Ask a group of people what they regard to be the best Persian restaurant in London, and you’ll receive a range of responses. “Behesht!” proclaims one person. “Tandis!” cries another. “Alounak!” declares the third. In the current climate, it’s certainly a discussion to avoid in public – such loud outbursts of Persian words in quick succession would be enough to make any ignorant passer-by sweat with suspicion. With branches in Kensington and Bayswater, Alounak is one of the most popular names in Persian cuisine. Positive testimonials – both written and verbal – shoot out from every corner of the grapevine, and as a result, Alounak has comfortably resided on the higher end of my “To-Eat” list for quite some time. Having finally paid them a visit earlier this year, I can happily say that it was well worth the wait.
All the meat here is halal.
Alounak employs a simple, no-nonsense menu which spans no more than two sides of A4, and naturally, I opted for the meatiest one-man dish I could find – the “Alounak special”. This was comprised of a lamb kebab and a mixed skewer of lamb and chicken fillet. Steak meanwhile, opted for a “chelo-kabab-koobdeh”, which consisted of two skewers of lamb kebab, and as expected, both dishes arrived with a mountain of soft, moist and mildly buttery rice. If you’re keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels, you should probably keep your eye away from this review.
The lamb kebab which was common to both our dishes was the first to be devoured. As expected, it was incredibly soft and moist, and had absorbed the flavour and juices of the onions within them. The chicken meanwhile, was thick, and well-seasoned, and although dry in some parts, it carried a strong flavour, which prevented this lack of moisture from ruining its contribution. The skewer of lamb fillet followed its chicken companion into the dry deserts of Persia, having been cooked to medium-well. However, despite this dry quality, the lamb fillet was surprisingly pleasant, and was actually my favourite meat of the selection. The fillet carried a strong inherent flavour – a subtle meaty tang – which had remained intact throughout the cooking process, and combined well with the dosage of seasoning. Although it was a mildly greasy affair, every piece of meat on our plate was of a good quality, and in combination with the rice and the palate-cleansing grilled tomatoes, it was a positively hearty and comforting meal.
Value For Money: 3.5/5
The Alounak special amounted to £13.80, whilst Steak’s lamb kebab cost £8. This amounted to a total bill of £23.90, including service charge. Generally, starters range from £4-£5, mains from £8-£14, (or £42 for a large mixed grill), and drinks and desserts cost between £1.50-£4. In return for quality food that arrives in generous portions to generously help you slip into a coma, Alounak ask for a fair price. The food is both filling and satisfying, and it’s unlikely that you’ll feel out of pocket at the end.
As warm and as comforting as the food is, the service at Alounak is a little detached and indifferent. Staff members are also fairly inattentive, despite the relatively small area they have to patrol. Putting my attention-seeking problems aside, service is otherwise fairly prompt.
The Bayswater branch of Alounak is fairly small and cosy. Bare brick walls and a basket-weave ceiling surround the wooden-floored dining area, which is dominated by fabric chairs, Persian-style sofas laden with embroidered cushions, decorative paintings and ornaments. All these elements come together to create a subtle touch of authenticity, which remains reserved and sensible. In keeping with this cultural theme is the traditional oven that sits by the door, providing a convenient location for both the production of fresh bread, and the disposal of any irritating friends you wish to rid yourself of on your way out. A small fish tank also resides within the restaurant, providing a place of residence for what may just be one of the world’s ugliest fish – a fish so ugly, that Steak almost mistook its face for a botox-enhanced replica of my own. This visually-challenged fellow continued to stare us down during our meal, probably in the hope that we’d run away and leave our food behind – a tactic I often utilise myself. Unsightly fish and the occasional grotesque food-blogger aside, Alounak’s Bayswater branch does well to provide its customers with attractive surroundings within the little space that is available.
The restaurant is a quick 10-15 minute walk from either Bayswater or Royal Oaks station, and although parking is available on nearby roads, free spaces may be difficult to come by.
Despite the fairly ornate decor, there isn’t a great deal of character in Alounak’s ambience. The apathy of the staff resonates throughout the restaurant itself, leaving behind a rather cold and reserved atmosphere. Whilst it’s still perfectly easy to enjoy your time at Alounak, the reception isn’t particularly welcoming enough to create a well-rounded dining experience.
What Alounak lacks in the quality of its service, and the geniality of its ambience, it more than makes up for with the calibre of its food. When it comes to middle-eastern cuisines, “simple, yet exquisite” is often a winning formula, and it is a formula that Alounak’s chefs have successfully adopted into the nature of their cooking. Whether or not Alounak is worthy of the top spot amongst London’s Persian eateries – I cannot say for sure, given that I have yet to visit many of its rival contenders. What I can say however, is that they certainly reside firmly within the cream.
Address: 44 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5SH
Telephone: 0207 229 4158