Other than salad, the signature dish of the vegan nation is falafel. You can tell because it’s ubiquitous and very often appears as the vegetarian and vegan option on menus.
I’m kind of ‘meh’ about falafel, to be honest. Unless they’re drowned in hummus, they can be dry and a bit bland. But go somewhere that makes proper falafel and they’re much nicer, and the quality is an indication of how good the rest of the menu will be. I’ll still never love falafel like some I know who have a frankly unnatural desire for it that I will never understand, but the Damascena falafel is good: not dry and definitely not bland.
Damascena, a Middle Eastern café with two venues in Birmingham – one in Moseley and another recently opened so close to my day job office it could become very dangerous. There are lots of vegan friendly options on the menu that are clearly marked, making it easy to order what you want without having to interrogate any of the staff.
The menu is awash with enticing dishes; if you have trouble choosing I’d suggest going for the Mixed Mezze – just make sure you ask for the vegan option when ordering. This includes the Falafel (shut up about falafel already, yeah?) plus a choice between Baba Ghanuuj (a smoky aubergine dip) or hummus and my favourite, the Damascena Fuul. Based on the Fuul Medames, (which isn’t vegan), the Damascena Fuul is a slow cooked stew of fava beans and tomatoes with garlic and fresh chilli. It’s a seriously tasty dish, and you can get it on it’s own with a flatbread (find it on the breakfast menu, most of which is served all day) if you can’t manage the whole of the mezze – which I guess could be shared if you’re less greedy than me.
Other highlights on the menu worth checking out are the Mekhali salad, the stuffed Vine Leaves and the Battata Hara, and these are just the things I can personally vouch for as being delicious, having tried them all (told you I was greedy).
There’s also a bonus if you’re a coffee lover; Damascena do an intimidating range of Turkish and Arabic coffees; I tried the Turkish coffee with cardamom, which was small, strong and comes serves in an authentic Turkish cup. They also have a selection of teas, including Moroccan mint and Yerba Mate.
Both the Moseley and the city centre cafes have beautiful, Middle Eastern style interiors, with deep reds, gold and geometric designs, including the furniture and light fittings. If you’re in the neighbourhood on a sunny day, check out the lovely outdoor area at the Moseley branch for a relaxed lunchtime. Both cafes are unlicensed (and they don’t let you bring your own either) but with food this intoxicating, you won’t need any alcohol.
Vegan rating: 5 avocados out of 5. This is a great place to go with pretty much anyone, no matter what they eat. The vegan options are plentiful, but the Damascena Fuul is so tasty it would get 5 avocados if that was the only thing they did. Combine that with beautiful interiors and a great atmosphere and I can’t find anything to complain about.
Damascena, 5-7 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY
Tel: 0121 233 1803
133 Alcester Road Moseley B13 8JP
Tel: 0121 449 9245