If I didn't falafel, I'd probably cry

Persian cuisine ranks among the best in the world, and London is a centre of excellence. So it's a pity that the newest Middle-Eastern restaurant in the West End gives the appearance of being a tourist rather than a seasoned traveller
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'll say one thing for Dish Dash - the staff have amazing hearing. Our waitress must have been a good 10 feet away from our table when one of my party launched a vicious critical assault on his plateful of mezze. "So, how is it?" she purred as she reached us, "apart from that one being boring, and that one horrible?" "Great!" we chorused feebly, wondering if she was some kind of escapee from X-Men.

I'll say one thing for Dish Dash - the staff have amazing hearing. Our waitress must have been a good 10 feet away from our table when one of my party launched a vicious critical assault on his plateful of mezze. "So, how is it?" she purred as she reached us, "apart from that one being boring, and that one horrible?" "Great!" we chorused feebly, wondering if she was some kind of escapee from X-Men.

In truth, visitors to Dish Dash shouldn't expect any kind of out-of-this world experience. Which is sad, because I was rather excited by the concept: to do for Persian/Arabic cuisine what Wok Wok and Wagamama have done for Asian.

It's located in a part of Fitzrovia that has traditionally shovelled spaghetti and moussaka into hard-up students and office workers. Now that the area's reinvention as "Noho" is well underway, its cheap Italian and Greek restaurants are being replaced by chain bars and coffee shops targeted at the Soho overspill. The rebranding seems to be working; on a week-night, a month or so after opening, Dish Dash was heaving with young people, over-refreshed, underdressed, and quite possibly out celebrating their A-level results.

Waiting at the bar for our table to be cleared, I felt like Margaret Rutherford marooned in a roomful of Blind Date contestants. Still, the manager was charming, fetching me a beer and offering me something to read - the Evening Standard, mercifully, and not Woman's Weekly.

Dish Dash's decor is less canteen-like than Wagamama, the bare wooden tables and chunky stools offset by a Momo-lite scheme of stained glass panels and Islamic arches. In addition to two fairly intimate dining areas, there's a recessed lounge section, with couches and squashy leather seating cubes, for drinking and snacking.

One of my dinner guests, Jon, brought a designer's eye to bear on the surroundings (he is creative director of Body Shop). Taking in the exposed heating ducts and Arabic words stencilled on the roughly-finished walls, he devastatingly surmised: "The whole place has obviously been done up on a shoestring." Catherine, a foreign correspondent, returned from the ladies' battleground with a thousand-yard stare. "I've learned all I need to about this place from the state of the loos. Only one working, bins overflowing with paper towels, and a queue out into the corridor." Meanwhile Andy, a record producer, lamented the volume of the frenzied world music soundtrack. "If it was 5dB lower, I'd be happier," he shouted over the din.

Andy is also an enthusiastic gastronome, but his attempts to show off his knowledge were doomed by the acoustics. "It's often said that Persia and China gave the world its two great cuisines..." he began. "I got ringworm from a camel when I was four," chipped in Jon. "Ooh, sorry, I thought you were talking about camels."

Dish Dash's owners and chef are British, and though the menu is described as Anglo-Persian, many of its dishes will be familiar from Greek, Lebanese, Turkish and Moroccan restaurants. Mezze are called "mazza", and a choice of seven is available for £15, served in a single, boat-shaped dish. The best was the day's special, Kurdistan kibbeh, fried balls of minced lamb stuffed with parsley and garlic. Pan-fried chicken livers came in a generous, if underseasoned, portion, and falafel were as good as falafel ever are. But baba ganoush - the smoky purée of aubergine and tahini - was unforgivable, shrieking of garlic, like a supermarket simulacrum of the dish. Persian cheese, a dry, granular substance made with strained yoghurt, was universally loathed. "It would make a lovely facial scrub. I'm sure it would do wonders for the complexion," offered Jon, determined to see the bright side.

Two sorts of bread are available, both excellent; Persian village bread is thin and papery, and comes vertically arranged like a teepee, while khobez is more substantial, like char-grilled pitta bread. Appetising little bowls of toasted nuts, chickpeas, seeds and spiced beetroot chutney accompany them, and were much preferred to the mezze.

Main courses are divided into grills and a more complex assortment subtitled Mish-Mash. Best of the lot was Andy's Middle-Eastern take on sausage and mash, with spicy Merguez accompanied by a mash of sweet potato and white beans. My lamb, apricot and spinach khoresh - a Persian stew - was pleasantly tagine-like in its slow-cooked combination of sweet and savoury, but would have been better accompanied by rice, rather than rubbly and non-absorbent toasted cous-cous. Chicken curry featured chunks of chicken breast in a citrusy sauce which tasted bottled and reminded Jon of the Body Shop's mango butter.

Catherine had been persuaded to try the "platonic jackfish" because of its weird name, and because our waitress told her it was like tuna. It turned out to be a whole baked fish (I guessed the catfish family, but actually an Australian specimen called trevally), unpleasantly dry and slathered in an overpowering vinegary sauce, apparently derived from the pomegranate. The fish lived up to its platonic tag, as Catherine left it more or less intact.

Puddings, including almond and orange cake, and a rice pudding with rosewater and pistachios, looked interesting, but we ended with a tea flavoured with rose petals. This glowed a beautiful amber colour but tasted tannic and harsh. We paid £20 a head for food, though the bill came to considerably more, bumped up by a couple of consoling bottles from the short but geographically wide-ranging wine list.

"If you've never eaten in a Lebanese or Turkish or Moroccan restaurant before, you might think it quite good here," was Andy's surly summary, though he didn't dare say it loudly. As a fun bar, where you can order a shared selection of mezze to soak up your alcohol intake, it's fine. As an introduction to the rich and complex culinary legacy of the Persian empire, it's about as useful as a themed cook-chill range from Marks & Spencer.

Dish Dash, 57-59 Goodge Street, London W1 (020-7637 7474). Mon-Fri lunch 12-3.30pm, dinner 6-11pm, Sat, Sun dinner 6-11pm. All cards except Diners and Amex. Limited disabled access

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