The arrangements for attending the Persian Supper Club were rather secretive.
After emailing our details, then paying for a £45.00 place at the table, we were sent instructions for the event, just 48 hours before it happened.
Places were limited, so we felt we had somehow smuggled ourselves onto some sort of VIP list to get a seat at the table, in a Fight Club sort of way but with a pass to eat supper instead.
As we arrived at the venue on a Saturday night, we were aware that being sociable, mingling and sharing food, ‘just like an Iranian family might do’, was on the agenda.
And although we do like meeting new people, my dining partner suddenly revealed that he would really prefer to sit on our own. ‘Too late for that,’ I whispered kindly, as we walked through the door and spied two large tables, each with 12 seats on.
We were in Taste Café in Holbeck, Leeds, which had been borrowed for the evening by private dining chef Afsaneh Kaviani, a former MasterChef finalist from 2012. Afsaneh is well-known in the foodie circles of Leeds and has hosted previous supper clubs from her north Leeds home, as well as cookery demonstrations and lessons in making Middle Eastern food, at food festivals.
The thought of spending a night with complete strangers and sharing dishes of food and conversation might make some anxious. It goes against the traditional British reserve of a secluded table for two. But the foursome sitting next to us were especially pleasant.
I discovered one of the other supper club guests ran his own restaurant in a pub north of Leeds, so was interested to hear his thoughts on the evening and if the idea worked.
He told us he enjoyed eating out when possible; probably to check out the competition I imagine, and seemed to be relishing the atmosphere and sharing experience.
And so the evening was launched with a welcome from the chef herself, who explained she wanted a relaxed atmosphere and for everyone to enjoy her home-cooked food and share as if at her family table.
We were surrounded by capable and experienced waiting staff, which really helped to give the night a feel good factor.
Drinks were offered from a limited but enjoyable menu including gin, wines or beer. I chose a glass of Antonio Camillo Vermentino Tuscany and jugs of water flowed freely. My partner had beer.
The dishes for the first course began to arrive in abundance with a smoked aubergine, garlic and tomato dip (mirza ghasemi). I can only describe it as ‘glorious’ and the tastiest dip I have ever eaten.
There was more aubergine to come with fried slices of the stuff topped with yoghurt and mint oil (borane bademjan) along with a tasty feta and beetroot salad.
Bread was offered and there was an onion, herb and potato frittata (kookoo sib zamini) and a yoghurt, red onion and pepper dressing (masteh kiseh).
Feeling satisfied after eating scantily throughout the day, there was a welcome break between courses. The tables were soon filled once more with mains including a chicken with walnut and pomegranate molasses (khoresh fesenjaan) and a tomato rice layered with green beans and lamb (loobia polo). There were also various rice dishes. There was lots of food, which was replenished when required.
The fried sea bass in a herb and tamarind spinach sauce (ghalieh mahi) was certainly popular. Cooked to absolute perfection, it was agreed by all. For the vegetarians and vegans there were plenty of alternative dishes, which my partner savoured.
He found the vegetarian option with pomegranate molasses too thick and sweet, but a potato and spinach dish, then a vegetable medley of spicy loveliness were a hit, with flavours we had not experienced before.
The stand out dish of the night was a simple salad of cucumber and tomatoes cut up really small, with the most exquisite sauce.
Desert came as a home-made saffron and pistachio ice-cream, or sorbet with candy floss for the vegan option, followed by mint tea, with sugar sticks.
The three-hour, four-course Persian banquet was heavenly, a treat for the senses, and a totally fun experience. Even for my partner, who found himself enjoying the sharing food and conversation in the middle of Holbeck.
We drank mainly water, but had a couple of beers and one glass of wine. Drinks were extra as an addition to the £45 per person, bringing our total bill for the night to £104.50.
It was a pricey but gave us food for thought about how and why we eat out and our sense of community. The ‘excellent’ food was home-cooked to perfection and the overall experience was worth it.
Afsaneh’s Persian Kitchen won Best World at this year’s Oliver Awards. Reviewed in February.
Factfile - Afsaneh’s Persian Supper Club at Taste, Holbeck
Address: Varies but we dined at Taste Cafe, Holbeck