From Silk Road to Askew Road
Saffron, pistachios and limes at the Sufi Restaurant
While the ancient, northern Silk Road brought dates, saffron powder and pistachio nuts from Persia to China, the Sufi restaurant on Askew Road brings all this and more to the western edge of W12 – but without the camels.
And although Sufi may not be the cheapest place to eat in the neighbourhood, it is not hard to see why it was nominated for the Evening Standard’s ’60 under £60’, the newspaper’s awards for the capital's best-value independent restaurants, which offer a quality dinner for two for up to £60, including wine.
The first thing that hit us when we entered Sufi was the heat from the clay oven, where ‘taftoon’ or traditional bread was being made. The dough is stuck to the sides of the oven, left for a few minutes and then served hot with sesame seeds on top. The extra heat was a bit uncomfortable on such a warm day but the oven is probably much appreciated by diners in the depths of winter.
Persian, or Iranian, restaurants are usually big on meat dishes, and Sufi was no exception, but it was nice to also see a few vegetarian dishes on the menu, in amongst the mixed skewers, marinated chicken and diced lamb. Saffron, limes and pomegranates also featured heavily and, appropiately, there was a good selection of red, white and rose wines, wine being a feature of Sufi culture.
We started off with a spinach dip, which went well with the warm bread, and also tried the moreish ‘olivieh’ salad, made up of chicken, egg, olives, gherkin and potatoes.
For our main courses, we had the aubergine stew, one skewer of lamb and chicken, and a pomegranate stew, all of which were served on a bed of white and saffron rice. For such a flavoursome-sounding menu, the aubergine was disappointingly bland and tasted of, well, tomato. The meat on the lamb and chicken skewer was lightly spiced and was, so I am told, a carnivore’s delight. The only disappointment was that the accompanying vegetables had perhaps been left under the grill for a little too long and were slightly too burnt to enjoy.
But the real jewel in the crown was the pomegranate stew: chicken which was so tender it almost melted in the mouth and an exquisite sauce of walnuts and pomegranates. This, the menu tells us, was a “traditional feast of Persian kings” and I can well believe it.
The owners of Sufi clearly have good business sense and do not close their doors when they think customers ought to have finished their lunch: at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, the place was buzzing and there was a constant flow of diners heading towards the back section of the restaurant, which is also used for private functions.
The restaurant staff did not seem at all bothered by the small crowd of children from assorted families, who were running about or trying to jump up to get a glimpse of the fish in the tank. Other diners, however, clearly were bothered and were discretely whisked off to the back section to enjoy a quiet meal. The apparent dividing up of the restaurant into noisy families at the front/quiet diners at the back seemed the best solution for all concerned.
What a pleasant change not to see banoffee pie on the dessert menu. Instead we were offered a choice of saffron ice cream, baklavah, and "faloodeh”, which is a Persian sorbet made with vermicelli noodles, rosewater and lemon. Although it might seem unusual to find noodles in your afters, it was the rosewater that was the real making of this dessert. Unfortunately, the divine saffron and pistachio ice cream was not appreciated by children who would just like a blue Superman ice lolly to finish off their meal, thank you very much.
To round off, we had some aromatic Persian tea, served in a huge ornate pot and dainty tea glasses. The final bill came to £56.00.
Unfortunately, Sufi did not make it into the Evening Standard’s final six as it was beaten by Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick, Brula in Twickenham, Market in Camden Town, Sitaaray in Covent Garden, The Prince Regent in Herne Hill and Wahaca in Covent Garden.
The winning dining room will be revealed at the London Restaurant Awards on 1 September.
29 August 2008