I’m writing this from my parents’ kitchen in North Norfolk, looking out over the river, my nose occasionally pricking up as a waft of the beginnings of a meal cooked from Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana floats in my direction. I went to her supper club last week, and, as I have been a particularly bad daughter this spring, forgetting both Mothers’ Day, and, even worse, my Dad’s birthday (in my defense I was at a wedding, although how an alarm didn’t go off in my brain when I was surrounded by little wooden hearts all stamped with the date I don’t know), I bought a copy of her book and asked Sabrina to sign it as a present. I think, fingers crossed, I’m now back in her good books. I’ll write more about the food we (*cough*, actually just my mum) cooked, but for now I want to tell you about her supper club, which I took Kateline along to.
The more supper clubs I go to, the more excited I get about them. Some of the best food I have eaten in London has been in tiny living rooms on collapsible tables, and I’ve tried so many cuisines that are under-represented on the city’s restaurant scene. I’m also a naturally indecisive person, so I like having food bought over to me, not having to choose from a menu, and then worrying whether I could have ordered something better! I have another couple of supper clubs booked over the coming months, and I’ll write a post about my favourite ones soon.
Sabrina’s supper club is held at her flat in West London a few times a month. The skies were dark and chucking out water as I walked from the tube, my feet squelching in flimsy ballet pumps, so it was a relief to reach her warm, cosy flat, and be offered a cocktail of vodka, mint and apple juice, which went down all too easily. I adore Middle Eastern food, especially the addition of fruit to savoury dishes, which seems to me the defining taste of the area, and is something people either love or hate. Sabrina’s food is typically Persian, reflecting her Iranian heritage, but she also adds her own modern twist to dishes, and only uses ingredients that are readily available in her adopted British home.
We started with a mezze of bowls brim-full of dips and large plates of cheese and meatballs, all served with lavash bread, a thin, soft, flatbread. First up was maasat-o-khlar, yoghurt with cucumber, dried mint, rose petals and Iranian golden raisins. Like in Turkey and Greece, yoghurt is a regular accompaniment to most meals, but unlike tzatziki, the cool dairy, herbs and grated cucumber are married with the fruity sweetness of plump raisins and perfumed rosepetals. Mirza Ghasemi, lightly smoked aubergines with garlic, tomatoes and eggs, filled more bowls. The aubergines had a wonderful smokiness to them from being blackened in the oven, and a silky texture, interspersed with pieces of lightly scrambled egg. It is apparently a very authentic recipe, although the aubergines were traditionally held over a flame to darken. Meatballs are very popular in Iran and there are over 60 different varieties. The meat is pummelled then the egg and spices worked into it without any additional padding, giving a dense, almost falafel-like texture. Sabrina had made lamb and sour cherry meatballs wallowing in a rich tomato sauce spiced with cinnamon, cumin and tumeric. Again the addition of fruit gave a burst of sweetness, and performed a delicate balancing act with the warming spices. Most Iranian meals begin with cheese and bread, so we were served Sabrina’s own take on this, naari-o-paneer, marinated feta cheese with lemon zest, shallots, herbs and chilli. It was different to the gentle warmth of the other dishes, with a clean, sharp, heat from the fresh chilli, which worked well with the salty dryness of the cheese. Finally a beautiful blush orange, radicchio and pomegranate salad, topped with bright purple edible flowers was placed on the table. The bitter leaves were a lovely base for the sweet dressing and the sharp tang of the fruit. I was surprised by the addition of dill, which I normally associate with Scandinavian cooking, but it is a common feature in many Iranian recipes.
Sabrina had warned us to pace ourselves at the beginning of the meal, but as usual I didn’t take heed. The centre piece was two massive shoulders of lamb, perfumed with rose petals and a blend of Persian spices. The shoulder had been slow cooked, and the meat pulled easily away from the bone in tender juicy strips and we fought with our forks for pieces of the delicious, chewy crust. The spicing was very subtle, perhaps too subtle as the lamb tasted only of lamb, although there was no complaining as it was so beautifully cooked. There were also three whole roasted trouts, mahi shekampor, stuffed with a mix of preserved lemons and coriander. The lemons dominated the other flavours, but did work well with the earthiness of the fish. Both were accompanied by morassa polow, Persian bejewelled rice, the name reflecting the colourful tangy orange peel, sour purple barberries and bright green slivers of pistachio. It was sweetened with sugar, which is apparently unconventional, but added to counterbalance the sharpness of the other ingredients. Finally a plate of roasted butternut squash with pistachio pesto, crumbled feta and barberries was put down. I only managed a thin sliver, having gorged myself on lamb and fish, but I loved the Iranian style pesto, with the salty cheese and sweet jewels of fruit.
Dessert was a spiced carrot, pistachio and almond cake. It was the only dish to disappoint, perhaps because, as Sabrina says in her book, Iranians don’t really do dessert. I found it slightly dry and dense, and too heavy after so much food. I did however love the rose water cream served alongside it, and the fresh mint tea we finished up with.
I left, as I do all supper clubs, with the overwhelming urge to be horizontal as soon as possible. Like Guan’s a few weeks ago, it was a joy to be introduced to a country’s cuisine by someone who understands the food so well. Sabrina is a currently a rising star in the food scene, and appeared on Saturday Kitchen last week (catch up here). The recipes for all of the dishes we ate appear in her book, Persiana, and, while I know they will never taste quite the same, I’m looking forward to recreating a few of them myself. I had such a lovely evening at this supper club, and just as I spent a good portion of the evening encouraging the other guests there to go to Guan’s, I know at the next one I go to I’ll be doing the exact same thing for Sabrina’s!
You can find out more and book places for this supper club on Sabrina Ghayour’s website, or by following her on Twitter, @sabrinaghayour.