Syrian chef who fled war-torn Damascus launches pop-up restaurant in east London

Chloe Chaplain
Imad: The Syrian refugee fled Damascus where ran a number of restaurants: Jeremy Selwyn

A refugee whose livelihood as a chef was destroyed in the Syrian civil war has launched a sell-out pop-up restaurant in a hip part of east London.

Imad Alarnab arrived in London in 2015 after fleeing the brutal warfare of home city of Damascus.

His restaurants, which offered authentic Middle Eastern food for tourists who flooded to Syria on religious pilgrimages, were destroyed in the savage conflict.

But now, with the support of local and national charities and businesses, he has launched Imad’s Syrian Kitchen – a temporary restaurant on Columbia Road in Bethnal Green.

Volunteers: Imad with helper Samia Khan, left, - from The Hampstead Kitchen (Jeremy Selwyn)

“When I left Damascus I went through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France,” he told the Standard. “I was walking, running, cycling, getting lifts, trains…”

He arrived in London in October 2015 and eventually brought his family, including three daughters aged six, 10 and 13, over to join him in July 2016.

Chef: Imad will serve traditional Syrian food in the 'cosy' restaurant (Jeremy Selwyn)

He said: “I have been very welcomed here. I only got to London in 2015 and I feel like I have more friends than some people who have been here their whole lives.”

Mr Alarnab worked as a car salesman in Harrow before getting involved in the Cook for Syria campaign which helped raise money for Syrian children.

Authentic: He said he got many of the recipes from his mother (Appear Here)

Through this project he was introduced to the Unicef NEXTGeneration team of volunteers and Appear Here – a company specialising in renting out temporary business spaces.

Dinner menu


Tabbouleh - parsley, tomato and bulgur wheat salad

Fattoush - toasted pita salad with pomegranate molasses, tomato and cucumber

Hummus - chickpea dip served with fresh pita

Moutabal - smokey aubergines with yoghurt and tahini

Falafel - ground chickpea patty with tahini & pickles

Main Courses:

Kebab Hindi - Syrian meatball stew

Kabsa - spiced chicken with cardamom and rice

Tabakh rohoo - vegetable & tamarind stew


Assortment of baklava served with cardamom tea

These organisations worked with Mr Alarnab to launch Imad’s Syrian Kitchen in under three months.

It will serve brunch and dinner – with food donated by north London catering company The Hampstead Kitchen and diners served by a team of volunteers.

“I want it to be cosy and for people to feel like they are at home,” Mr Alarnab said. “These are traditional dishes that were cooked for me by my mother and I am excited to share them with Londoners.”

“I have been surprised by the response we have had – I was worried that we would not sell tickets,” Mr Alarnab added.

“But it is amazing. It is like someone is taking your dream and making it real in front of your eyes. It has been perfect.”

According to UNHCR statistics, more than 4.9 million Syrians have fled the country since the start of the conflict in 2011.

Imad: He told the Standard that Londoners had made him feel very welcome (Appear Hear)

A further 6.3 million are thought to have been displaced internally.

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen will be open from March 9 to March 24, with proceeds going toward the Cook For Syria campaign and Unicef NEXTGeneration.

For more information visit the website.