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The delights and annoyances of a Persian lunch

“One of the joys of restaurants is that they’re a brilliant place for disclosure. If you’re going, ‘Sorry, what? You did what? To whom?’ you’re going to miss out on the juicy details. What’s the fun?” Jay Rayner

A short time ago I wrote a post about a book group book - Pomegranate Soup. We mostly loved the book and particularly loved the food that was described therein, and so we decided to have lunch at a Persian restaurant that a couple of our group sort of knew of.

Last Friday we had that lunch, which turned out to be a mix of absolute delight and real annoyance. Persian Flavours - our chosen venue in Forest Hill is an extremely modest looking establishment that you would not look at twice if passing by. And actually I don't think you would be passing by - well only in a car, because it is in one of those very small depressing looking little shopping strips of some half a dozen shops that you see at major junctions of Melbourne's outer suburban main roads - in this case Springvale and Canterbury Roads. There is therefore no parking outside - well you can park for quarter of an hour but what good is that if you're having lunch? The kebab place around the corner has pinched the smallish car park on the corner and I flew past some strip parking on Canterbury Road. I think the same thing happened to my companions because we all parked around the nearest corner, which wasn't that close, which is not good if you are elderly - as we all are - I call this my Old Ladies Bookgroup. Some of them are over ninety for heaven's sake. We move slowly and sometimes achingly.

It is not at all flash, and indeed you might wonder whether you had come to the right place (well I did) because you enter via the attached shop which is stacked high with Persian - well Middle-Eastern and Indian supplies. I should have lingered for much longer after the meal. I'm sure I would have found things there that I have been searching for for ages so that I can try out some of the more obscure Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage recipes. We don't have such a treasure trove near here, which is a rather more Asian immigrant area.

The restaurant is also pretty small - perhaps a dozen tables? And not all that flash I suppose, in spite of the lovely Persian rug hanging on the wall. Moreover the menu - this is one side of it - is a plastic covered sheet with small pictures of each dish - and marks it as downmarket somehow. Typical I suppose of a small neighbourhood ethnic restaurant. And cheap. All of our very generous main dishes cost a mere $18,50. Moreover although the restaurant was called Persian Flavours, and there were indeed several Persian dishes on the menu, a large number were actually Indian. Well Iran is next door to Pakistan which is sort of India - in terms of food anyway. Probably not in any other way.

We were the first there I seem to remember and were seated under the Persian rug, and in spite of all the off-putting things about the venue itself we were all optimistic and buoyed by our recent reading of Pomegranate Soup and the prospect of an expedition - a mini adventure. After a decent interval we ordered our dishes - all Persian but all different, and all, as it turned out - absolutely delicious - and 'authentic' - that awful word.

Take, for example, Maria's "Abgoosht Dizi (Lamb & Chickpeas) Lamb cooked with chickpeas, garlic, onion, potato, tomato, dried lime, black pepper and with Naan…." In the book it was the first dish that the protagonist - Marjan - serves to her first customer in the sisters' Persian restaurant in a small Irish town. It's a dish that is simple to make but rather more complicated to serve, as she explains to her customer - the local priest:

"The broth is clear enough. You can take it throughout the meal, but the real treat is the meat paste there. The thin bread is called lavash. Use it to scoop some of the meat, then add onions and herbs and whatever else you like there as you go along. It's a very nourishing dish, especially during the winter months." Marsha Mehran/Pomegranate Soup

For Maria it came in a stone pot, which the owner/waitress showed her how to serve. The broth was poured off into a bowl as a soup to be eaten alongside the stewed meat and vegetables which were then mashed in the pot. Maria was instructed to take a piece of the naan and fold some of this mash into the naan, perhaps dipping it into the broth:

Naan, rather than lavash but that might be a regional variation. Otherwise completely as described in the book and on the net as well. Maybe the only thing missing was something fresh like the herbs, spring onions and radishes shown in this presentation in The New York Times - where the meat and the broth seem to come already separated to the table.

A second example was my "Chicken Zereshk Polow - Quarter chicken cooked in Chef's special sauce and Zereshk Polow on top" Now I have no idea what was in the Chef's special sauce, but it was utterly delicious. I searched the net and found a couple of recipes - well there were many more - one of which used a baharat spice mix and another which had fewer spices - Persian chicken/Feasting at Home and Persian Chicken with Barberry Rice (Zereshk Polo ba Morgh)/Sanna Mirza. The first picture is mine, (from their website) although on the day it was rather less classily presented as the chicken was buried under the rice.

