Forget foreign holidays during the credit crunch; if it’s a taste of the exotic you fancy, get yourself over to Persia.
In one of the parades of shops set back off Barlow Moor Road opposite the Southern Cemetery, Persia is one of those places you drive past and never really notice. And that's despite the green neon arrows flashing away above the entrance, the rather hopeful umbrella-bedecked outside tables and the oversized sign (which looks to have come from the now defunct Great Northern venture of the same name). Once through the doors, the restaurant is pretty small with only about 35 covers on the ground floor and another 30 tucked away in the function room upstairs. The loos are also up here - they're better than they used to be, but don't expect luxury. In fact, the whole place is fairly rustic: think simple wooden tables with chunky chairs and cushion-strewn benches, and walls hung with pictures and tapestries referencing Iranian history and culture. Shelves are laden with artefacts such as Middle Eastern musical instruments and hookahs, and there’s a huge, ornate samovar bubbling away on the bar.
Being so small, Persia Grill House is cosy and has a homeliness to it, particularly as it attracts lots of families (including plenty of the local expat Iranian community). As booze isn't the focus, there's a sense of calm you often don't encounter elsewhere (if it's quiet, you may even feel the urge to whisper!), and the staff are very polite and helpful, especially when offering advice on the different dishes. The restaurant's owner often pops out from the kitchen, quietly but enthusiastically explaining ingredients to customers new to the cuisine and even helping with the waiting-on during busy times. The welcome is always warm and, when it's time to go, it's almost like leaving a friend's house.
The food is the best thing about Persia, and it’s the first thing you notice when you walk in: you’re met with the most delicious smell. Spices are very important in Persian cookery, and saffron is particularly popular. It’s used to marinate the bargs (beaten fillets of lamb £8 or chicken £7.50) and the dear little lamb chops of the shishlek (£8.50) , and also to colour the wonderful deep yellow basmati rice (for accompaniments, you can choose from all rice or beautiful warm naan bread with salad, or half and half). Other favourites include the kebab-like koubideh (£6.20, mash the grilled tomatoes into the meat for a real taste sensation) and khoresh fesenjan (chicken in a pomegranate and walnut sauce, £9.90). There is also a good choice of starters, sides and salads, but the gorgeously garlicky homemade hummus (£2.90) is a must.
Persia is a BYOB joint, which is great for keeping the bill down (corkage is ten per cent) and keeping the riffraff out. There are various soft drinks, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try the doogh (£1.30), a salty yoghurt-based drink not unlike lassi. Failing that, round off your meal with some digestion-boosting Persian tea (60p), served from the samovar in traditional glasses and the perfect match to a selection of sticky, sweet baklava (it would be rude not to).
The Last Word
For a cheap and cheerful meal out with the chance to experience Iranian cuisine and hospitality in authentic surroundings, Persia is the place to go.