Over a thousand years ago a small group of Persians made the journey to seek their fortune in India. Many settled in Southern India but a small group eventually made it to Hindustan in the prosperous city of Bombay. They established a Zoroastrian community amongst the hustle and bustle and maintained their old Persian way of life whilst, little by little, adopting elements of their new surroundings. Legend has it that while setting around enjoying their Chai tea a stranger passed and asked for a glass in return for money and the Parsi cafe idea was born.
In Mumbai today there are some very distinctive Parsi cafes which are a feature for anyone who visits. They serve a distinctive menu combining the curry with the fragrance of Persian cuisine.
Having never heard of the genre until very recently imagine my surprise to find out Leamington Spa has just opened its very own Parsi Cafe. On a Friday night we made a journey with some good and knowledgeable friends to try out Parsi’s at the top of The Parade. From the outside the red paintwork gives the impression of a French bistro but inside it is a very distinctive affair.
The walls are covered with movie posters, postcards and painted panels of Zoroastrian symbols. It gives the impression of a TGI Fridays with a similar bustle. The menu is full of tapas-sized plates and the idea is to order a wide selection to share.
We started with some of the fun Parsi cocktails – versions known cocktails with a twist – typically an infusion of ginger, cardamom or the sweetness of jaggery.
The food was brought in waves to the table. We started with Keema Pau which was spiced mince served with buttered brioche buns and with some dips alongside. My favourite was a green coriander and mint one which tasted a little like Salsa Verde with chilli.
The Sali Boti was another favourite – a rich lamb curry with a slight sourness topped with small shards of crispy fried potato which gave a lovely texture contrast – served with paratha roti. We also had plenty of the Marsala prawns – butterflied tiger prawns marinaded and grilled which preserved the sweetness of the prawn and added a little spice.
I loved the novelty of the setting but I loved the food too. Our share of the feast including cocktails came to £40 per person. Imagine my further surprise when less that two weeks later my daughter took us to Dishoom – a chain of Parsi cafes in London – this time for breakfast (which Parsis is planning to offer in future).
First impression at Dishoom is how very similar the two places are…I mean really similar. Dishoom is a chain with outlets in London and Edinburgh. The ambience in the restaurant you would expect to be similar. There is the similar black and white photos on the wall but there is also the list of house rules which I understand are commonplace in these establishments. The menu was also remarkably similar. It was laid out in the same font with the same sides and cocktails with just some minor differences. According to the staff there is no connection but the Leamington Spa facility is definitely following the same formula.
I had the Keema Per Eedu along with some Breakfast Lassi. My companions had porridge, chocolate chai and various naan-based breakfasts. The Keema Per Edu was a large bowl of chicken keema with some fried chicken livers running through it, some of the little crunchy deep fried potato pieces and two of the briochy buttered buns. The spicing was just nice – warming without burning and the buttery buns with it is a really good combination. The lassi was cool and banana based which was fine – but I could happily have stuck with the water.
As an occasional treat this is a good brunch stop off and it kept us fuelled for the walk to Spitalfields Market and the rest of the day. A good breakfast for four cost £52. I like the cuisine and my two experiences of it so far have been very positive and very similar. I’m getting bored with the old curry and rice Indian meal and this may just have put new life into the experience.