We did not have wine to drink but instead to go with our meals we chose the Persian tea, which, as Maria commented should have been made in a samovar, but was served equally beautifully from an elegant pot into Middle-Eastern style glass cups. Now I'm not a fan of tea but this was also lovely - black tea brewed with a touch of cardamom and rose petals I believe.

As I mentioned before the restaurant was small, modest and in an obscure location, but the owner/waitress told us that she had been there for eighteen years and so she is obviously doing something right - and I can affirm that. Her popularity was about to become apparent.

For just shortly into the experience a regular customer I believe, came in and asked for a table of fifteen to be arranged. Which it was in front of the shop window and gradually his companions arrived - mostly men - I think I counted four, maybe five women, and very ethnically diverse - such is Australia these days and isn't that great? But they were so very noisy, which almost destroyed our overall experience because, we could barely hear ourselves speak and certainly the people at each end could not hear their companions at the other.

Now were they so loud because they were noisy people, or were they noisy because they too could not hear what their more distant companions were saying? Or, eventually, because they had drunk too much? I think we all decided that they were noisy people anyway - one woman and many of the men in particular.

Or was it the restaurant's fault? A small restaurant like that is obviously not going to turn anyone away - least of all a guaranteed fifteen meals. Should they have told them to be quiet? Again - very tricky for them, especially if they or some of them, were regular customers.

Could they do anything to dampen the sound? There were lots of hard surfaces - the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the windows and there were no tablecloths on the tables. Which is not at all unusual these days. There are three reasons for this kind of decor - expense mostly in this case I would think. Ease of cleaning - well carpets are easy to clean, but more likely to get unremovable stains on them. Well I guess that's true although if you choose the colour of your carpet carefully and use the right stain removing products it should be doable. After all most very posh restaurants have carpets. Or do they? Because the other reason for the hard surfaces is trendy design. Even high class restaurants often go the industrial chic way, and besides they seem to think that the noise which is generated gives the place a 'buzz' that is enticing. Is it? Maybe to the young, maybe not to most and definitely not to us oldies.

There seems to be a bit of a movement going on to try more sound defeating techniques - I think I even saw that there is a special paint that can absorb sound. The Scientific American even did a small survey which seemed to point to noise affecting taste, although Grub Street scoffed somewhat:

"The SA points to a study done on a small sample that shows individuals less able to register “salty” and “sweet” on their palates when listening to loud white noise. But they only tested college kids about cookies and Pringles, so it’s hard to be certain the kids weren’t under influences far beyond the charms of snack food." Grub Street

I think in our case we were just unlucky. Although a big black mark to that particular table for being noisier than they need to have been. Last year we went to Shaw's Road restaurant out in the Yarra Valley where our table was situated near a couple of very large tables celebrating a 90th birthday and yet we were not bothered by the modest noise emanating from their part of the restaurant. In the case of Persian Flavours I cannot blame the restaurant either. It's a modest establishment, with not a lot of money to spare I'm guessing. Otherwise they would have moved to some much trendier neighbourhood a long time ago. I do think that restaurants like this apparently hugely popular New York restaurant in the painting here, could, however, do much much more. Nothing soft in sight to dull the noise of all those customers. But then again I suppose that if it's trendy and people keep coming why would you bother to change what you are doing? So may it's up to the customers to complain - loudly. Not something I like to do.

If you live within reach of Forest Hill however, I would recommend Persian Flavours, for what, it seemed to me, was genuinely authentic Persian food - a cuisine that we know is top - with Lebanon - in the Middle-East. I should have a go at some more Persian food. I do have two or three very good books on the subject.


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29 de abr.
Avaliado com 3 de 5 estrelas.

Sorry my last comment should have referenced Iran, which is what Persia is called today. Still Syria or Iran - not user friendly as far as attracting customers to your door!


29 de abr.
Avaliado com 3 de 5 estrelas.

Shows the multi ethnic nature of Melbourne, though I note that any reference to Syria is absent, as who wants to be associated with modern day Syria when you can be thought of as Persian! Food looks nice regardless...What's in a name?

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