Persian, or in a more politically accurate term, Iranian, cuisine dates back to the ancient time when fierce Persian warriors brandished their swords against the sculpture-bodied Greeks, when God did not exist and Jesus was yet to be borne. Thanks to centuries of gastronomic tradition, no doubt has Persian food been so influential to many others of its neighbouring civilisations. These influences stretched, interestingly enough, as far as Thailand where many ancient courtly cookbooks documented a Biryani as Persian fried rice.
Fast-forwarding to London 2011, Persian cuisine is not as much of a trend but a gastronomic obscurity misrepresented by the ready availability of kebab shops where punters do not realise the thing they grab ‘n go comes from centuries of tradition. I was one of those lacking that sort of awareness, honestly, until my other bib decided to have his holiday in Iran a couple of years ago. Food-wise, I would categorise Persian dishes into four kinds: the dip/paste, the grill, the stew, and the supersweet. The first two kinds are not too far off from Labanese cuisine, though I find Persian to be richer when it comes to applying spices and herb. No surprise as the Persian empire was the epicentre of spice trade and gateway to gloomy Europe.
I’d like to tuck in now but just before doing so I’d like to accredit these selections of Persian restaurants to comeconella who was so kind recommending me a handful. Here are them ones I made it to.
My equation: Holloway Road + Archway + Cheap Eat = Far + Not Worth It.
But, as it turned out, my equation was false. This subdued venue – not charming or attractive or gimmicky in any way – was the milestone of Northern Persian cooking in London. Note Gilak is the name of one of the northern regions in Iran. The service, though laissez faire, was efficient enough and the staff very knowledgeable.
My starter of Boorani e Aubergine was rustic. This was a dish of smoked aubergines with garlic and yoghurt. Smoky with a hint of bitterness and sourness from the yoghurt providing intriguing flavour contrast. I wiped the plate clean with their paper thin sheet of bread. Very crispy.
Two main courses – yes I decided to risk obesity – followed. First, the Kabab Koobideh, which I specifically asked to have the bread garnish opted out; and second, Khoresht Anarbij, a more regional dish of lamb meat balls in mixed herbs, walnuts, onion and sour pomegranate sauce. The kebab was tender and had this little meaty bounce. The proportion of spice, meat and fat was also spot on. The portion, as I imagined it would arrive with bread, could have been massive and make a meal itself. Yet, the price tag was as low as £6.95!! The stew dish was also exceptional. Aromatic, herbal and with refreshing, fruity-licious acidity from pomegranate. This, as I was informed, was from northern Iran where walnuts and pomegranates were key cooking ingredients. The lamb balls were also to die for. The dish was accompanied with a gigantic plate of saffron rice that oozed a viciously mouth-watering earthy aroma even if you stood a metre or so away.
The savoury dishes were real success, so I was brave enough to request two desserts. Unlike many other Middle Eastern restaurants where only Baklava was on the menu, the list of desserts at Gilak was impressivd. My saffron ice cream with pistachio called Bastani was good. Too much of saffron, I’d have to say, and a little too light on the creamy texture and sweet flavour. The Zolbia Bamyeh – deep fried flour and egg based dough soaked in rose water syrup – was a little one dimensional. That said, the syrup wasn’t quite rosy fabulous. It was sweet, sweet, sweet and that’s about it. Whatsoever not bad but it did not deliver the similar WOW factor as the savoury dishes.
My other Persian detour Colbeh was just off Edgware Road. My other bib took me there years ago but it was too dark for me to realise where I was actually taken, too. Worse? The better half couldn’t remember the route back to the place… Thanks to our own incompetence, Colbeh had remained a mystery for two years!!
And I had been dying to return to the place. Not particularly for the food but for their freshly made “naan” bread in Colbeh’s own fiery clay oven situated at the front of the restaurant. These were their bread making essentials. And seriously, I couldn’t quite take my eyes of the guy’s doughs.
My bread arrived larger than a fat boy’s belly. Despite its thin appearance, it had this wonderful crispy skin which broke way to the spongy and chewable core. To go with the bread was this tiny portion of Mirza Ghasemi, a dip of grilled aubergine, tomato, garlic and egg. It was smoky, sour and creamy. Decent but not as bold as dishes at Gilak.
My stew main course of Chelo Khoresh Gheymeh – AKA lamb and split peas in tomato sauce with pickled lemon – was delectable. The dominant flavour was that of varying degrees of acidity from the tomato and the lemon. The lamb was falling apart at first bite and the peas added amusing texture. This came with saffron rice, which was less fragrant than the version at Gilak. Am I seriously bumming Gilak too much!? In hindsight, a faggot joke might not be appropriate here as they might still be killing gays in the Middle East?
The desserts. There were still some few interesting dishes on the menu but on ordering only Baklava was available. Why wouldn’t they just tell me this instead of handing over the menu? Never mind. Baklava it was..
F**king awesome. Was I allowed to be gay and say “f**k” in an Iranian restaurant? Still, Colbeh’s baklava was truly divine. The right amount of syrup, the crispy pastry and above all else it tasted so fresh. It surpassed them amazing ones at Beirut Express and Green Valley Supermarket. I ain’t joking, yeah!
My head rating for Gilak and Colbeh says, “9 and 7 out of 10″.
My heart rating in the same order says, “8 and 8 out of 10″.
663 Holloway Road
Tel. 020 7272 1692
6 Porchester Place
Tel. 020 7706 4888