There are very few restaurants in this world that make you feel at home the moment you step in the door.
Truly atmospheric venues that swallow you whole and allow you to feel like part of the furniture before even uttering a sound.
I'm thrilled to say that I experienced the immense pleasure of visiting such an elusive location just this week, right in the heart of Dublin city.
And that restaurant was none other than Damascus Gate.
Yep, Damascus Gate.
The unassuming Syrian and Lebanese restaurant that you've probably walked by a thousand times. Clad with hand-painted lamps, beautifully woven rugs and some of the most divine crockery we've ever had the pleasure of slathering in olive oil in - we were hooked from the get go.
And oh, the olive oil...
There are simply no other words for the food other than incredible. Rich and delicate all in one. Flavoursome and tenderly textured. Light but also filling. And flavours that you genuinely won't find anywhere else in the capital.
The freshness of everything isn't even the best bit.
Proprietor Ghandi Mallak speaks to you as if you're one of his own, showing you how to get the absolute most out of your meal (he informed us that vine leaves should be eaten with a whole slice of lemon, and to our disbelief, he was bang on) and fills you in as to where exactly everything comes from.
He imports his own olives all the way from Syria, despite growing difficulty in recent times.
So confident is he in his own produce (he gets up at 5:30am every morning to make the baklava by hand) that he challenges any other Arabic restaurant in Ireland to match the flavour of his food.
Michelin chefs never give stars to casual dining venues - but I challenge them to come here and not be blown away.
Mallak built this place from the ground up, with hopes to someday achieve Michelin fame. Even more incredible than his drive, ambition and sheer determination to play the long game and let the food do the talking (he's never paid a penny on marketing in his life) is his work ethic.
You'd be just as likely to see him washing dishes as importing produce, creating an empire - moussaka by moussaka.
We ordered olives, Syrian cheese, crispy bread and a Jerusalem Mezza with fresh bread to start.
You'll have noticed two things already:
- Yes, the portion sizes are lavish, to say the least.
- And yes, this is a great spot to bring vegetarians.
On came mains, and we tucked into ions of vine leaves and Syrian Moussaka. While we didn't indulge in wine, the list was as impressive as it was tempting - with everything from Syrian Arak to Orange Muscat on offer.
Oh and remember that baklava we mentioned that he handmakes at 5:30 each morning? Well yeah, it's really bloody good.
We haven't even gotten to the best bit yet.
Thursday night in Damascus Gate is a cultural feast for the senses, as they've only gone and bloody got a belly dancer in for the night. A wildly impressive display by the most charming lady, who involves everyone and really gets everyone into the spirit of things.
A wildly fun time for all and anyone who likes a good night out and feeling totally welcome.
We stayed there for four hours without even noticing the time go by. And to me, that's the sign of a good restaurant.
They say a Middle Eastern diet boasts incredible heath benefits, longer life and can even prevent heart failure. And after that meal, I can attest to a much happier well-being all round.
Damascus Gate is located at 10 Camden Street Upper, Dublin 2.