Sunday best: Yuma Hashemi on celebrating his Iranian heritage

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Yuma Hashemi on Persian Sundays at The Drunken Butler restaurant in Clerkenwell

Related tags: The Drunken Butler, Yuma Hashemi, Persian cuisine, Atiqur Rahman, Clerkenwell, Fine dining

Persian Sunday sees Clerkenwell restaurant The Drunken Butler pause its modern European tasting menu to serve a succession of traditional Iranian dishes family style.

Where did the idea for Persian Sunday come from?

Not long after we opened an Iranian and a French guest came to eat. They enjoyed it and asked if we could do a private event for them and their friends on a Sunday. At the time we were closed on Sundays, but I agreed to do it on the understanding that it would be very different to the normal The Drunken Butler experience because most of the staff were off Sundays. I cooked a selection of my mum’s Iranian recipes. When they arrived it turned out they were all Iranian, which was a bit intimidating, but they liked it.

Was it just you cooking?

Initially, yes. I was very specific about how I wanted things done because it's my heritage. But my kitchen porter - who was initially the only person helping out on a Sunday - showed a real understanding of what I was trying to do with it. Despite not being a trained chef, Atiqur (Rahman) now cooks the dishes better than I do and does a lot of the organisation for it. We were actually going to drop Persian Sunday because demand was quite low and it only works if we fill the room. But just as I was about to call it we got a great review from (Sunday Times restaurant critic) Marina O’Loughlin for it. We were fully booked for three months after that and demand remains strong to this day.

What do you serve?

The meal starts with bread, herbs and cheese that people make little sandwiches with. We then move onto a selection of hot and cold starter dishes, including dips, salads and a frittata. There are a lot of sour flavours at this stage. The main course is rice cooked in a pot for about an hour so the base is crispy alongside roast chicken, various stews and a salad dressed with unripe grape juice. It’s very generous, people leave absolutely stuffed.  

What about logistics – is it difficult to do alongside running an ambitious, tasting menu restaurant?

Atiqur and I work on it all through the week. The approach is the same as the one my mother would take if she was preparing a meal for 20 people. You would not do it in one day. Come Sunday morning, it’s all ready to go. Atiqur plates up and I host, although we are so busy now that the rest of the team is also involved.  

How does demand for Persian Sunday compare to the normal The Drunken Butler offering? 

There is more demand for Persian Sunday, but I put that down to it being just once a week (lunch and dinner). Both the things we do cross-pollinate, if someone comes on Sunday we talk about what happens the rest of the week, and vice versa. 

Does Atiqur have aspirations to move beyond being a kitchen porter? 

I hope not. He's very good at what he does day-to-day here, he really looks after the restaurant. The plates and the cutlery are very important to the experience here as many of the pieces are from my family home. He is very careful and respectful of them. We’re looking at opening a second site which would probably be focused on the Persian side of what we do. If that happens he will be a key part of it.

Does the regular The Drunken Butler menu have Persian influences?

Not really. I was naïve when I opened the restaurant in 2017. We didn’t do any comms and I had not thought about the positioning of the restaurant. The first journalist that talked to me asked me what the concept was. I said it was a modern French restaurant and she thought that sounded boring, so I said it would have Persian influences. But I didn't mean in terms of the food, more in terms of the overall hospitality experience. Iranians take the business of hosting very seriously.

Tell us about your background

I went to hospitality school in Berlin and worked as a chef throughout Europe for about 16 years, mostly in France, I worked in a range of places but mainly at Michelin-star level. Despite being a trained chef my role at The Drunken Butler has changed. I now leave most of the cooking to our head chef Mattia Gerundio. My focus is on the guest experience and wine during service, but I'm also heavily involved in food procurement and menu development.

 

Related topics: Restaurant, Business Profile

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