A Taste Of Persia has been quietly playing its part in the Newcastle food scene for fourteen years, but many people are only half-aware of its existence. When I first noticed the original restaurant on my daily strolls around the city, my curiosity was piqued thanks to my personal interest in Persian history, but I knew of no one who had actually been to this mysterious eatery. Behind the scenes, however, A Taste Of Persia has gone from strength to strength, with a new restaurant opening in Jesmond last summer, ensuring the name is becoming more familiar to the man on the street (or at the very least, the man on Osborne Road).
Arriving on a Friday night, it quickly became apparent to us that A Taste Of Persia owes its recent growth to a high level of returning custom. Many of the other diners seemed to need no help in choosing exotic dishes from the menu, and a few were clearly regulars who were on familiar terms with the waiters. The décor leans towards stylish modernity, but hints at the indulgent splendor of the feast to come, with a sumptuous black and gold scheme. Our charming waiter made excellent recommendations to ensure we experienced the full range of flavours offered by Persian cuisine, and what a range it is; deep, pungent spices are contrasted with light and fragrant herbs, and dishes are sweetened with stewed fruit and textured with nuts. The balance of hot and cold food is refreshing and enlivens the senses.
We started the evening with a shared mezze, which consisted of familiar dishes that we had encountered before, all cooked in a distinctive Persian style. We thought we knew our dolmeh (stuffed vine leaves) very well from Greek restaurants, but here they were served piping hot, ensuring a wonderfully gooey consistency to the rice, and were soaked in a sour, herby oil. The hummus was lighter than most we had tried and presented the flavor of the tahini more strongly than stodgy, chickpea-heavy versions. Aubergine dip is a personal favourite of mine in Turkish restaurants, but the Persian equivalent came in two forms. Kashk-e bademja is fried aubergine, topped with juicy, caramelized onions and flavoured with mint. Enriched with buttermilk, it was earthy and garlicky, quite a contrast with the mirza ghasemi (flame-grilled aubergine), which was bright orange and had a smokiness we had not anticipated. The selection of traditional breads included a soft loaf studded with seseme seeds, perfect with the hummus, and paper-thin strips of flatbread, which proved ideal for mopping up the last of the dips.
For my main course I savoured the gheymeh bademjan, a boneless lamb leg stew with split peas, aubergine and dried lime leaf. The lamb was deliciously tender and fell apart beautifully on my fork, aubergine adding an almost bitter nuance to the richness of the dish. My partner chose the grilled prawns, served in a spicy, creamy, red sauce, the flavor of which was dominated by tangy lime. The prawns were large and juicy, complemented perfectly by the sour kick and creaminess of the sauce. We paired the dishes with a mixed rice, bejeweled with juicy barberries. This type of berry is popular in modern Iranian cuisine, as sweet as glacier cherries and the colour of pomegranate gems.
For dessert, my partner devoured the caramelised figs, which were served on a bed of creamy milk pudding. The figs were indulgently sweet and sticky, topped with lashings of honey and a sprinkle of ground pistachios. I cooled down with the saffron and pistachio ice cream, which was thick in the manner of gelato and had a decadent hint of rose water. For my partner, a rich Turkish coffee followed, served with a cube of Turkish Delight on the saucer. I took to opportunity to sample Persian tea, a cardamom-based beverage that felt health-giving and brought a delicious balance to the end of the meal.
Persian cuisine presented us with a whole new spectrum of flavours, and we were glad to try every one of them. Having built up a reputation as a best kept secret of the city, the location in Jesmond should help the restaurant get the wider recognition it deserves. With any luck, A Taste Of Persia will soon be introducing more people to the pleasures of this delicate and fascinating cuisine.
A Taste of Persia, 0191 281 8181 www.atasteofpersia.com