GUESTS at a special pop-up restaurant were treated to a festival of food, music and dance from Persia on Saturday.

For one night only, a team of volunteers worked alongside refugees and asylum seekers from Swindon’s Harbour Project to transform the Central Community Centre into a dining destination with a difference.

Saturday’s event was the second in what organisers hope will become a series of pop-up restaurant evenings – the concept made its debut at last year’s inaugural Harbour Fest.

Diners enjoyed a starter of osh sholeh ghalmkar – a traditional soup, followed by a main course of baghali polo va goosht – a dish of slow cooked lamb with colourful flavoured rice served with a refreshing Iranian salad.

A hit with many in attendance was the desert of sweet rice pudding with Persian honey pastries, or fereni va shirini to use its traditional name.

The food was prepared and cooked by a team of visitors from the Harbour Project who manned the kitchen with the support of staff from local restaurants including Los Gatos in Old Town.

Of course the aim of the event was not only to put on an enjoyable evening for guests where they were able to learn about new and exciting food and culture.

Ticket revenue raises money for the Harbour Project and also the Swindon City of Sanctuary campaign, a new initiative that aims to build a culture of hospitality and inclusivity towards refugees and asylum seekers in the town.

It also helps to build a bridge between those people who have fled hardship and persecution to make their homes in Swindon, boosting their confidence and providing a welcome opportunity for them to meet people from different walks of life.

The Harbour Project visitors, as they are called, manned the kitchen with the support of staff from local restaurants including Old Town’s Los Gatos.

They were also the friendly faces that waited on tables, met arriving guests and added the personal touch to the evening’s events.

One of the waiters, 21-year-old Yacobali Ali, arrived in Swindon just over a year ago after fleeing his home in the Darfur region of Sudan.

By himself in an unfamiliar town on the other side of the world, Yacobali said the support he has received from the Harbour team and the friends he has made there – whether on the project’s football team or at the drop-in centre – are among the things he most enjoys in his new home.

No time was wasted between courses either – flautist Iman Askari and 13-year-old dancing sensation Mani Karami, both from Iran, delivered powerful performances to the delight of all the guests.

Claire Garrett, trustee at the Harbour Project, thanked all those who came along to be part of the event.

“Once again we have put on a fantastic evening and I hope you have all enjoyed it,” she said.

“Everything that we’ve done as part of this event has been planned, prepared, served and managed by our fantastic visitors at the Harbour Project.

“Some of us have helped to make that happen but it is really all the result of their skills, talents and fantastic capabilities.”

Further pop-up restaurants are in the works for later in the year.