Persian food to give you all the feels at Berenjak…

Date nights are the best nights.

Doesn’t matter if they’re taking place with your SO or your BFF.

Doesn’t matter if they’re take-out sandwiches and tinned cocktails along the river or candle-lit white linen starched into paper-cut-sharp submission.

Doesn’t matter if it costs a tenner and takes an hour or devours a weeks wages and keeps you there till midnight…

…they are the best.

If however they also happen to provide Persian food you’ll be dreaming about days later, even better and while there’s no shortage of brilliant places to satisfy those Middle Eastern food cravings in London, don’t take that to mean that we couldn’t use another in which to indulge.

Enter stage right, Berenjak.

The first solo project from founder Kian Sanyani, himself the former head chef at Mayfair’s Gymkhana, this Soho sat restaurant blends the ever casual-ever welcoming kebab houses of Tehran with the beautiful seasonal produce of Britain. With a name inspired by the crunchy rice snacks found most often at travelling Iranian funfairs, Berenjak is a place designed for sharing small plates with family & friends in the most delicious and belt-busting of ways.

Kick things off with a house cocktail; the ‘hard’ version of Berenjak’s pomegranate iced tea comes laced with rose vodka, hibiscus and the approval of both David Attenborough for the metal straw and, well, me for the sheer deliciousness of it.

If a dish has caught the eye, the imagination and the bellies of London’s most ardent eaters, perfectly lit photos of it will litter the pages of Instagram…

…so I can do nothing but hold my hands up and shrug un-apologetically when I say here’s another in the shape of the house hummus.

Made with black chickpeas, walnuts, tahini and (one of the best spices you can have rolling around in your rack at home) russet coloured, fruity-yet-tangy sumac, this is hands down the silkiest hummus in town right now. No chunky, rustic texture on this heavy silver platter, just the sleekest mountain of deeply savoury umami flavour you could ever genuinely wish to fall face first into.

Hungry in London: 10 of the best breakfasts…

Let’s face it, if our parents and every responsible adult since the dawn of time are to be believed, then breakfast = the most important meal of the day.

As a responsible person yourself now – I know, I know but what happened at university, stays at university – what you also understand to be true beyond any doubt is this: it’s the best meal of the day.

Think about it – you can eat pretty much anything you want, it’s perfectly acceptable to boozify your order and, done right, it can set you up for an absolutely cracking day of running around and getting stuff done like the queen you are or laying on the sofa and bingeing ‘Killing Eve’ until you’re in a highly suspicious but nonchalantly lazy food coma like the queen you are.

With that in mind, here are ten spots in the capital worth making a beeline for at the start of the day. Seasonality is big on London menus right now so not every dish listed below may be carried 24/7, 365 but whether it’s on piled onto bread or layered into a bowl, know that every place mentioned is still 100% worth checking out for the tastiest way to start as you mean to go on.

1.Bacon, Egg, Chilli & Cheese on Focaccia at The Dusty Knuckle

Squirrelled away on a Dalston back street with a heritage that began in a Hackney shipping container, this bakery has drawn people regularly to East London on serious bread pilgrimages for five years now.

Set up by three friends looking to create outstanding food whilst helping young people create creatively sustainable lives & careers for themselves, you’re never going to have anything less than one of the best meals of your week there but weekend brunching is a particularly smart option for those with a big appetite.

Fried egg, crispy bacon and a whole muddle of chilli, cheese, spring onions & fresh herbs are piled between slabs of dimpled, golden, pillowy focaccia; messy, crunchy, chewy and delicious, this is the kind of sandwich that demands you lay it down for just a moment to, briefly but reverentially, pay homage to the bakers inside who’ve been there since 4am so that you could rock up to soothe that Friday night head at one of the sunny picnic tables out back come Saturday morning.

Epic my friends, truly epic.

Plant-based and pretty special; the small plates of Slaw…

Eat the rainbow. Words we’ve tried so hard and so virtuously and so strenuously to live by in recent years that sometimes, the joy seems to have seeped out of mealtimes because let’s be clear, there is no place in this world for undressed leaves. Frankly we have enough to deal with right now without naked cabbage rearing its unadorned head.

Now it’s more like eat the frickin’ kaleidoscope and what an unbridled, uncomplicated, unabashed joy that is to do when places like Slaw make it so easy. Plant-based bowls, flushed with colour and alive with texture, are characteristic of the small, stylish restaurant that opened earlier this year, mere feet from similarly vegan sibling Wild Food Café.

Starting life as a series of supper clubs and opening on Islington’s Upper Street in February, Slaw’s ambition is to make plant-based food both realistic and accessible through the clever handling of fresh, simple ingredients and it’s fantastic to see it sailing past its original predicted residency of five months.

Understated in design, bold in delivery, warm in service, Slaw possesses a quietly assured menu that subtly transforms itself with the changing of the seasons outside; strapping spears of tender early summer asparagus gave way only recently to defiantly blousy legs of broccoli nestled with peas, quinoa and pickled radish.

Small plates are designed to be shared so after starting with pillowy slabs of salt speckled, golden crusted, house made focaccia that’s exactly what we did, picking all the dishes on offer and hesitating only at the mushrooms. Sorry guys but unless they’re squishy, rolled in coconut and found in the local multi-screen pick’n’mix, I can’t get on board with the fungi.

Carrots arrive roasted, pickled and laying across dollops of carrot hummus like the tastiest pile of edible pick-up sticks imaginable. Showcasing the restaurants root-to-stem ethos means the pesto dashed across the top is made from feathery carrot tops and a tangy crumb made from hazelnuts and rye delivers a crunch that lingers nicely making this a must-order.

Beetroot dahl is thick, silky and as pink as Barbie’s dream sports car with a sweet, earthy bite to the lentils that stops it from descending into mush. Topped with a glossy puddle of cucumber raita, this is the dish that chewy, puffy flatbreads were made for scooping up…

…as is the star of the evening – dukkah sprinkled, roasted cherry tomatoes and aubergine with nutty black rice lazily paddling around in a pool of spiced plum tomato sauce. Dreamily creamy with layers of deep, sweet, almost smoky flavour, this is a new take on summers’ bounty of tomatoes that will have you scraping the dish for every last smudge of vivid terracotta.

Florets of cauliflower are tinted golden yellow, fragrant with spices, softly spiked with flaked almonds and draped with a bright, grassy coriander dressing that stops this from being just another Middle Eastern ode to the humble cauli.

The loveliest thing about Slaw is that whilst some of their dishes are aspirational and unlikely to be replicated in your own kitchen, others, like the cauliflower, are easy to imagine throwing together with confidence for a mid-week supper and that’s brilliant because that’s what the best places should do. Deliver food that tastes great and gives you a break from your own dining table but also encourage you to think about how you can take inspiration from their menu for another night.

The current vegan landscape of London is vast and at times it’s unforgiving to those dipping a toe into the waters of plant-based cooking but the honest and passionate exploration of vegetables apparent at Slaw is something to be sought out and celebrated.