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Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine, Dorrington

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Rating: **** There were three ingredients that came for free when my friend and I visited Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine: simplicity, sophistication and flavour, writes Andy Richardson.

Rating: ****

There were three ingredients that came for free when my friend and I visited Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine: simplicity, sophistication and flavour,

writes Andy Richardson

.

We were also offered a side order of bonhomie by the venue's excellent chef-patron, Dr Ijlal Haider.

Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine – a name so long it deserves an acronym – is Shropshire's only Persian restaurant specialising in the flavours of Iran. It is run by the former medic, Dr Haider, who swopped a doctor's coat for chef's whites. He's built a well-regarded business in recent years, building up a loyal clientele and winning plaudits along the way.

DOHPC is unique. Shropshire has numerous restaurants that specialise in foods from around the world. The gastronomy of Asia is particularly well represented, with numerous restaurants specialising in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani food, among others.

Persian cuisine, however, has been under-represented – until Dr Haider appeared on the scene. That pattern is true in other parts of the UK, where traditional curry houses dominate our High Streets and Persian cuisine is seldom found. Happily, things are changing. Persian food is one of the likely food trends of 2012, as increasing numbers of devotees find out more about its clever marriage of ingredients.

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Even Jamie Oliver, that great trend-setting cook, has added his name to the list of admirers. In a recent interview, the celebrity cook said: "Iranian cuisine is sometimes called Persian, and there's a real buzz about these sets of flavours and ideas among chefs, right now."

Jamie thinks dishes like Ghormeh Sabzi, a lip-smacking Iranian national dish featuring green herbs, rose coco beans, spices, herbs and vegetables, could be as popular as chicken tikka masala one day. A far-fetched prediction? Well, no, to be honest. As the nation's taste buds become increasingly eclectic, there's no reason at all why we won't embrace more foods from all parts of the world. And, when it comes to taste, few have as much to offer as Persian food.

The joys of Persian cuisine are easy to understand. The exceptional climate means there are plenty of flavour-packed vegetables, herbs, nuts and fruits which make its food distinctive.

Additionally, Iran has an abundance of indigenous spices, which are mixed delicately to achieve wonderfully balanced tastes. Characteristic flavourings, like saffron, dried limes, cinnamon and parsley give dishes a 'must eat' quality.

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Dr Haider is a past-master. He was a finalist in the UK's South Asian Chef 2011 Awards, a finalist in the Shropshire Council Curry Chef of the Year 2011 and is taking his nation's formerly obscure cuisine into the mainstream. My friend and I arrived early for a weekday dinner at DOHPC, anticipating an empty dining room.

Happily, a few others had made the journey, giving the venue a friendly atmosphere. The restaurant was furnished with rugs, wall hangings and other trappings of Iranian culture, lending an exotic air. Although my friend and I have eaten many foods from around the world – from oryx in Namibia to casa marzu in Sardinia and from durian fruit in Malaysia to cane root in Ecuador – there were numerous dishes that we'd not sampled on Dr Haider's menu.

My partner started with mast-o-bademjan, a delicious plate of roasted aubergines and onions in yoghurt. The piquant, puree was served with fresh naan breads that were delicious.

I started with homous, the popular mix of creamed chick peas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. It was sublime. The warm naan breads were used to ladle up thick globs and it was eaten with fervour.

For her main course, my friend opted for panagasius, an edible freshwater fish that is a member of the catfish family. It was served with ribbons of cucumber, miniature cherry tomatoes and other accompaniments, including cumin naan. The fish was pretty good, without being exceptional, and the dish was eaten happily.

I opted for the joojeh kabab, which comprised cubes of chicken breast that had been marinated in salt, black pepper, cumin, extra virgin olive oil and lemon.

It was served with a fiery dip and cumin naan and was divine. The balance of flavours was exceptional, with heat from the pepper, sour from the lemon and a teensy weensy hint of mellow bitterness from the oil. I also ordered a side of cous cous, with fruit and vegetables, which had been expertly seasoned and cooked with skill.

We skipped desserts, although in doing so I fear I did Dr Haider a disservice. Next time, I'll save a little room.

The bill for the two of us, with drinks, was just over £40, which represented great value.

Dr Haider also visited the dining room on numerous occasions, stopping to chat and offering advice on dishes, explaining cooking techniques and making sure our food had been cooked to satisfaction. He went the extra mile and deserves all credit.

Persian food avoids the smack-in-the-mouth chilli heat favoured by most Asian restaurants. The flavours are delicate and balanced, dishes are aromatic and almost perfumed with elegant seasonings. Shropshire has a small number of exceptionally good restaurants serving world cuisine and Dr Haider's Old Dorrington Hall is among the best of them.

ADDRESS

Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine, Main Road, Dorrington SY5 7JD

Tel: 01743 719100

Web: www.oldhallpersian.co.uk

Dorrington Old Hall Persian Cuisine at a glance:

  • Food: Traditional Iranian and North Indian fusion
  • You really must try: The homous. Authentic and excellent quality, it puts shop-bought in the shade.
  • Service: Good – remarkably, Dr Haider spends as much time with guests as at the stove. A tireless worker. A*
  • Local/seasonal: Not particularly. Panagasius isn’t found in the Severn.
  • Lasting impressions: Top dollar. Great food, good service and good value.

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