Thursday, 10 March 2011

gilak: northern iranian

zolbia bamyeh
spring is hesitant to arrive this year. we are in the first week of march and the temperature is still in single digits. although there are daffodils appearing in parks and peoples garden patches they aren't in full bloom yet. with weather like this o and i want food that warms and comforts, with a little spring on its palette. and iranian food ticks all these boxes, especially the deep yellow of saffron which is like the colour of a low setting late summer sun. we have been meaning to try gilak for a while now especially since it had been mentioned to me by an iranian cabbie and strangely an iranian dentist. so o and i took the four up to archway on a cold so-called spring night. there isn’t much to say about gilak’s interior except that the ceiling decorations (folds of net draped in what i am sure is meant to be artistic but looked more like a childish version of a persian fantasy with little christmas baubles hanging from it) were peculiar. 

o must always have mast-o-khair (yoghurt with chopped cucumber, garlic and mint). i usually like to try something new and so picked the kale kabab ( smoked aubergine, garlic, herbs, walnuts and sour pomegranate juice). this didn’t turn out to be as good as i had thought as the garlic bullied the subtle oily nuttiness of the walnuts and the tang of the pomegranate juice. the aubergine however was well smoked with a woody smoky aroma. the flat bread was a tad bit disappointing as its thinness rendered it crisp rather than the leavened bread at colbeh or patogh. i know that o didn’t take to it much.

a lover of all things grilled o predictably chose the chellow kebab koobideh. this always amuses me as he claims he doesn’t like lamb but always ends up eating it at iranian restaurants. i felt like stew and ordered the khoresht fesenjan. i have always been curious as to why in some entrees rice is chellow and in others polo. it turns out that chellow is rice which is steamed separately and over which kebab’s or sauces are served. polo rice is closer to a pilaf or pulao in that other ingredients are incorporated into the rice whilst it is being cooked.

the helpings here are very generous. o’s koobideh came with a mound of two-toned rice, white underneath and saffron on top, two slightly charred tomatoes and a small smattering of greens. it never ceases to amaze me as to how much flavour iranian kebab can pack with the simplest of seasonings and good quality meat. the koobideh was delicate and just collapsed in the mouth. my stew had the richness of walnut oil cut by the sour and dry fruitiness of the pomegranate juice. the chicken itself fell of the bone with a mere nudge of my fork. and the chellow was perfect. there is nothing that pleases me more than perfectly cooked rice with saffron. if i had to, i could eat only that for dinner.

despite all the eating and endless cups of sweetened persian tea, o and i decided that we must have dessert. and for the first time his choice was better than mine. he ordered the bastani – saffron ice-cream with pistachio’s and i for some silly reason chose not to order the recommended reshte khoskhar (a traditional sweet from northern iran ) and went for the zolbia bamyeh instead. there wasn’t anything wrong with them and infact they reminded me of the gelabi’s that i ate as a child. swirls of batter fried in hot oil and then dipped in sugar syrup. i would have liked to have a dominant note of rose water. and the saffron was conspicuously absent in both colour and spirit.

there will definitely be a next time at gilak. but one that doesn’t end on the sugar rush of zolbia bamyeh. 

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