Grub Spy: Feast from the east

Grup Spy Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations
Some of the delicious dishes

Some of the delicious dishes

The colourful interior

The colourful interior

Syrian samosas

Syrian samosas

Sunday World

‘We’re heading off for some Syrian soul food at the Four Liars in Shandon, beside the Butter Museum and the Firkin Crane’ — that’s a sentence you won’t hear too often beyond the northside frontiers of Cork city.

Who would ever have imagined a Syrian family — Ahmed Saqqa and wife Hadeel, son and daughter, Ghassan and Ghazeel — fleeing the horrors of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, undertaking a hugely dangerous trek from Aleppo, mostly on foot and mostly by night across mountains and hills, out through Turkey and Greece, until finally, with asylum granted, settling down and opening a business in good old Cork city. I mean, who wouldn’t find that story joyous, uplifting and inspiring?

THE FOUR LIARS O’Connell Square, Shandon, Cork Four Stars Food: €52.50; Drinks: €10

I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate my admiration and high regard for such bravery, than heading out for a feed in their new-ish Syrian restaurant.

The Four Liars had actually been around for years before closing-up shop a while back. I have no clue what the name means or where it came from, but I think the Saqqa family made the right decision in keeping it.

The colourful interior

The colourful interior

The restaurant is neat and tidy, and quite small, with room for maybe twenty-plus covers. Except for the Middle Eastern music, it could be any other modern restaurant. I would describe first impressions as warm and welcoming, with a distinct family-run vibe.

And the food? Being a Syrian food novice, we followed a tip-off and ordered fattoush, fried kibbeh, molokhia, Syrian samosas, and baklawa (Syrian baklava).

The fattoush salad — big enough for a main course — is a blend of thinly sliced white and red cabbage, sliced onion, a bunch of freshly chopped parsley, a scattering of pomegranate seeds, a dressing of olive oil and pomegranate molasses (I think), all topped off with pieces of fried flatbread.

Kibbeh offers a pair of juicy lamb meatballs served with cucumber salad and a yogurt dressing. The samosas are filo pastry twists, filled with feta cheese, spinach and parsley, and accompanied with a yogurty dip.

I had never heard of ‘molokhia’ until I hit The Four Liars. I would call it a verdant green leafy vegetable that is, apparently, a ubiquitous food all over the Middle East, especially in Syria. Looks like spinach, tastes ever-so-slightly like spinach, but has nothing really to do with spinach. It arrives nicely seasoned with spiced chicken and fresh mint, topped with roasted pistachios and served with basmati rice.

Accompanied with glasses of chilled white, we hungrily demolish most of our Syrian nosh, and doggy-bag the rest — including the baklawa — for later. It tastes like a pistachio-ed super-delicious sugar bomb.

And the verdict? What an unexpected selection of tasty wowsers. Until today, I had never even heard rumours about Syrian food. And while I did find the menu a tad confusing, I was glad I had listened to advice.

There is nothing mysterious happening here — think Middle Eastern delights offered by a family-run kitchen, and you won’t go far wrong.

It’s a welcome surprise and a great addition to our culinary landscape. If you want to try something different, The Four Liars is an excellent place to check out.

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