This October, Berenjak, reinterpreting the classic hole in the wall kabab houses lining the streets of Tehran, will open its doors on Soho’s Romilly Street. Berenjak, named for the handfuls of brightly coloured, toasted rice eaten as a snack at funfairs in Iran, will take inspiration from founder and chef Kian Samyani’s childhood spent gathering around the dining table with his Iranian family, as well as his experience cooking in the kitchens of Gymkhana and Brigadiers. He will be supported by Karam, Jyo and Sunaina Sethi (JKS restaurants) – the family behind some of London’s top restaurants including Trishna, Bubbledogs, Kitchen Table, Bao, Gymkhana, Hoppers, Lyle’s, Sabor and Brigadiers.
Kian will draw on his heritage to evoke the style of a rustic Persian kabab house, reinterpreting signature dishes using seasonal British produce. Guests ducking through the planished metal shopfront will be greeted by an open kitchen, giving a full view of the chefs manning the flaming tanoor, mangal barbecue, and doner rotisserie – all the traditional tools of the Irani chef. Exposed brick walls and polished concrete contrast with stained glass windows and the richly-hued Persian carpets lining the floors, with flickering candlelight casting a warm glow over the Persian tiles and reclaimed marble tables.
Whether perched around the kitchen counter or breaking bread at one of the communal tables, guests can kick off with mazeh, an assortment of punchy small plates including Kashk E Bademjoon, blackened aubergine with whey, walnuts and dried mint, and Ash E Reshteh, an Azerbaijani bean and noodle soup. To follow, diners can take their pick from traditional kababs on freshly baked breads hot from the tanoor, inspired by Tehrani street vendors. Each kabab is threaded onto a skewer before being thrown on the fiery charcoal mangal to grill: these include Jigar, with lamb’s liver, bergamot and lavash, and a selection of Koobideh, a tender minced meat dish that’s a staple at every kabab house. Come game season, guests can expect to see spiced partridge and pheasant make an appearance on the grill. Small bowls of traditional khoresht, a Persian-style stew, include Khoresht E Karak, whole quail with aromatic barberries, saffron and lemon, and Ghormeh Sabzi, slow-cooked lamb shank with fenugreek, dried lime and kidney beans. Side dishes will include Kahoo Sekanjabin, cos hearts with oxymel (a honey and vinegar mix used as a remedy), Khiar Ba Daraar, baby cucumbers with fermented mint, and Torshi, a traditional family recipe of brined and pickled vegetables.
At the bar, guests are able to pick a house prepared spirit to pair with their choice of sharbat, a refreshing Persian drink made by combining fruit and flower sherbets with sparkling water, to be finished with herbs from Berenjak’s sabzi garden; a living wall allowing drinkers to pick and choose fresh herbs to pair with their choice of sharbat. Lightly sparkling, yoghurt-based drinks, popular in Iran, are given a twist as diners have the option of spiking them with alcohol: the Doogh is a pour of curdled yoghurt and gin, flavoured with lemon, sumac and honey.
“Most of my memories of growing up revolve around food, and in an Iranian family, the dishes of my parents’ homeland were always present on the dinner table,” says Kian. “Spices, cooling dips and handfuls of herbs are the flavours of my childhood, so it’s great to be reinterpreting them in Soho. For me, it wouldn’t be an Iranian dinner without sitting elbow-to-elbow with friends and family, sharing each dish until every scrap has gone – I’m looking forward to recreating that at Berenjak.”