Little Venice is home to a new Persian restaurant called Kateh. The location may be a bit remote, but people are making the journey. With food that encompasses a modern, healthier approach to cooking with time honoured traditional recipes, it won't be long before they are queueing at the door for this somewhat hidden gem.
Kateh's understated elegance provides a pleasant change from the designed-to-impress interiors of most London restaurants. That's not to imply that it's not impressive, for it's actually quite beautiful, but Kateh's elegance stems from its simple design, minimal adornments and the building's inherent beauty. With some skilful modifications they have managed to take the walls from Artex to artful, even managing to make the wall of verdigris tinted silver paint look quite refined. The ceilings are painted in a deep brown, but somehow they add a warmth to the room and the chandeliers of multicoloured glass help to dress it up without drifting into gaudy. Dark wood floors, reclaimed tabletops with classic settings, a leather banquette and a lovely glass partition complete the scene, which, oddly enough, pulls together quite nicely. In addition to the main dining room, there's also a beautiful al fresco patio, with seating for up to twenty five people, and a room on the lower level that can accommodate a private party of ten.
Arrive at Kateh before seven at night and its empty dining room may have you pitying owner, Narges Pourkhoumami. But, grab a seat while you can, because within an hour's time almost every one of Kateh's thirty four seats will, most likely, be filled. In the three short weeks it's been open, this restaurant has made quite a name for itself, and the customers are returning regularly, bringing their friends and family with them. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, as the warm and endearing staff are bolstered by the public's reaction, but a bit overwhelmed by it as well. Indeed the restaurant can easily turn from charming little hideaway, to buzzing hot spot in virtually seconds. At this point, the scant staff has to struggle to keep up. The service shifts from attentive to less than, and although food arrives promptly, things like dish clearing and beverage service take a hit. It would be wise to keep this in mind when planning a visit, and take advantage of the early-week lull if you're looking for a more intimate experience.
The meal begins with an offering of a traditional Persian libation called sharbat-e sekanjabin, which combines a tangy, sweet syrup made from honey and vinegar, with shredded cucumber, spring water and mint to form a truly delightful and healthful drink. Starters average around £3.50, but the two stand-outs come in at the top of the price range (£9). Salad laboo features Burrata, a creamy, soft, lightly salty cheese (its flavour is subtle, its texture divine) topped with roasted beetroot, fresh basil, lemon juice and olive oil. This is a perfect combination of flavours and textures, one that lends itself to thoughts a warm summer night on the patio, but tastes just as delicious in the dining room, so why wait? Koofteh berenjii is another gem from the kitchen. These Persian meatballs, made from beef mince, are covered with a robust sauce and served over plums. The resulting combination of sweet and savoury flavours will have you mopping your plate with bread in order to get every last morsel.
As you move onto your mains you'll already have an appreciation for the kitchen's passion for food. They understand the concept of balanced seasoning, and consider grilling to be an art form. The Sultani grill embodies both concepts, providing a skewer of marinated lamb fillet and a skewer of seasoned veal mince served with saffron rice. Each skewer brings its own unique gifts to the dish, but both arrive at the table perfectly cooked, juicy and full of flavour. At £15 it's actually a bargain, as it combines the main component of two other grills on one plate, giving you a chance to enjoy more of the kitchen's magic for less money. The ghelieh mahi (£16.00) is described as a Southern Iranian cod stew, which doesn't really do it justice. It's a wonderfully seasoned cod fillet, seared and served over long grained basmati rice with a hearty sauce of tomato, tamarind and fresh herbs. The tamarind and coriander flavours battle to take primacy within the sauce, but the fish and rice round out those flavours nicely, resulting and another winning combination.
The home made desserts are another triumph, and delicious. Koolouche roodbar (£5) is a simple creation made from Persian date/walnut cookies, and cinnamon ice cream. The ice cream is superb and acts as a perfect conduit to allow the sweet cinnamon flavour to mingle with the light delicious biscuits. The strudel filled with Bukhara plums is light, soft and buttery. Served with vanilla ice cream, it is simply excellent.
The drink menu is a bit limited, with wine choices that are too similar in characteristics to offer much of a sense of variety. The good news is that the food favours are so well balanced that they can handle any wine you choose. So, though your choices are few, at least they pair well with the food. The Turkish coffee is a bit of a disappointment. Although it has a wonderful flavour, the staff just haven't mastered the pour, and so, you are likely to get more coffee grounds then you should, which could render the cup undrinkable. Thankfully, there are teas, espressos and the like on offer too.
The Last Word
Still in its infancy, Kateh has everything working in its favour. Great food, a dedicated (if not overworked) staff, and a pleasing atmosphere both inside and out. Prices are very reasonable for food of this quality, and although the location is a bit remote, it is definitely a restaurant worth making the trip for.