Perfect hummus deserves a friend or two to frolic with; sangak – which translates as ‘little stone’ – wholewheat flatbreads are baked on pebbles in a giant tandoor oven till they’re singed with bubbly pockets whilst panir sabzi – a traditional mixed vegetarian Persian platter – sees beautiful chunks of fresh feta peeking out from under fronds of fresh herbs, alongside baby radishes and toasted walnuts.
This, my friends, is a feta salad unlike every other sad, rubber cubed version that you’ve ever been presented with, presumably as punishment for something you did wrong in a previous life. It’s fresh and natural and utterly glorious.
Though I cannot deny that I love sitting at a bar to eat, I confess I also love sitting at a bar to watch the chefs at work. As someone who loves to cook but in the privacy of her own home, shooing away offers of help from visiting friends and family, I am forever in awe of those who make it look so easy to produce stunning plates of food in front of the watchful eyes of paying customers.
My joy at sitting so close to the hypnotic rotation of flatbreads being rhythmically pressed against the pebbled walls of the tandoor oven was second only to my admiration of the sword-like skewers of meat and shellfish as they turned, sizzling and spattering, in their enormous open grill.
Perfectly grizzly and deliciously gnarly in shells that shatter delicately under your fingertips, giant king prawns are marinated with sabzi, garlic & golpar – a traditional and slightly bitter Persian spice often used in soups and stews and paired with pomegranate.
Threaded alternately with blackened padron peppers and doused with acid drops of fresh lemon, this is food to be eaten messily and greedily with your hands while trickles of sticky, charred juices run down your arms.
Boneless chicken breast – has there ever been a meat more sneered at on the grill? – owes its deeply impressive tenderness here to a creamy-sour, yoghurt-lemon marinade. Tinted a deep saffron gold, there’s added sweetness from burst & blackened tomatoes and a delicate tickle in the air from the plush leaves of tarragon draped over the top.
Don’t both standing on ceremony here for the best bit either; tuck a napkin or six into your collar, roll your sleeves up and fight dirty for the last bits of flatbread underneath, soaking up all the juices like an absolute boss. It might be date night but there’s no point hiding your true colours.
House rice is crispy with a Persian tadig topping that pairs crunch above with fluffiness below, made that extra bit more decadent thanks to the generous knobs of butter melting into every grain.
Simultaneously luxurious but reassuring plain, it’s well worth adding to your order and allowing it to cut through the charred, smoky, deep flavours of the meat.
Perfectly vibing the ancient old city cafe whose walls crumble slightly under the touch of your hands and the weight of its history with touches of modernity thanks to suggestions of marble and leather, Berenjak genuinely makes you feel as though you’re on holiday somewhere far away from the umbrella-toting tour groups taking rest on the pavements outside.
There’s a warm & super sociable feeling that encourages you to take your time whilst dining, supporting you while you graze on small plates and cheering you on when, bolstered by *that* iced tea, you re-order larger dishes to share with those around you.
Be buoyed by the fact that there’s nary a whiff of intimidation or false fanciness here but don’t be fooled. This place is slick in all the right ways with finishing touches, flavour combinations and a deft handling of spices that mark it out as somewhere that knows what it’s doing & what it wants to do, and ends up totally nailing both.
Berenjak, 27 Romilly St, Soho, London W1D 5AL https://berenjaklondon.com/