As any princess of power will tell you, Iranian food is quite delicious. It was with that in mind that our correspondent “Members Only” (name change pending) took a recent meal at Cairo’s hottest Iranian restaurant. Her review follows.
As Craig David once inquired rhetorically: “What’s your flava? Tell me, what’s your flava?” Well Craig, we’re digging the flavors at the Iranian restaurant Shiraz, in Mohandiseen. Iranian food tends to incorporate aromatic flavors like saffron, pistachio, and rosewater, yet does not shy away from stronger tangy flavors like lemon and pomegranate syrup. We were impressed with the variety of flavors that each held up on their own and also worked well together, a marker of a good restaurant. Don’t expect to find spicy dishes, but do expect some surprising yet rewarding flavor combinations.
Upon being seated, we were presented with a heaping platter of unassembled salad ingredients, a spread that makes the nibbles at Stella Bar pale in comparison, and would make Watership Down characters jealous. When we tried to order Sabz & Paneer off the menu, we were told that it was already sitting in front of us. Our house expert on Iranian food, however, informed us that Sabz & Paneer should be an assortment of some kind of feta-like cheese (crumbly, white, and strong in taste), walnuts and fresh herbs, usually basil, parsley and chives.
For appetizers, we ordered the Mirza Qasemmi (wild herbs and spinach marinated with anzarot sauce and saffron mixed with yogurt) and the Kashk Bademjan (grilled and ground eggplant mixed with sour cream, yogurt, virgin olive oil and herbs). The Mirza Qasemmi was lightly sour with a full spinach flavor, and a creamy texture that contrasted nicely with the crisp fried onion garnish. The Kashk Bademjan was a welcome alternative to babaganoug, lacking the weightiness that comes with tahina, and instead boasting a fresh taste thanks to the cilantro and yogurt dollop. We highly recommend both.
Our vegetarian contributor ordered the Aash Soup (beans and vegetables soup), which was a complete disappointment. To employ our favorite meal critique: “Not only was it bad, but there wasn’t very much of it.” We would describe the soup as uninspiring and rather goopy. Plus, it was filled with unwanted chunks of chicken, completely unadvertised in the description on the menu, and lacking in any beans, which were advertised. Boo.
The bread, on the other hand, was a winner, serving as the ideal vessel to deliver the mezzes to our mouths. Reminiscent of thin, woodfired pizza crusts, the bread was fresh out of the oven, warm and pleasingly smoky.
For mains, we ordered Khorshet Fesenjan (chicken with dried plums and yellow split peas in pomegranate syrup) and Khorshet Sabzi (a mix of seven types of herbs, including spinach, dill, fenugreek, parsley, and cilantro). Both dishes came with rice, as it would be unimaginable to eat the khorshet without rice. We ordered saffron rice, which was garnished with currants and a pat of butter. Every grain was perfectly cooked, and in contrast to the Aash Soup, it was delicious and there was tons of it. Score. The Khorshet Fesenjan was a medley of different flavors: at once sweet, sour, and savory. The first bite was amazing, bringing oohs and aahs around the table, however the intensity of the flavor increased the more we ate, and in the end it was slightly overpowering. Basically, this dish is delicious, but perhaps best split between two people or eaten alongside an appetizer or another khoresh. The Khoresh Sabzi was equally tantalizing, while offering a substantially different flavor. While meat was not mentioned in its menu description, the dish included chunks of lamb, which is an essential part of its traditional preparation. The lamb was perfectly cooked, tender and practically falling apart, while the deep rich greens confirmed the seven herb claim to fame. Scrumptious. Strangely, however, the food arrived with haressa (a red chili paste), which doesn’t normally feature in Iranian food, and was out of place.
The upsides: Shiraz excels at bringing out the flavor of the ingredients, without relying on too much sugar, salt, or fats. It offers rich flavors, not rich food; the dishes were filling without being heavy. The portions are encouraging: two main dishes with rice and appetizers can easily feed three people. The atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasant, it was clean and comfortable, with semi-interesting decor. We are happy to report that the only option for Persian food in Cairo (so we’ve heard) stands up remarkably well to homemade standards.
The downsides: This place is not too hospitable to vegetarians; the couple dishes we ordered that appeared meat-less on the menu arrived with surprise additions. If you have nabati members of your dining crew, we suggest asking the waiter as to the meat content of the dishes, or sticking to the appetizers and bread (both of which were delicious). We had one very overzealous waiter, who was more doofus-esque than anything, yet – perhaps due to the fact that we were the only customers in the restaurant – was still more involved in our dining experience than we would have hoped.
Note: The menu also lists a page of international fare, from curries to spaghetti bolognese, which didn’t interest us. Egyptian dishes, such as babaganoug and a khorshet fasolia, are also sprinkled amongst the Iranian fare, but with the high caliber of the Iranian dishes, we had no need to stray elsewhere.
Addendum: If you’re in pub quiz mood, scribble this down before you head out the door, and quiz your fellow diners on their “Iran or Star Wars?” knowledge.
Mirza Qasemmi – 15 le
Kashk Bademjan – 15 le
Aash Soup – 15 le
Khorshet Fesenjan – 45 le, with rice (35 le without rice)
Khorshet Sabzi – 45 le, with rice
12% service is added to the bill
Shiraz is located at 84 Shehab Street, in Mohandiseen, on the stretch of Shehab between the intersection with Libnan Street and Wadi el Nil Street. Tel: 30426 29/ 345 6958.