I couldn’t imagine a better date spot than Berenjak in Borough Market. I went on a Friday evening as the classic British rain poured down and my mood drastically changed as I stepped into the tiny but hugely atmospheric restaurant, inspired by a traditional Iranian townhouse.
I was greeted with the best seat in the house overlooking the open kitchen. The spices and flames are a captivating sight and an easy distraction. Larger groups can also dine in their Iranian ‘dining room’, where convivial group feasts on large tables. They may have a wine list of 35 bins showcases the best of Middle Eastern winemaking but I couldn’t resist their cocktail list and opted for the Watermelon Shumpine with watermelon vodka, Verjus and watermelon fizz – it was so fresh and tangy, no wonder it is a best seller. Other options to try include the preserved Lemon Margarita which is a fragrant take on the classic as well as the Tahini Old Fashioned.
For food, we started with the most velvety, smooth and delicious starter I have ever eaten – Berenjak’s signature Hummus e Khanegi, made with black chickpeas, tahini, walnuts and somagh. I had high hopes for it but since eating it have often wondered whether I should go and buy a large tub just for myself to smother the clay baked flatbread and sesame seeds in it! Having no regrets from filling myself up on the hummus of dreams, we moved onto the Mirza Ghasemi – coal cooked aubergine, garlic, tomato and cacklebean egg. This really wasn’t what I’d envisaged of an egg on top but rather the dish features it baked in, adding a creamy texture.
For my main and as a vegetarian, I continued with the aubergine theme and chose the Ghaimeh Bademjoon which is an aubergine stew with black lime, yellow split peas and tomato. A mixture of textures, it was full of umami and the perfect thing to eat with an accompaniment of crispy saffron rice. Berenjak simply excels at fusing contrasting ingredients with complimentary flavours – the comforting carbs, deep flavoured veg and gloriously pickled and tangy cauliflower, carrot and cabbage. Options for meat eaters include lamb neck chunks marinated in chilli, tarragon and yoghurt as well as poussin in chilli, garlic, somagh, and açi paste.
We finished our meal with a wonderful fresh peppermint tea – the perfect solution to a full belly. It also worked perfectly with a small gooey and warm date and walnut cookie dunked into it I hasten to add!
If like me, you’re not fully familiar with Persian food, Berenjak is a fantastic introduction to it. It showcases the range and depth of flavours in a gorgeous and intimate atmosphere – and you’ll no doubt be hooked and back for more in no time at all!