by Shams Akram
Slow-Cooked Lamb by Candlelight
The air smells of spices and burning incense as stall-holders try to tempt me with their exotic wares. As I head deeper into the Souq I resist the temptation to stop and take a longer look, my focus is elsewhere as I hunt down traditional Persian food.
I have to ask for directions, and I’m pointed to a building not far in the distance. It looks the same as any of the other eateries in the area, and it makes me wonder whether I’ve found the right place. The entrance appears nondescript as I tentatively walk in.
My breath catches.
It’s everything I was told to expect – opulent, glittering, and beautiful. The entrance-way to the restaurant is adorned with thousands of glittering glass tiles, miniature reflectors that mesmerize and delight! I have been told that Iranian craftsmen took over three years to hand piece all the tiles and mirror work.
Walking under the arched entrance I am lead by the restaurant greeter to the main dining area. The walls are decorated with elaborate paintings, which represent traditional folk tales and legends from Iran’s history. The internal space reflects the architecture of an extravagant royal court, with overlooking balconies and ornate chandeliers.
I hear the soft sound of trickling water from a fountain in the middle of the room – looking into the water I can see watermelons, apples and melons being kept cool in the cold waters. As I am seated I can smell the scent of freshly cooked bread coming from the traditional bread oven. The baker is constantly working, fanning the flames, and rolling out fresh dough to bake hot bread within minutes for the hungry guests.
It feels surreal, like I have stepped into a highly decorated chapter of an antique book.
Taking a look at the menu I am tempted by the grilled meat dishes, skewers of kebabs, and slow-cooked dishes.I order the slow-cooked lamb with spinach, known as Koresht Ghorma.
When it arrives I inhale the fragrant smells of Persian cuisine – meaty and exotic. The lamb is hearty and tender, with a strong spinach flavour. I enjoy it with a beautiful platter of saffron rice, delicately flavoured, with authentic sharp Iranian barberries for added colour and taste.
The regal decor and warm atmosphere of the restaurant makes it seem more like the ancestral home of a close friend. I want to join the kitchen staff, chopping and cooking, learning the secrets to the cuisine.
Stuffed to the brim, I regretfully refuse the offer of tea, but instead take a moment to wonder around the restaurant. An instrumentalist has turned up for the evening crowd, and he is playing a traditional Kanoun. Soft and delicate the musical notes bounce off the high ceilings and elegant mosaic windows.
Entranced by the glitter of a private room I walk in and am instantly entranced by what must be a Sultan’s dining room. Opulent, rich craftsmanship is the highlight of this secret space, with dazzling mirrors, decorative chandeliers, and royal seating. It is perfect for dining with friends and family, enjoying traditional Persian fare in the light of flicking candlelight – I’m already making plans for a return visit!