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Imad eating at his restaurant
Photograph: Orlando Gili

The cook who just wouldn’t quit: welcome to Imad’s Syrian Kitchen

Imad Alarnab was a successful chef in Damascus, forced to flee his war-torn home. This year he opened his first London eatery

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

When I arrived in London six years ago, I’d travelled from Damascus in Syria. I had my backpack and looked like a refugee. I’d been judged on my journey. But when I got to King’s Cross, no one gave a damn. I could just be myself.

I’ve been planning this restaurant since March 2017. Everywhere I saw was over-budget. But when I viewed this Carnaby Street venue in June 2020, it gave me hope. 

I knew that London was strong and would get back to normal. We tried to open in November last year, but it didn’t work because of lockdown. We tried again in January and they extended the lockdown. It was really difficult. 

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen isn’t a restaurant, it’s my kitchen and my dining room. When we eventually opened up, it was amazing. Since then, we’ve been fully booked.

I want guests to get the feeling I got when my mother cooked for me. Our customers become our friends. One came from Edinburgh just for lunch.

Giving back to the community feels good. I raised £500,000 for charity between 2017 and 2020. I was short on equipment for my restaurant, so I launched a crowdfunder. I wasn’t surprised we hit our target: I’m lucky. We’re paying back now, with £1 on every bill going to charity.

Every day is challenging because of the staff shortage, thanks to the pandemic and Brexit. I owned three restaurants in Damascus and my team made my life easy. I miss them – we’re struggling to find the right people to hire. 

I love London so much, but what’s surprising is that London loves me back. The only reason for our success is giving that love. 

If I had to sum up this year in one word, it would be ‘hope’. This has been a year of coming back to being a restaurateur, something I’ve missed since 2012. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Imad's Syrian Kitchen is at Kingly Court, W1. You can follow it on Instagram here. 

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