off St Marks Road
You cannot serve sweetened and buttered rice with kebab and call it Chelo Kebab that blends together delicate flavours of spices including saffron, and the robustness of kebab. It’s almost unacceptable — even if you do a modern rendition of the superbly original dish. You cannot. And while the very curious version at Zaffran didn’t do much to impress my taste buds, the overall experience was decent enough for me to perhaps go back a couple of times.
The Chelo Kebab that the restaurant presented to us looked unimpressive to begin with. Plus, there was the grilled tomato missing and I didn’t get the fragrance or the taste of sumac (a Persian spice that’s almost necessary).
However, there were saving graces. The Murg Zaffrani Tikka — where chunks of boneless meat is marinated in a saffron and cashew paste and then roasted on the tandoor — was fairly decent. The meat was tender and the spices were in the right proportion; it was perfect in fact as an accompaniment with a bottle of Chenin Blanc.
The Galouti Kebab that comes in rather generous portions didn’t quite click with us. The large flattish discs didn’t really have the gleam of the original dish and before one can even take a bite, you get this sudden burst of a meaty smell that can make things a little difficult. And while the kebab didn’t taste ‘bad’, we could have done with less salt and perhaps slightly tender meat.
The final starter — Tandoori Lobster — was perhaps one of the most beautiful dishes I have seen in a while. The bright red lobster, used as a vessel to hold the spiced lobster is appetising at first sight; the food by itself would have been twice as nice only if the lobster was not so tough.
For main course, we picked the Lamb Yakhni Pulao, served with a cold raita. Albeit being the simplest dish on the table, the pulao was a winner. The wholesome flavour, lent by the meat stock the rice is cooked in, bits of tender lamb — it brought our moods right back to where it should have been; given that the Chelo Kebab was quite a disappointment, the Yakhni Pulao saved the evening, hands down.
If you still have room for dessert, you could try their various Indian experiments, which is where I was confused. Pegged to be a North-West Frontier restaurant, with stress on the word ‘authentic’, I was wondering what a Prawn Malai Curry and Rasmalai was doing on the menu. There has to be some serious deconstruction in the kitchen to be close to the word ‘authentic’. To give a verdict, the food at Zaffran is not unpalatable. If you had no clue about the difference between Indian food and NWF food — you’d eat and leave happily.
But don’t expect your mind to conjure magical North West Frontier stories as you bite into the food — it is way too modern for that!