Behesht, 1082-1096 Harrow Road, London, NW10
Behesht doesn't stand on ceremony, but its food is a true Middle Eastern delight
Sunday 31 July 2011
There are perks to this job, I'm not going to deny it. Eating out in lovely restaurants is wonderful, although forming cogent thoughts about them afterwards? Not so much. I do consider myself lucky – as does Mr M, and he doesn't even have to do the writing afterwards. I sometimes even let him choose his own main course. But one of the paybacks of the position is that I get asked for recommendations all the time. I'm expected to be a walking Harden's guide – which I don't mind, I just wish I actually had an encyclopaedic knowledge of delicious places to eat.
The other day, I was asked, via Twitter, to suggest a good Persian in London. Ah, I thought, I know this one. "Behesht on Harrow Road," I typed. And clicked "send". Then I remembered my so-called recommendation was based on one takeaway, a decade ago. Some expert.
So I thought I'd better eat at Behesht, just to make sure I hadn't sent an unsuspecting soul to a real dive. I've driven past the place hundreds of times on my way to the M4 – all illuminated and with cars packed along the kerb. Decoratively, it's very, er, bold.
We're shown into one of several ante-rooms – past the parrot, the babbling water features, the cabinets stuffed with slightly dusty nicknacks – and to a table with six chairs crammed around it. Ambience and elbow room are not priorities. There are mournful tapestry portraits of Middle Eastern ladies and layers of rugs and throws dotted around – as though the years have brought more decorating ideas, laid on top of past ones. It's eccentric, but somehow it works – and it gives the children something to gawp at while they wait.
Having said that, the wait for food is not long. Starters are with us within 10 minutes. Vast naan breads in a stack, a few bubbles and charred edges; soft heaps of yoghurt mixed with spinach and herbs, a verdant plate of paneer sabzi – tarragon, mint and coriander leaves, spring onions, radishes and walnuts, with a chunk of salty feta, and a bowl of very good, plump olives. All is demolished (correct word for eating with children).
Mains follow fast: there's little variation (unless you come on a Friday, when Special Iranian Stew makes an appearance). It's all about the kebab: lamb or chicken. Rice and salad, or bread and salad. Edited choice is great when it works and at Behesht, it works. The chicken, whether on or off the bone, is succulent and tender; the lamb, minced or cubed, likewise. Each dish comes with a heap of white rice and a cursory salad, plus a flame-blistered tomato that mushes up nicely with the meat and rice.
As you might be able to tell, we're not standing on ceremony here. Behesht is an elbows on the table, reach across, wolf down kind of place; and we're taking our lead from the almost exclusively Middle Eastern clientele. Babies are gumming naans and men are gesturing expansively from table to table.
Meanwhile, I've gone off piste – khoresht pollo ba Morgh is a quarter chicken slow-cooked and buried in a mountain of saffron-infused rice, with dried forest berries and a small dish of smoky, tomato-y sauce. It's pretty near perfect – the sour berries and soft rice, the meat falling off the bone and all drenched in the sauce.
After that lot, we assume the position of those men, slumped back on the unforgiving wooden chairs, wishing to undo top buttons all round. Even the children have cleared their plates. We get a top-up of mint tea and sigh contentedly.
It's worth noting that Behesht does play fast and loose with the idea of customer service. Two of our starters didn't turn up; unavailable apparently, when we ask later. The advertised fresh apple and orange juices were nothing of the sort. And they do not serve tap water.
I'd thought that was against the rules. But I'm told that since Behesht doesn't serve or allow alcohol, that gets round the rule. Hmm. There are so many water features around the place that we find this unfathomable. Perhaps taking pity on us, the waiter gives us a bottle of mineral water, so that one of our group can slake his feta-induced thirst.
So, Behesht has proved worthy of the recommendation. It's never going to win any haute cuisine or décor awards but it's very good at Persian food. Phew.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Behesht 1082-1096 Harrow Road, London NW10, tel: 020 8969 7222 Open 12pm-12am, seven days a week. Around £25 for two, including tea
London's Middle East
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London Restaurant Guide 2011' www.hardens.com
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