memories.

There are some shops that I still remember with affection in a long strip of streets that stretched from Clanbrassil Street through Harold’s Cross, Terenure and into Rathfarnham. Over time, this would extend or expand into Rathgar, Rathmines and Ranelagh.

Can you remember the shop where you bought your comics as a child? Or the ones you hung around outside with friends, and with the benign tolerance of shop-owners and staff? Where you first bought newspapers? The family names that once graced the fascia boards above the display windows?

The Fine family set up a business at 40 Clanbrassil Street that lasted for generations, from 1924 until 1971.

Mrs Fine began baking at 3 a.m. in the early morning, preparing to meet the customer demand for kosher cheesecake, milchige – a yeast cake, mandel or almond bread, or a biscuit known as kichlach.

Doris Waterman and her sister Hilda White succeeded their mother at the shop, and the words on her tombstone read: ‘Kosher grocer for 57 years.’

As the Jewish population of Dublin moved out from the Clanbrassil Street and ‘Little Jerusalem’ area to the southern suburbs of Terenure, Rathfarnham and Churchtown, the Fine family shop eventually moved too to No 81 Terenure Road North.

Around the same time, the small synagogue around the corner at 7 and 8 Saint Kevin’s Parade had moved to Terenure, into Rathmore Villas, the small street around the corner from Fine’s shop, and had been renamed ‘Machzikei Hadass.’

Hilda White continued to run the business for another few decades, and it was one of the last surviving kosher grocery shops in Dublin.

When the shop closed eventually, a new Italian restaurant opened, and Lisa’s Trattoria received high praise from reviewers, including Paolo Tuilio. But the competition was tough, with Bellagio and Mario’s both only a few steps away. Standards were slipping noticeably in recent years, and it was served with a closure order in 2015.

Inside, the old shop at 81 Terenure Road North had been given new, authentic décor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But new life has come back into 81 Terenure Road North in recent weeks, and Damascus Gate has just opened its second restaurant here in the heart of Terenure.

I have regularly enjoyed Damascus Gate in Camden Street, but this second restaurant is as good, if not better than the original. Apart from the delicious aromas, the authentic décor, the proprietor Ghandi and his family offer authentic Syrian and Lebanese food and truly genuine welcome.

Two of us had hummus and baba ghanouj as our starters at a late lunch earlier this week, and a falafel plate and munazaleh or Syrian moussaka as our main courses, with Lebanese wines, and followed by followed by baklava, Syrian teas and espresso.

It is so good to see familiar faces and new life in premises that have memories like this. It was just such a pity that I was on my way to two meetings in Rathmines later that day, on inter-faith work and inter-church relations. But this too was an experience of how cultural diversity is enriching life in Ireland today.

I think I have found my new favourite restaurant in Dublin.

There was a warm welcome at Damascus Gate in Terenure this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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