What: A casual but carefully conceived Iranian kebab restaurant on Soho’s Romilly Street. Berenjak is apparently modelled on the hole in the wall ‘kabab’ houses that line the streets of Tehran.
Who: The company that brought us highly rated Indian restaurants Gymkhana, Trishna, Hoppers and Brigadiers. The trio of siblings behind JKS Restaurants have put former Gymkhana chef Kian Samyani in charge of the project (he’s billed as the founder and chef). Brought up in Iran, he certainly knows his sabzi from his fesenjan.
The vibe: Berenjak has a broadly similar market positioning to Hoppers - the group’s Sri Lankan concept - but has a more rough and ready look and feel (and in common with the original Soho Hoppers it does not take reservations). There’s an open kitchen to the front of the space that gives guests a full view of the chefs, who man tandoors, mangal-style barbecues and doner rotisseries. The dining area features exposed distressed brick and plaster walls, polished concrete, stained glass windows, Persian carpets, Persian tiles and reclaimed marble tables.
The food: The menu is very tight with just three sections: mazeh (small plates), kabab and khoresht (kebabs and stews) and sides. Key mazeh dishes include kashk e bademjoon (coal-cooked aubergine, whey, walnuts, dried mint and onions); jigar (grilled calves liver, onion salad and lavash bread) and omelette Irani (broken eggs with tomato, onion and garlic). Kebabs and stews include koobideh kabab (minced Cabrito goat shoulder, onions and black pepper) and khoresht e zereshk (guinea fowl legs stewed with saffron, onion, potatoes and barberries). Prices are low with small plates around £5 and most kebabs and stews £10. While that’s unquestionably good value given the quality of the cooking, it should be noted that portions are on the small side.
Casual positioning: Beranjak has a similar price point to Hoppers
The drinks: Berenjak’s drinks offering is small yet interesting. Sharbats - Persian-style fruit cordials served tall with sparkling water fresh herbs - take pride of place on the top of the list (flavours include preserved lemon and parsley as well as black lime and mint. Though you would be ill-advised to do so in Iran, at Beranjak sharbats can be spiked with the hard stuff. The drinks offering also features freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and doogh, a sparkling yoghurt drink flavoured with dried mint.
And another thing: While in some respects this is new territory for the Sethis, the trio are on solid ground with a lot of relevant operational experience from Gymkhana and Brigadiers (which are big on kebabs) and input from someone that grow up with the cuisine should keep everything authentic. Persian food - which is richer and more varied than other Arabic cuisines - is not widely understood on these shores but has enough in common with more established Middle Eastern food cultures to not be overly daunting. To explore it in a casual and familiar way is a typically shrewd move from the trio with the Midas touch.
Jigar (seared calves liver with onion salad and lavash bread)