Reviewed by Jat Shah
My partner Steve and I recently visited The Jam Tree in Clapham, London where the Juma kitchen (Iraqi cuisine) was in operation for the evening. This vibrant bar/restaurant is located in the heart of Clapham old town and only a couple of minutes by walk from Clapham High Street and Clapham Common tube station.
Upon entering this trendy bar at 19:00 on a Thursday night, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff. The bar was flooded with light due to their floor to ceiling glass doors running through an entire length of the area. The space looked inviting and there were many groups of people enjoying a few drinks after work.
Going through a hidden door, which would blend into the bookcase themed wallpaper unnoticed when shut, there was another huge space with a further bar, lots of tables and a very well maintained patio/back garden. This is where the Juma kitchen event took place. As soon as we were seated, we were offered a cocktail from the bar, which was a gin based short drink served in a martini glass and had a spicy taste to it. It was sharp, strong and both Steve and I really enjoyed it.
Juma kitchen is a concept somewhat similar to breakfast club and Mr Philip Juma has been hosting Iraqi pop-ups at various venues across London. Our ticket included a welcome cocktail and a very innovative 5 course Iraqi meal. Soon after we sat down, the place started filling up and the organisers made sure that everyone had been offered the welcome drink. Our table which seated 14 people was full before the food service started and everyone on the table was very friendly and open to conversation.
First course was Lamb Bourek, Falafel and Spiced Baba Ganoush. What a treat this course was, and certainly set our expectations very high. This trio was served on a slate tray and both Steve and I agreed that whilst Falafel was our favourite, the Spiced Baba Ganoush had a slight burnt aftertaste.
The second course called Dijaj Bilmynarinj was boneless crispy chicken thigh served on wafer-layered potato with rich saffron sauce and garnished with caramelised onions. Whilst this was my favourite course, Steve felt the taste of saffron a bit overpowering.
The third course Kubba Hamuth was described as handmade lamb dumplings with Iraqi spices in a rich tomato sauce with turnips, onions and garlic. It was served in individual little jam jars releasing mouth-watering aroma as soon as the lid was opened, and the taste did not disappoint either.
The fourth course was named Dolma. Presentation wise this was the most impressive course. The huge serving plate was surround by lamb chops and within it, it had vine leaves, onion shells and baby peppers all filled with lamb mince, spices and rice. Many camera phones came out to greet this spectacular dish – which was served with a side of salad. We were individually served our portions from this serving plate by the waiter. Meat from the lamb chops was tender and fell off the bone, and on the whole every mouthful of this course was simply delicious.
At this point Mr Juma came out of the kitchen and took time to speak to each guest, which showed how passionate he was about his cooking. Last course was Knafa described as baked cream and soft cheese topped with shredded filo pastry. This dessert was nothing like we have ever tried before and although very hot, most of us on the table polished it off very quickly.
It was around 22:30 by the time we finished our last course, so we said goodbyes to our new found friends and left. This was a truly unique evening and we would have no hesitation in recommending Juma kitchen to anyone who is open to trying really delicious and well-presented Iraqi cuisine surrounded by friendly people.