Best Persian restaurants in London: Where to celebrate Nowruz in the capital
Boasting one of the earliest-ever recognised civilised empires, it’s fair to say that Persians have been developing their food culture for a while now — some 7,000 years at the last count.
Arguably, Persia’s most glorious period in history can be traced back 2,500 years to the Achaemenid period, when Cyrus the Great took his people across eastern Europe, western and central Asia, as well as parts of the Mediterranean. Whilst the size and scale of the empire may have lessened, it’s influence hasn’t entirely waned, and Persian festivals are still celebrated in many countries along the old Silk Road, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Iraq and, of course, Iran.
The biggest of these, marked by more than 300 million people globally, is the Persian New Year — or Nowruz — with March 21 marking the first day of the new year in 2023.
Nowruz translates as “New Day” and is the most significant day in the Iranian calendar; it is also a celebration of spring, and sees families come together to eat, drink, exchange gifts, and generally have a merry old time. It’s practically Christmas Day for Persians, albeit the turkey is swapped for for sabzi pollow and mahi, a herb-based rice full with saffron-marinated fish. But, with Iran in a state of civil unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini — who was killed after allegedly violating Iran’s Islamic dress code, which requires women to wear a hijab — this year is likely to have a particular poignancy for many.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, many Persians have migrated across the world, with a large proportion landing in London, bringing with them an extensive menu of fragrant, colourful and flavoursome dishes. Accordingly, the capital is spoilt with a vast and ever-increasing collection of Persian restaurants. Here are some favourites.
The Soho and Borough-based spots are likely the most well-known Persian joints in town. The intimate, JKS-owned establishments founded by Kian Samyani offers guests classic Persian dishes alongside an eclectic mix of wines and cocktails. Based on the old hole-in-the-wall kabab houses in Iran, the Soho restaurant has both counter-style seating as well as other, more traditional seating overlooked by nostalgic photos and paintings of days gone by in Iran. With even Dua Lipa listing it as one of her favourite restaurants, it’s no surprise bookings can be hard to swing. The second site in Borough Market was opened last year and offers a similar menu in more spacious surrounds — which makes it easier to score a table, but only just.
W1 and SE1, berenjaklondon.com
Chef Amin Ebra’s grandfather used to be the chef for the Shah of Iran, so it’s not so much of a stretch to say guests at this restaurant in St John’s Wood are quite literally treated like royalty. Somewhat controversially, Ebra is one of the only Persian chefs in London who doesn’t have grilled kababs on his menu. Instead, he focuses on a wide range of Khoreshts (Persian stews) from across Iran. For purists, this is where Persian food really comes into its own. The tahchin, an oven-baked rice cake with yolk, saffron rice and yoghurt with pulled chicken and topped with barberries and pistachio, is a crowd-pleasing must-try.
1 Belgrave Gardens, NW8 0QY, belgraverestaurant.com
Hafez was among the very first Persian restaurants to open to London, with head chef and founder Farshid Ziafat cooking here since 1983. Sat in the middle of Nothing Hill, the restaurant is popular both with local residents and London’s Persian community; visiting the place is almost a rite of passage — show me a Persian who hasn’t visited Hafez and I’ll show you a Persian who hasn’t been to London.
5 Hereford Road, W2 4AB, hafezrestaurant.co.uk
A bit of an institution in Ealing, this numbers among London’s many brilliant neighbourhood Persian restaurants. For hearty chello kabab, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place for it. The Palace also operates a BYOB policy — ask you nearest friendly sommelier what works with their legendary koobideh. A special mention here for their sabzi pollow, which is served with a saffron sea bass; given its the archetypal Nowruz meal, it’s worth trying it out during the festive period. The restaurant has expanded its footprint in recent years, taking up residence next door to the original site too in addition to opening two more sites in Harrow and Reading.
