Makarem Mazalim leans back in his chair recalls his first experience of working in an Irish kitchen and startles the customers in his Swords restaurant with a belly laugh. Home is Alexandria, Egypt’s largest port city,and a place Makarem left for Ireland after he had finished college and his compulsory one year army duty. ‘There were three places I could have gone to, Italy, Greece or Ireland and I chose Ireland because it was the smallest of the three and also I had friends here. ‘I worked in kitchens in Taylors of Three Rock and Wrights of Howth, firstly as a second chef then as a head chef before the opportunity arose to get involved in my own business, well I say my, I should say our as my brother Ibrahim is very much involved too.
‘We decided from the start we were going to have a Middle Eastern restaurant but we reckoned if we gave it an Arabic name people would not know what it was so we went for an Irish name and called it the Grill House’.
The name may be quintessentially Irish, the food on the other hand is definitely middle eastern. Ibrahim chips in, ‘The food is from the middle east and the Mediterranean, it’s not what the Irish are used to but we are teaching them,’ before echoing his brothers earlier belly laugh. Makarem adds, “The difference between us and other similar restaurants is we don’t compromise,most other places take the taste out of the food
to suit the Irish palate, the texture is not the same, we don’t do that”.
‘Every single dish we use our own spices, if you walk into any other Lebanese or middle eastern establishment in this country and order the same food you have ordered her I guarantee you that you won’t get the same taste. ‘It’s working as well as we are getting some very positive feedback, we have seen a lot of first time customers who don’t exactly know what they are going to get in terms of food, turn into regulars and that’s a definite plus. ‘We import all our basic spices from the middle east and create our own variation of them, every Monday and Thursday we take delivery of fresh beef, chicken and lamb, and people are always intrigued by the fact they can see us front of house preparing their food’.
‘One thing that has caught my attention is that a lot of customers have told us that when they dine here they actually feel like they are on their holidays, I am so pleased to hear that as it means the authentic experience we are striving for is working.’ Perhaps the middle east dish that Irish people know best is Moussaka, and Makarem explains why that is. ‘It suits the Irish palate, it works because of the spice, tomatoes and then the aubergine compliments the rest of it.’ Quite small by comparison with other similar enterprises, the Grill house certainly has a unique atmosphere. Arabian music fills the room and the scent of exotica is everywhere, just how the brothers, and it seems the punters too, like it. ‘When we came in we revamped it, built a new front of house kitchen and decided to keep the dining area nice and tight, we have seen how that works in so far as people at one table chat with those on another, it builds a lovely atmosphere. ‘I suppose you could call us a hidden gem, our name is getting out there though, we are seeing more and more new faces come through the door. “I always dreamed of running my own business, I can’t say I ever imagined it being in Ireland, but you know what I am very glad it is.. And there are plenty of customers glad it is as well”.