It’s been a while since we’ve visited another supperclub, partly because we always seem to be running events when they’re on and partly because there haven’t been any new ones to try. Luckily there’s been a recent influx in Moortown in Leeds and word of mouth has finally got to us. Moortown’s a bit of a trek out from the Manor and even on our return our North Leeds taxi driver had never heard of the West Leeds suburb where we asked to be taken!
Anyway the first of our Moortown supperclub jaunts was to Afsaneh’s Persian Kitchen. Afsaneh is of Masterchef fame and her talents blew the minds of judges John and Greg but probably her nerves let her down on the day, this was the year that Shelina won. Thinking back to the programme, I was always impressed by Afsaneh’s dedication to her Persian roots. And going by the judges reactions, the flavours were as authentic as the dishes looked, and these were flavours I was keen to try.
At £39 per person my initial reaction was that the supperclub was expensive. £39 can buy a decent meal with wine at Dish in Leeds, or The Boathouse in Henley. Don’t worry, I was soon to be proven wrong on the price, after the meal and experience I had I believe it was worth every single penny. The price may put some people off though, once you’ve factored in wine and taxi costs etc.
What I love about a good supperclub is the unassuming locations that such fantastic food can take place in. Afsaneh’s venue is no exception – a typical Leeds semi where we were guided from the front, through the pretty garden and into the dining room to meet our fellow diners. Afseneh swooshed in to welcome us and to explain a little about the cuisine she was preparing. What struck me is how flawlessly beautiful she is in the flesh, and very young looking too – it must be the effect of the Persian food!
Refreshing drinks of cherry lemonade were brought around. This was sharp and sweet and had wonderful little morello cherries at the bottom which I sucked up like little sour sweets. This accompanied canapés of crostini with a herb and feta cheese spread and fresh melon slices. Apparently this is typical of an Iranian snack and the melon acts a cooler on a hot day.
The table was then slowly filled with our starters and we were invited to sit up. The whole meal was served family style and so the little mezzes of salads, dips and breads were there for us to take as much or as little as we wanted. Afsaneh explained that Iranian cooking is all about using a few ingredients to ensure that the main event can shine. This was apparent in the beetroot dip, which was unashamedly beetroot and the marinated feta, which was lovely and salty. For her salads Afsaneh sources the best ingredients and this was hugely apparent. She scours Leeds’ Asian supermarkets and has a different shop for each herb that she uses because the quality differs so much. The spread also included a spicy aubergine dip, which had a wonderful and unusual orange hue. Little flatbread baskets were filled with a salty and warming chickpea stew (everyone’s favourite!). And a platter of lovey breads, once of which was spiked with seeds and was a bit like a focaccia. All were wonderful and I had to stop myself from over grazing and ruining my chances of eating anything else!
To refresh our pallets a cleansing sorbet of lemon and rose water shaved ice was brought round. This had the perfect effect on a hot summers night. The rose water was very delicate.
Our mains were similarly brought out family style – Afsaneh had warned that Persian cuisine was very rustic. There was nothing rustic about any of these dishes, they were stunning… and they kept coming! The feast included chicken with prunes topped with crispy potatoes and almonds. My favourite dish was sea bass that came in a vivid green herb and tamarind sauce. The sauce was unctuous and the bass melt in the mouth. Also on offer was a lamb shank served with its braising juices. The shank was perfectly cooked in that it was firm and held its own shape but was still soft and tender. The veggie dish was a red stew of aubergine and lentil. These all came with rice in many guises – a green rice dish with dill and broad beans and a colourful jewelled rice with saffron and barberries. The intriguing dish was rice with a crusty bottom. Rice is steamed in a pan with a flatbread at the bottom, which crispens up during cooking. It was all too much for me to eat but I gave it all a go.
What struck me is that it had similarities to an Indian banquet – however there was a freshness and lightness to the dishes which made me feel like I hadn’t overeaten, when I completely had! What’s more the table was laden with little dishes of spice (salt, pepper, chilli, cinnamon, rose petal) so that we could anoint our dishes to our own requirements. I don’t think any of the dishes needed it as they were all so perfect, but I gave them a go just for the experience.
Dessert was very intriguing and unusual. A saffron ice cream came paired with a glass noodle sorbet. The ice cream was not to everyone’s taste but I loved it. The saffron imparted a deep earthy and metallic flavour that I just couldn’t get enough of. The glass noodle sorbet is hard to describe. It was completely refreshing, lifted by a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of cherry syrup. The noodles added a level of wholesomeness which was not unpleasant. The plate was finished off with ‘elephant ears’ – little fried biscuits dusted with icing sugar.
Just as we thought it was all over – more food was brought out! A choice of fresh mint tea or Black Iranian tea was on offer. I tried both and loved both. Little sticks of Iranian crystallised sugar and saffron were stirred into the drinks creating a comforting flavour that apparently aids digestion. A final platter of crystallised fruits were brought out. I tried a few but had already reached my capacity.
As I sneaked to the loo (which you access through the kitchen) what astounded me was how clean and ordered Afsaneh’s kitchen was, she’s a cooking superwoman. For all the complex dishes she sent out to us, not a spoon was out of place when I went to have a nose. What’s more, what makes it truly a rewarding experience being cooked for by her is the passion and love she puts in which makes the whole experience extremely authentic and enjoyable. She came to sit with us towards the end and explained about her love of Iranian cooking and the links she has with the various regions of Iran. What struck me is how lucky we are to have her in Leeds, cooking this delicious and unusual food. So if you fancy a bit of a feast I suggest you get yourself down to Afsaneh’s Persian Kitchen before it’s too late! Take a look at her website for new dates.