“ Address: 14 Marlborough Crescent Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4EE „
"What kind of food is it?" asked our friend Jill in the pub where we met before heading to 'A Taste of Persia' for our dinner reservation. God forbid they read this but Andy and Jill aren't big foodies or geography buffs though you'd have thought the name of the restaurant might have given them a clue. For years we've traditionally dined out as a foursome in Indian restaurants but I really fancied a change and used the fact that it's almost my birthday to instigate a change of cuisine. I'd been to 'A Taste or Persia' a few times over the last ten years but not in the past couple of years so I was relying on nothing having changed too much. Our companions are not the most adventurous of diners but having been to the restaurant before I was confident they'd find something they fancied on the menu.
The main dining room is on the first floor but, as we entered the restaurant, we could hear that it sounded quite noisy upstairs so we took one of the four tables downstairs. For a while we were the only group downstairs but later a couple of tables were taken and there was a more of an 'atmosphere'. The only downside with eating on the ground floor was the periodic blast of arctic chill when people came in or went out; there are two doors but due to their tight arrangement, both need to be open at the same time.
The décor at 'A Taste of Persia' gives a feeling for the type of cuisine without going over the top. Some well chosen woven textiles and pictures decorate the walls and there's a clear message that less is more (the not so far away "Ali Basha" looks like a Moroccan bazaar crossed with a car boot sale). Built in seating runs along the wall so two of us (me being one of them) got to sit along the wall on lovely colourful embroidered cushions (the other chairs did not have them).
Having already eaten one rather too large meal that day I was relieved when our companions said they didn't want a starter. I really could not have managed it, but if I'd have been hungrier I would have recommended we get the sharing meze which I've had on the other occasions I've visited. This contains things such as olives, stuffed vine leaves and 'Kashk-e bademjan' which is very much like 'Baba Ghanoush' with the addition of a very rich buttermilk. From memory their Persian-style feta served with mised herbs is an absolute joy.
I'd had lamb at lunch time and couldn't face it again, even though I know that the lamb dishes are out of this world. I went instead for the chicken joojeh, basically pieces of chicken breast, marinated and cooked on the grill. All the main course dishes are served with rice, or you can have half rice/half salad or just salad - I chose just salad. The chicken was tasty and succulent with a very slightly char-grilled taste and the salad was fresh and colourful though lacking a dressing so I had to use a wedge of lemon instead.
Jill chose the salmon which came with a herb rice. Again the salmon had been marinated before being char-grilled; the colour was fabulous, perfect salmon pink when cut into but with a dark orange-brown crust. The rice was delicious, flavoured mostly with dill though the portion was big and I don't think I could have eaten much of it, even if I'd have been hungrier. I'm not sure that she was mad keen on the dish and although I couldn't blame her for being beaten by that much rice, I'm surprised she didn't eat much of the salmon. It was cooked beautifully and the flavours were excellent.
Himself and Andy went for manly lamb stews with split peas and a saffron and tomato sauce. Himself chose the Gheymeh Bademjan which also contained slices of aubergine while Andy went for the Gheymeh. There were brought to the table in bowls so you could spoon it onto the plate with the rice. In retrospect they should probably have ordered some bread to go with it. They both made short work of their meals so there obviously wasn't much wrong with them. Andy did make noises about a strange flavour (which we managed to identify as cinnamon) but I wonder whether, the main ingredients being quite 'curry like' he was expecting something a bit different. These stews also contain dried lime which give them a really distinctive flavour that you don't find in any other cuisines. The lamb came as fair-sized meaty chunks which melted in the mouth.
As we hadn't seen each other for a while but were feeling too tired and too old to go on anywhere else we leisurely ordered desserts to string out the evening. I have to be very careful with Middle Eastern desserts as nuts tend to feature quite heavily. I'd love to be able to eat baklava but have to make my own at home which is a shame as it always looks so delicious. Andy chose that and it came beautifully presented, strewn with extra pistachios and little dots of squirty cream and pistachios around it. It was a small piece but since it was so sweet Andy said it was just enough.
Jill loves a dessert but says she doesn't like pistachios, thus eliminating in a sweep half of the desserts. In the end she chose a dark chocolate and mint parfait, a bought in dessert by the look of it but judging by the noises she was making she liked it a lot.
I chose the 'faloodeh' a dish I really love; I checked before ordering that they wouldn't scatter it with nuts. Faloodeh is a traditional dish made with slightly frozen sweetened vermicelli and rose water. I know rose water is an acquired taste, not everyone likes a pudding that tastes of perfume, fortunately I do. I tried to persuade the others to join me in a mint tea but in the end conceded defeat and enjoyed my own which was made with plenty of fresh mint.
Himself, ever the stoic, passed on the dessert and ordered another Peroni. There is an Iranian beer available but it is alcohol free and costs a whopping £3.50!
The damage for all this was a modest £60 odd quid but then Jill and I had been drinking only mango juice. The stews were priced at a very reasonable £7.00 each and the grills a little more.
'A Taste of Persia' was every bit as good as I remembered and I found myself wishing I'd not left it so long. The service was excellent, really friendly and nothing was too much trouble. The only possible downside I can think of is that the toilets are on the upper floor, which may be an issue for some customers.
If you're looking for 'A Taste of Persia' its situated a two minute walk from Newcastle's Central Station, overlooking Time Square and the International Centre For Life. It's right on the edge of the Pink Triangle and there are some excellent bars for a pre-post dinner drink there.