In 1979 in Islington, I was a child looking forward to my first trip to Iran – in part as I was going to visit my paternal great-aunt Nouhi, a Protestant missionary in Isfahan, but mainly because I loved gaz, or Persian nougat.
The trip was postponed and then never happened. The shah had been deposed and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris to declare the country the Islamic Republic of Iran, but my Persian connection eventually came into its own – through cuisine. Now there are two small, relatively unknown but fabulous Iranian restaurants in London that I absolutely love and regularly visit.
Café Oto (first picture), in up-and-coming Dalston, is where Iranian-born chef Soli Zardosht creates a modern Persian-inspired menu that changes daily. My latest visit saw us order a meze of orange chicken, turmeric berry couscous with Persian pickle, accompanied by Middle Eastern spiced beef with yellow pepper and yoghurt sauce on flatbread (both £9). For the vegetarian in my party, we ordered crostini with yellow-pea purée, marinated toasted vegetables and poached egg (£8.50). The flavours of each are layered like perfumes and reach a grand finale that marries them all together.
Over in the West End, killing myself spinning at Pscyle followed by lunch at Gitane (second picture), has become routine. It is owned by a lovely couple from Tehran, and my instructor would approve of their roasted salmon marinated in saffron with two salads (£9), and the deliciously light Persian quiche, made sans pastry but with eggs and parsley, coriander, mint, spinach and spring onions (£8, with two salads).
He perhaps would have less time for the Tachin, however – a saffron rice cake with a layer of aubergine in the middle. If you haven’t tried Persian rice, it is a revelation: fluffy on top and crispy on the bottom.
At both these restaurants I find a taste of the country that I hope one day to finally visit.