Sunday, 17 January 2010

Persia, near Primrose Hill

My favourite thing about living in London is the sheer cultural diversity of its inhabitants. I love being on a bus and hearing different languages in every direction. But most importantly, every diaspora group brings with them their culinary traditions by opening restaurants, cafes, grocers and delis as cultural outposts for diaspora to seek comfort and for curious diners' to discover the exciting and far flung cuisines.

I admire the dedication of The World in 202 Meals in their mission to sample every national cuisine moonlighting in London's restaurants. I have a similar mission in mind, and made a visit to Iran on Haverstock Hill last weekend in the form of a restaurant called Tandis.

I've long been intrigued by Persian/Iranian cuisine - my good friend Afsi is half-Iranian and I have many fond memories of popping round her family's house and snacking on leftover Salad Oliviyeh or hearing tales of the perfect Tah-dig. More recently, I've been dying to go to Persepolis in Peckham and get my hands on some rose petals, dried limes, barberries and other exotic staples of the Persian kitchen. Similarly, Tandis has been on my radar for some time having featured in numerous lists.

Everything about Tandis was great. The service was warm, helpful, personal - the owner was keen to ensure we chose dishes well and entered into a jovial debate with my friend Tamara over the virtues of different condiments for her Loobia Polow (her Iraqi roots said yoghurt, he said tomato salad). The d├ęcor is stylish and luxurious, the space light and airy. And the There is a big range of starters that you could eat Mezze style, but the waiter advised us to save ourselves for the mains. The mains include a wide range of kebabs as well as some rice dishes and a long list of meaty and vegetarian stews.

I was most interested in the stews - some with split pea and aubergine, others with ground, dried limes and sour plums. I opted for Khoresh-e esfenaj-o alu - a stew of Lamb, spinach and sour plums. It was incredible - the sour, sweetness of the sauce, the green vigour of the spinach and the tender, slow-cooked lamb. Wow. It was almost overwhelmingly tasty with such potent flavours. It came with a huge pile of saffron rice - I love that pungent, perfumed taste. A vegetarian friend had the a split pea and aubergine stew which was also tasty.

We had been advised to save space for dessert - and it had to be
faloodeh - a rose and lime sorbet filled with thin vermicelli and topped with sour cherries. It was invigorating, perfumey, sour and bizarre. But very good.

I learnt that the sour taste is prominent in Persian food experience. I think sour is quite an acquired taste - it doesn't feature in many European cuisines and, when it is, it's balanced against another taste sensation. I like it though. That said, there were plenty of dishes that weren't all about the sour. I will definitely be going back - it was very reasonably priced (£7-8 for a stew main, £10 - 11 for a kebab main) and there is just so much on that menu I want to try!

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