Sandwiched between A Thousand and One Nights
and Turkish Mum, this Iranian eatery forms the steadfast backbone of what can
only be described as Gongti’s 'Middle East Mile'. Named after the former
ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis fittingly serves up comforting
Persian classics – all of which are halal – such as fesenjan
, an aromatic chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranate
molasses (98RMB, with rice), entire roasted legs of lamb (560RMB), as well as a
pleasing array of kebabs for under 100RMB. Wash it all down with an ice-cold pitcher
Tuanjiehu’s strip of restaurants, the ‘Middle East Mile’, has expanded. ‘Mile’ may be an exaggeration but Persepolis joins fellow Persian Rumi, Lebanese-Syrian 1001 Nights and Turkish Mum, further bolstering the hub of major players in the city’s kebab game.
The main appeal is the patio, where a small stream winds through the seating area. A collection of low tables, designed for intimate conversations drawn out over a hookah, runs along the perimeter. Like its neighbours, warm evenings will bring in the crowds. Inside, Persepolis feels like 1001 Nights, although its blue and white colour scheme evokes a less garish, almost Adriatic atmosphere, were it not for the decidedly Persian paintings and shisha pipes.
We’ve heard much hype about the head chef, who used to cook at the Iranian Embassy, but our lunch falls a bit flat. It’s satisfactory, but no knockout. To begin, we spread a pulp of eggplant with garlic and yogurt sauce (35RMB) on a delightful flatbread, whose lone downfall is the need to order it separately (10RMB).
The main attraction here is the meat. Offerings from the grill ramble over ten menu pages and range from grandiose mixed plates for 350RMB to less monstrous servings of kebab for under 100RMB. The Turkish lamb doner kebab (49RMB) catches the eye of our table’s Brit – the taste of a classic British Saturday night out – but the package of tender lamb shavings in bread is nothing to inspire poetry.
The homemade Persian-style bread with ground lamb (65RMB) is a huge proposition: two long lamb skewers, a quarter of raw onion, half a charred tomato and grilled peppers. It feels too big and brash to fail but, thanks to its tasteless meat, it does just that.
Wandering away from meat, there are some interesting flavours in the mix. Two simmered mixed plates (60-70RMB) bring together a few of the a la carte dishes and allow for a broader sampling.
Sweet-tasting and uncommon to a Western palate, the walnuts in pomegranate sauce have an otherworldly quality. Though it fails to be wholly transformative – it’s too one dimensional in its sweetness – this is definitely a dish to try. In a similar spirit, go for the basil seed drink (30RMB). It looks like something you might discover under a lily leaf: translucent little pearls with black hearts.
Persepolis might not live up to the hype built around it, but with a killer patio and satisfactory grub, it’s a welcome addition to the area.