Berenjak, London W1: restaurant review
We try tender saffron chicken kababs, coal-cooked aubergine and refreshing Persian fruit cordials at this Tehran kabab house, in Soho
Looking for restaurants in Soho, London? Read our review of kabab house, Berenjak in Soho and check out more suggestions for eating in Soho, London here.
Berenjak in a nutshell
A modern reinterpretation of a Tehran hole-in-the-wall kabab house, in Soho.
Iranian Kian Samyani previously worked in the kitchens of Gymkhana and Brigadiers, before opening up Berenjak in November (2018). The Sethi family aka JKS Restaurants are the supporting cast and have previously had the golden touch with the likes of Sabor, Lyle’s and Bao.
What's the vibe?
This is a buzzy casual restaurant and tables are a tight squeeze. Out front, the open kitchen spills out its sights, sounds and smells onto the counter diners – there’s a flaming tandoor (oven), mangal barbecue, and vertical rotisserie. Out the back, crumbling brick walls, gorgeous mosaic floor tiles, reclaimed marble and bronze tables, and colourful fabric wall hangings and cushions keep things cosy and suitably Persian.
What's the food like?
The menu at Berenjak is broken down into mazeh that are designed to be mopped up with house-made flatbreads – either taftoon, seeded sourdough, baked in the clay tandoor, or whole wheat sangak cooked on hot pebbles – kababs and khoresht (stews), and sides, including various pickles, rice and beans. It’s hard not to order everything but we’re reliably informed by our enthused German waitress that jigar (mangal-grilled calves liver) is a good place to start. She was right, as were all her recommendations. Served on soft and blistered lavash bread with mellow sliced red onion, a wedge of lemon to squeeze over, and shredded mint, the offal was burnished, buttery and blushing.
Obligatory hummus exceeds expectations – made with black chickpeas, tahini and walnuts, topped with crispy onions and a pinch of sour sumac, and surrounded by a golden moat of rapeseed oil – it was as light as air and as moody as chocolate mousse.
Kashk e bademjoon (a dish first shared with us a decade ago by the brilliant Persian food writer Simi Rezai, who hosts cookery classes from her Bath home) is as comforting as we remember. Coal-cooked aubergine melts in the mouth, with a donkey kick of funk thanks to the inclusion of whey, walnuts, dried mint and yet some more crispy onions. Another plate of creamy feta, ice-cold herbs, baby pink radishes and walnuts show just how skilled at sourcing Kian is, as well as cooking.
You can choose from the likes of Cabrito goat, guinea fowl and whole poussin when it comes to the kababs, but we opt for a boneless chicken breast, marinated in a vibrant saffron, lemon and yogurt mix. It’s as juicy as you like, the saffron delicate in its flavouring if not its colouring, with grilled onion and tomatoes, and fresh herbs (coriander, tarragon and dill) on the side. Vegan aubergine stew with split yellow peas and crispy matchsticks fries – which you can take to the other extreme by adding beef short rib – is the kind of comforting that only comes from time. Don’t leave without ordering the rice – fluffy, peppered with crunchy tadig, and earthy from another subtle hit of saffron and goat’s butter.
And the drinks?
Keep your palate refreshed with a sharbat – a non-alcoholic Persian fruit cordial, topped with sparkling water and ‘swizzled’ with sabzi (fresh herbs), which you can ‘spike’ with a complementary spirit. Preserved lemon and parsley, supercharged with vodka and bergamot, is so thirst-quenching, we order a second. Ok, and a third.
There’s only one dessert, a baklava ice-cream sandwich that’s as good as it sounds, sourced from Darlish, the UK’s first Persian ice cream parlour in St Albans. Berenjak now takes bookings, so book ahead to be sure to get a table.
Berenjak, 27 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AL
Words by Laura Rowe