143-145 Uxbridge Road, W13 9AU, persianpalace.co.uk
Located in a quaint street in Little Venice, Kateh is a popular spot for the west London set. Dishes range from traditional stews to modern interpretations of other Persian classics. Kateh is actually the name given to a special rice-cooking technique used mostly in the north of Iran. If you believe the stories, Kateh style rice keeps its goodness and stores vitamins that are otherwise lost in the traditional method used to cook rice in Persian cuisine (which includes lots of washing and soaking in water). The restaurant prides itself on its use of organic produce, with many ingredients coming from local food markets. Its pretty mast-o-khiar, a creamy cucumber yoghurt dip infused with fragrant herbs, using ground rose petals, is a must-try.
5 Warwick Place, W9 2PX, katehrestaurant.co.uk
This restaurant just off the Edgware Road is a something of a well-kept secret. The unassuming exterior can easily be missed amongst the hustle and bustle of the hundreds of middle-eastern restaurants close by. Its exposed walls and rugged interior is said to be modelled on the kabab houses across Iran and Patogh is also said to have inspired many of the newer Persian places in London. The intimate restaurant offers a wide of range of Persian favourites, features a signature large taftoon bread, and it’s kababs are cooked on an open-fire in front of guests. Don’t expect any frills.
8 Crawford Place, W1H 5NE, patoghlondon.com
The quirky corner shop and vegetarian cafe-restaurant in south east London is one for those seeking an alternative Persian experience. Sally Butcher, its fiery-haired owner, is known widely — not only for here, but for her writing, too. Having started as a blogger, Sally soon amassed a devoted online following for her Peckham-related musings, and later became a best-selling author. Alongside vegetarian takes on Persian classics, the low-key restaurant sits next to a well-stocked Persian grocery, where you can buy everything from Persian saffron, to torshi (Persian pickles) and even the nostalgic bubblegum our parents used to enjoy in Iran.
28-30 Peckham High Street, SE15 5DT, foratasteofpersia.co.uk
Named after a Tehran suburb nestled within the Alborz mountains, this new-ish restaurant is on a mission to elevate the usual dishes you’d expect from a Persian establishment. With a strong focus on celebrating the Persian empire’s trade routes, you’re likely to find a slight variation in recipes of dishes found at other spots on this list. Interestingly, and unusually for a Persian restaurant in London, the team also serve a breakfast which includes some Persian specialities. Sosis bandari, a spicy and incredibly tasty sausage dish from the south of Iran, features on the breakfast menu, alongside nargesi, a traditional spinach and egg omelette. They also make a mean kuku sabzi, which a Persian frittata filled with herbs, onions, spices and tangy berries and a must-have during the Nowruz period.
60 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7QF, naroon.co.uk
Another one for those south of the river. Kishmish stands out for its décor, which is based on mudhouses in Iranian villages. The handcrafted furniture is designed and chosen to create a sense of nomadic comfort. In terms of food, the restaurant also offers dizi on Sundays. This is a hearty, warming mutton Persian soup thickened with chickpeas, potatoes and white beans. It is served in stoneware crock pots with warm sangak bread. Tear this bread to pieces, drop it into the soup, and let it soak up all the juices. Wash this down with your own wine — Kishmish is another spot to offer a BYOB policy.
13-14 Crystal Palace Parade, SE19 1UA, kish-mish.co.uk
Beluga Persian Grill & Bar
The source of Persian culinary pride isn’t just limited to fragrant stews and grilled meats — it also extends to its extensive and rich caviar culture. Some of the best caviar in the world is found in the Caspian Sea in the north of Iran, and it is championed at Beluga. The restaurant also has an extensive range of classics alongside these famous caviar platters, as well as a good number of vegetarian Persian stews.
147-149, Notting Hill Gate, W11 3LF, beluganottinghill.co.uk
In Farsi, Diba itself means “fine silk thread” and is often used to describe things that are delicate or gentle. And that this is; its walls are decorated with elegant Persian landscapes and gentle abstract paintings that offer a peaceful journey through Iranian culture. Though Persian restaurants aren’t typically known for their desserts, Diba bucks that trend; try the halvi bastani — pistachio saffron ice cream served with fresh carrot juice. There are branches in Wimbledon, Richmond and Chelsea to choose from.
Various locations, dibarestaurant.co.uk