Photos by Conal Thomas

“Since I can remember I was in bakeries making falafel, serving people and baking food with my granny,” says Alon Salman, yellow apron on, busy putting together dishes for his next customer.

Inside his small yet cavernous restaurant, Shouk, the warm glow from low-hanging copper lamps bounces off wooden tables, salvaged from the yard of Salman’s uncle’s pub in Co. Wexford.

Salman opened Shouk, with the help of of his sister Dana, about four weeks ago next to the Arts and Business Campus in Drumcondra village.

With simple traditional dishes, it has already imprinted on locals, two of whom have just waltzed in for lunch for what one describes as “the freshest pitas”.

Mezze to Malabi

The Salman siblings grew up in Kiryat Ono, just outside of Tel Aviv, where they were raised by their Irish mother, Israeli father and Iraqi paternal grandparents.

Through them, they absorbed the new flavours and traditional dishes that Shouk now serves.

“All my life we’ve been around food,” says Salman, who moved to Dublin permanently two years back.

Behind the small bar, his sister Dana – who’s over helping out her brother for the first few weeks in business – prepares malabi. Served in a small tumbler, it’s a coconut-cream dessert topped with rose water and fresh crushed almonds.

Up a small flight of steps to the left, in the more brightly lit back of the restaurant, is an open hatch through which the scents of onions and cumin and sounds of chopping emerge from the small kitchen.

So far Shouk’s menu is “very simple to see what people like”, says Salman.

Fresh pita breads are served from a small bar to the left of the kitchen – filled with falafel, chicken or shawarma, take your pick – for €7. “A lot of the spices I brought from home and I make all the mixes myself,” says Salman.

For the hungry evening customer – Shouk stays open until 9pm Wednesday to Sunday – there are two main dishes.

First up is shakshuka. “We cook, for around six or seven hours, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and spices under the grill. No water. No tomato paste,” he says. “When you order we get a small frying pan. In the base of the shakshuka, we poach two eggs inside it.”

That comes with pita bread, tahini, and a salad of fresh vegetables and herbs for €10, and it’s straight from Salman’s Iraqi grandmother’s cookbook, he says.

Small snacks – falafels, salads, dips, and pita – come in between €4 and €6. “We want to feed every pocket,” he says.

Near the entrance, two Drumcondra locals order the mezze platter: fresh falafel served with homemade hummus, tahini, baba ghanoush, salad, and pita bread for €12. The pita is soft and the tahini is tangy.

Another customer has nipped in for a pita. “Seriously,” she says, dunking pita into fresh dip, beckoning Salman and myself over. “This is the best baba ghanoush.”

Salman looks bashful.

Dana laughs. “It is good,” she says.

Word Of Mouth

In the kitchen, Dublin Institute of Technology culinary student Jack Routledge gets to work making the freshly ordered mezze platter. He’s been shadowing Salman for the past four weeks, learning the traditional mixes of vegetables and spices.

In the area out back, beyond the kitchen, there are a dozen or so tables. The space is decorated by planters and, like the interior, it was built with salvaged furniture, from scratch, over six months.

So far it’s been word of mouth that’s brought people through the door, says Salman. In the coming weeks he plans to expand the menu – think whole roasted vegetables with olive oil.

Shouk operates a bring-your-own-drink policy, part of the casual vibe that he is hoping will attract diners.

“The main thing here, the goal of this place, is that we want to build a home, a place you can come and you will be very welcome. We’ll give you loads of tasters. We’ll always interact,” he says.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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