For many, Persian food – with its exotic blend of fruits, herbs and spices, combined with elaborate cooking methods – is a unique culinary adventure. In London, if you want to indulge in Persian cuisine in a pleasant ambience, Hafez will be your restaurant of choice.
Artistically decorated with vintage objects and calligraphy, just a stone’s throw from Portobello Market in Notting Hill, Hafez offers authentic Iranian cuisine from various regions.
A family business founded in the 1980s, Hafez is known for its uncompromising quality of fresh ingredients and its emphasis on traditional home cooking. The family has been in the restaurant business for several generations, and back home still owns a restaurant in Tehran called Nayeb. Farshid Ziafat, having worked in the family-owned five-star restaurant Royal Tehran in Iran before moving to London, is the head chef at Hafez.
Over the years, the restaurant has gained considerable recognition, having been rated as one of the top five Persian restaurants in London by The Guardian. It has also been granted a Healthier Catering Commitment award by Westminster City Council.
To start with, it is almost impossible to have an authentic Persian food experience without fresh lavash bread, which is light in texture and crispy. At Hafez the staff bakes this flatbread daily, and it is best eaten with dips, feta cheese and herbs or baba ganoush, a seasoned aubergine puree common in many Middle Eastern cuisines.
Next came the Hafez salad – an exotic blend of leafy salad leaves, radishes and aromatic herbs, with a handful of walnuts and feta cheese. As a starter, it was absolutely refreshing, especially when mixed with the freshly prepared cucumber dip.
For the main meal, I ordered chenjeh and ghormeh sabzi, two of the signature dishes at Hafez, and was more than impressed with the culinary standards. Served on skewers, the grilled middle neck fillet of lamb (chenjeh) was cooked optimally, retaining a smoky, fresh taste.
An authentic khoresht (slow-cooked) ghormeh sabzi – lamb stew cooked with fresh parsley, coriander, fenugreek, red kidney beans and flavored with lime, so popular that it is often considered the national Iranian dish – was marked by a strongly aromatic and tangy taste. Cooked in a traditional way to preserve the delicate and fluffy texture, saffron rice seemed the perfect complement for these meaty dishes.
For a milder main meal, try jujeh (tender poussin, or young chicken), my favorite dish at Hafez. Marinated with olive oil, lime juice, saffron and onion, the grilled chicken drumsticks were tender and succulent, with all the juices locked in. Served with saffron rice with barberries, its presentation was most appetizing.
Hafez’ traditional home-made “sherbet drink” was made with fresh mint and cucumber similar to a cordial: a refreshing, authentic beverage to go with the meal.
Portions at the restaurant were more than generous, the service friendly and attentive. The intimate ambience, with its array of watercolor paintings, decorative cutleries, vintage objects, even paper placemats that featured poetry by the 14th-century Persian poet Hafez, showed how much the owners cared about creating a most pleasant environment for the diners.
As a sweet conclusion to the meal, we ordered baklavas and tea. The baklavas that arrived were too sweet for my own taste, and the dessert list could have been enhanced somewhat, but we were glad to try the freshly brewed black tea served in dainty, Iranian-style glass cups.
One word of advice: bookings by phone (+44 20 7221 3167) only. It tends to get quite busy in the evenings, so make sure you book in advance.
Address: Hafez Restaurant, 5 Hereford Road, London W2 4AB (nearest Underground station: Bayswater). Open seven days a week, noon to midnight.