5 Hereford Road, W2 4AB
Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £50
A sizeable chunk of the Persian upper classes fled to Kensington after the revolution of 1979 and it still sports a sizeable Iranian community, with quite a few Iranian restaurants in the area. My Persian friend Meysam has been to most of these restaurants, and has taken me to the wonderful Mohsen many times, but I was keen to try somewhere different. Hafez is a tiny restaurant with only 10 tables and very unusual decor – a range of antique spoons clutter the walls and a teacup sculpture doubles as a lampshade. The service seems typical of London Persian restaurants – it could never be described as friendly but is generally efficient.
I started with a swig of Persian saffron beer (£3.90 – brewed in the UK), which was really interesting, with a strong (but not unpleasant) saffron aftertaste. Iranian starters generally consist of bread and dips; the Hafez menu is no exception: we tried Mirza Ghasemi (£4.50) and Mast-o Mousir (£3.50), which are both aubergine based – one with garlic, the other saffron. The bread was light with a crisp outer layer and was certainly freshly made (though unfortunately it was not quite as good as at Mohsen, which has a clay oven in the dining room and the bread is made before your very eyes).
Kebabs and stews are the mainstays of Persian cuisine and Hafez offers numerous versions of these. The highlight of our kebab platter (£28) was the chicken which was perfectly cooked and extremely succulent; the lamb chops were made of good quality meat and were nicely moist; however, unfortunately our lamp chops were a bit overdone. These meats were all served without sauce or strong seasoning, allowing the natural flavours to dominate. I am a great fan of the stews made by my Persian friend, so I think it would be hard for me to praise any restaurant offering, but even considering this, I was disappointed with the lamb stews we ordered (Ghormeh Sabzi £9.50 and Gheimeh £9.50). The meat was melt in the mouth but the flavour was listless and unblanced: dried limes dominating the former and saffron the latter.
Our saffron ice cream (another Persian staple) was certainly homemade but the texture was not perfect, with quite a few ice crystals lending an unpleasant crunch.
If you want to try Persian food then Hafez is not a bad option, but I think that the food at Mohsen is far better.