London's Hidden Gems: Sweet Scent of Jasmine
A family-run Damascene café, servicing traditional hearty Syrian foods, drinks and desserts.
I have come to you as a lover
On my brow, a rose and a book
For I am the Damascene whose profession is passion
Whose singing turns the herbs green
A Damascene moon travels through my blood
Nightingales….and grain…and domes
From Damascus, jasmine begins its whiteness
And fragrances perfume themselves with her scent
As I walked into the store, Nizar Qabbani’s poem is right on the wall. Damascus, one of the oldest cities in the world, and used to be the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in crafts of steel and lace in the middle age, has long been high on my wish list. What used to be the centre of trade, education and tourism is now one of the most dangerous places in the world now. In addition to the human cost, this ancient city has been laid waste and untold damage has been done to some of the most important historical and archaeological sites. Peace seems as far away as at any time since the war began in 2011. I don’t know when I can visit Damascus, and even when I could, I don’t know what it will look like. With these heavy thoughts, I walked into Jardin du Jasmin.
The interior decoration was surprisingly light and airy, refreshingly simple with hints of traditional patterns. Stephanie, the pretty young owner of the restaurant and an art student herself, explained to me that the design was inspired by the traditional Syrian courtyard – delicate floor decoration, linear and geometric patterns made of basalt and limestone.
“Damascus is famous for its Jasmine tree that lay on almost every corner and in every courtyard, it is the city’s symbol, hence we gave the name ‘Jardin du Jasmin’, which means ‘Garden of Jasmine’.” Stephanie said, “we serve proper traditional Syrian comfort food that we grew up eating. They are the comfort foods that Syrian families would eat – healthy and with a lot of vegetarian options.”
The restaurant is ran by Stephanie’s family – her mother is the head chef, her brother is in charge of operational management, and she applies the designing skills she learned from the university. Together, they created the unique concept. “We want to create a homely feeling, and introduce people to not only our diverse cuisine, but also our culture.”
When asked about the future plans, she said they are working to expand their catering and event services.
I finished off the interview by asking her favourite city – “Damascus, obviously” she said with a lightly homesick smile, “it is very traditional, religious and spiritual. The patterns, colour and architectures are all beautiful.”
Photographs by Jardin Du Jasmin, words by Zhu, Silent Blooms Team