Through the eyes of Sousana & Nabil

Rose water. Pistachio. Sweet cream. Hint of orange. 

A signature desert and a welcome end to a generous meal. Through timeless recipes with a twist, at Narenj, a quaint restaurant in central France,  the food is almost as sweet as the chefs behind it. 

Narenj means ‘bitter orange’ in Arabic. The orange tree, often found in the central courtyard of Damascus homes, is source of goodness, sweetness and nutrition and a meeting place for loved ones to reconnect after a long day. 

Nabil and Sousana have recreated the sense of goodness and togetherness that the orange tree symbolises in their native Syria in their Orléans-based restaurant Narenj. For Nabil, a former banker and Sousana, a former public servant, the idea for Narenj was born out of passion for sharing their culture through the universal language of cuisine. Through a bistro-style restaurant and immaculate presentation of meals composed of rich local ingredients, they have reinvented the middle-eastern cuisine experience in their community.

Nabil and Sousana were active Innovators in the PLACE community during its pivotal first year of experimentation in Paris in 2017. Over 7 months they developed their capacity to ideate, pivot and thrive in times of personal uncertainty through PLACE’s pop-up Innovation Labs. Shortly after serving their delicious recipes to the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo at the 2017 Graduation Celebration, Narenj opened its doors to the public in the summer of 2018.

As restaurant owners, their day to day lives are typically defined by the customers who walk through the door. The regulars – for whom Nabil already has their favourite dish on the stove as they settle into their usual table. The eager reservers – who thanks to more than a few five star reviews on TripAdvisor, booked their table weeks ago and downloaded the menu on their phones the night before. The curious walk-ins – a new friend with time to kill and a stomach eagerly waiting to be filled. 

In March 2020, when they had to close their restaurant doors due to the unprecedented public health situation of COVID-19, their day to day lives rapidly changed. For the couple, who arrived as refugees in France in 2015, in a time defined by a similar level of uncertainty, the capacity to adjust was already there. Like many small business owners around the world, they offer the free delivery of their meals throughout the time of social distancing and confinement – urging their customers to stay at home. 

The regulars are still there – recognizable by a name, not a footstop. The eager reservers too, but now they are booking their meals four hours early. Whereas the curious walk-ins are just as indecisive as ever. Although their day to day lives have a different face during this time of major social change, Nabil and Sousana have maintained their flair for service and are still able to communicate through their favourite medium – food.

Rose water to make the day beautiful. Pistachio to make it rich. Sweet cream to hold things together. And a hint of orange make things bright. 

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