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.

Clucking great chicken at Absurd Bird…

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Crispy. Crunchy. Plump. Juicy. With personality traits like these, it’s hardly surprising that fried chicken is the current king of low-key London dining. Type ‘chicken restaurant London’ into Google and 38’900’000 hits appear. Remove every Chicken Kingdom-Palace-Village-Town from the list and you’re still left with an insane number of places to get your poultry fix from so when a new spot opens up that promises cold beer, hot birds & the sort of relaxed vibe that makes you wanna take up residency there like some sort of feathery freak, you know it’s got to be checked out.

First things first, we like a place that doesn’t have the same bare filament light-bulbs and beaten copper plates, mugs & tankards as the other 93 million new restaurants in town. I love the cosy booths for two that line the wall, I love the plaid-shirt-covered bench seating at the larger tables, I love the fluttering notes strung across from wall to wall and I love the birdcages that swing gently from the ceiling.

I also happen to be a big fan of polite, friendly and personable service which was delivered from each and every member of staff; when the people bringing your food have favourites that they wanna share with you, you better believe I’m gonna listen. Combining an earnest passion for the sort of street food currently circulating around London with a deep love of Southern states USA soul food, the menu slings one dribble-inducing dish after another at you. Some of them you know and some, well you definitely wanna get to them too.

Delivering trans-Atlantic sized portions at very reasonable prices means you need to come here hungry and with your big girl, extra stretchy pants on. A beautiful vintage skillet of Spinach & Artichoke Dip with snappy, deep fried tortilla chips was so comforting and delicious I could have cried with relief when J – generous to the end or maybe just fearful of losing a finger? – graciously allowed me to scrape the creamy dollopy dregs from the bottom of the pan onto the  last of the chips, my fork and yes, my fingers too.

Fried Pickles with Ranch Dressing were piping hot, juicy, crisp and battered to just the right point; fully coated, super gnarly, begging for a ranch bath and kicking ass alongside a frosty pale ale.

If it’s soul food on a plate that you’re looking for, it’s Fried Chicken & Waffles with maple syrup and a sweetly smoked gravy that you need. There might not be many things I share in common with everyone’s favourite Dogg, Snoop, but a love of the bird and the baked goods is it. Light & fluffy with syrup seeping from every golden pouch, in the humble waffle I can confirm that crunchy, spicy chicken has found its soulmate. Forget stuffing, forget avocado, forget pot pies, waffles my friends, waffles are what your chicken should be laying beside, sandwiched next to and standing proudly on.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

While there are commendably lighter options on the menu, the possibility of my going out for Friday night fried chicken and ordering the brown rice salad is, like sunshine on a Bank Holiday weekend, slim to none. Instead, a trio of baby sliders were chosen & devoured, each potato bun stuffed with bacon jam slathered chicken & chin adorning, creamy slicks of mayo.

Batting in at the last round was a portion of some of the biggest chicken wings I’ve ever seen; fresh but fiddly, they were spattered with a creamy garlic-lemon-Parmesan sauce which cut nicely through the richly delicious heaviness of some of the other dishes.

Try as I might – and with two buttons undone, I promise you I did – there was absolutely no room at the inn for dessert but in the interest of feeding back to you dear readers, a wedge of the Crack Pie was taken home for midnight grazing; butter, cream, two types of sugar and an oaty-cookie crust made this bounce-off-the-walls sweet but well worth sharing a forkful or two of.

You know it’s a good shout when you’ve already picked what you’re having on the next visit – FYI, that’d be Sweet Potato Pie topped with marshmallows, tear & share Dipsy Cake and Jalapeno Cheese Biscuits with Apple Butter. Yes the chicken is good here and yes, I would happily come back and eat it again if only to reassure you that it’s still delicious but this Bird boasts a menu of sides & starters I’d be delighted to eat my way through accompanied by some of the awesome sounding cocktails from the mixologist superstars, Soulshakers. Great for a mid-week date or bang on for a weekend group dinner, this is a brilliant little place to get down, get dirty and get soulful at.

Feather your food nest with champion chicken at Clockjack Oven…

Chicken & chips. In the words of the world’s wisest piece of crockery, the all-knowing Mrs. Potts, it’s a tale as old as time and for good reason – it just works. However like many things that should just work, the potential is there for it to fail on a spectacular level but thanks to Clockjack Oven, you don’t need to worry about that in London.

This small but brilliant restaurant is 5 minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Circus tube as the chicken flies and wing on heart, I’d walked past it dozens of times before without ever stopping to take note. I shan’t make that mistake again. Picked in no small part thanks to a bunch of enthusiastic reviews from my frankly fabulous fellow Time Out Tastemakers, on paper Clockjack seemed to tick all the boxes for a mid-week supper; centrally located, takes reservations, reasonably priced menu, awesome sounding food. Trust me when I say that places catering to all of requirements in London are getting fewer and further between so if you find somewhere that does, make a note, share it with others, be thanked forever. Read More