west london seems to have a proliferation of persian restaurants and since it is one of o’s favourite cuisines i always keep an eye out for ones that are authentic. fortunately me for me, a wonderful toronto based twitter foodist called spicespoon of iranian heritage recommended pars to me. i specifically asked her for recommendations as to what to eat. it turns out that we have similar loves as she said to try the kashk-e-bademjan and khoresh-e-gheimeh bademjan both of which feature aubergine.
it is my baba that introduced me to iranian cuisine. there is a quaint iranian restaurant in islamabad named after the famous poet omar khayyam. an iranian couple run it and we would go there to eat as a treat because it was quite expensive. it was here that i was introduced to ash-e-jow, a creamy and soothing soup with pearl barley. appetisers included kashk-e-badamjan and sometimes salad-e-olivieh. the placemats were of thin paper on which omar khayyam’s rubaiyat were printed in persian with a translation in english. every time we visited, baba would tell us that meals in iran almost always commenced on panir-o-sabzi (literally cheese and vegetables). urdu and persian language have a shared etymology and it was easy for me to translate this. o and i often order panir-o-sabzi in london as tarragon and irani feta is easily available and walnuts are not as expensive as they are in pakistan. for all its simplicity it was not the easiest appetiser to put together and so i don’t recall it being on omar khayyam’s menu. that may well have changed as one can get most anything in pakistan now. incidentally, colbeh restaurant obtains their supply of tarragon from iran and there is a subtle difference between english and iranian tarragon. the iranian one is sweeter, milder and has a refreshing mint like taste. spicespoon has a wonderful piece on panir-o-sabzi and the manner in which it should be eaten in case you are curious and want to know more. our entrees were always a combination of chello kebab koobideh, jujeh kebab or kebab makhsous. koobideh generally denotes kebabs made from minced meat and from memory makhsous was kebab made from fillet. persian grills are accompanied by rice (chello) and a grilled whole tomato. iranian’s make perfect rice, which is deeply aromatic and steamed to perfection. the bed of plain rice contrasts sharply with the crown of saffron. at omar khayyam the saffron rice would come with a sprinkle of barberries moistened in butter. baba and i were possessive about these little jewels that were tart against the buttery and mellow rice.
when i moved to london i was able to try iranian stews and other chello dishes, and so i added khoresh-e-fesenjan (chicken in walnut and sour pomegranate), khoresh-e-bamieh (okra stew), zereskh polo ba murgh (chicken the bone with rice and barberries) and baghali polo to my list of favourites. i cannot remember when i first tried baghali polo but its herbed fragrance and brightness has stayed with me since. i love the mild aniseed flavour of dill with buttered rice and broad beans. at pars they also included a crown of bright saffron rice on top.
pars is located in maida vale on harrow road, which is also home to another excellent persian restaurant, behesht. in fact the confluence of harrow and edgware road are home to three of the best persian restaurants in london, that is colbeh, pars and behesht. what really appealed to me was the décor of pars. it’s not as cramped as colbeh so one can enjoy the clay oven where the bread is being baked without being roasted by its heat. there is an elegance to the artwork and ornaments that have been hung on the walls which behesht fails to achieve. seating is comfortable and well spaced. as recommended by spicespoon we started on the kashk-e-bademjan, which is served warm at pars. the soft spongy flesh of aubergine is mashed to a paste and sharpened with garlic and whey. o had his customary mast-o-khair, which is a kin to tzatziki. its flavour is more delicate though as there is less garlic.
we decided on a kabab-e-koobideh, khoresh-e gheimeh baademjan, a side of koobideh morgh (chicken) for me and some baghali polo. it seemed an ample representation as we were introducing my sister-in-law to persian food. spicespoon’s recommendation of the stew was just perfect. i have a weakness for discs of aubergine whose flesh is made soft and silky with oil. the lentils were tart from the gravy of tomatoes and dried limes. the chicken was tender like pulled meat. n and o thoroughly enjoyed the kebab-e-koobideh. my morgh koobideh was not as succulent as the lamb ones and i would recommend that if you want to eat a good morgh koobideh you should go to colbeh instead. i ate the stew with saffron rice and scooped with the persian naan. i have to say that the ones here are excellent as the dough is rolled thick enough for it to have character and remain soft even if it has been sitting for a while.
|khoresh-e gheimeh baademjan|
o always concludes his persian meals with bastani, a saffron ice cream studded with nuts. for me the standard is sweetened persian tea. i was told many years ago at omar khayyam that persian tea is taken in a particular manner. rock sugar is clamped between the teeth and the tea is then sipped and sweetened as it passes through. it is an art though, and one which i have failed to conquer. here in london they provide you sugar cubes that disintegrate so i wouldn’t recommend trying it.