Saffron Persian Restaurant: Bringing the community together with incredible home-cooked food, on Bentinck Road.
As we walked onto Radford Road, peer in at the restaurants representing so many different national cuisines; some busy, some not but what’s clear is that the richness in choice and quality is abundant and the atmosphere feels good. Heading up-hill towards the top of the road; colours, music, smells and languages dart past from all angles.
We’re going to Saffron, a Persian restaurant around the corner on Bentinck Road, of which we know next to nothing. I wrack my brains for what I can remember of Persian history and culture, trying to add some context… empire, Cyrus the Great, Xerxes, Alexander, mathematics, inventions, revolutions and poetry etc.
Judging by how much ancient Persia revered cultural exchange and international cooperation in its heyday, it is tempting to doubt everything you think you know about Iran except politics, revolution and propaganda. We have no idea what’s coming and neither of us know anything really about Persian food, but as the country’s most legendary poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
once famously mused, “as you start to walk on the way, the way appears”. Suddenly, at the doorway Nima greets us with a wide smile and firm hand- shake, his mother at his side. If you believe, as I do, that the only trustworthy way to judge someone is through meeting them, then Farzaneh Sabzian and Nima Emkani (the mother and son duo that run Saffron) are the enduring embodiment of ancient Persian morality.
While we are offered a space around the ‘sofre’, a ceremonial cloth, laid on the floor of a cushioned salon: the best seats in the house, Nima and Farzaneh guided us through the menu and we order a lot; too much really. At the heart of their ethos is providing an honest account of the good old, home-cooked food of Luristan (the region of Western Iran that they come from) and telling the world what we’ve been missing. Persian food has been stewing away for 5000 years. The sign outside says, ‘Persian
Restaurant’. I ask them if this is political, anything to do with not using the preferred Khomeinian term ‘Iranian’. He replied “it’s about including everyone. Persia had a long history before 1979 and this is just the right name to use”. The approach is positive and forward-thinking. It looks beyond divisions in the way the restaurant represents the culture from back home.
Farzaneh agrees with the sentiment when I ask her whether negative images of Iran have an impact on the way they do things. “People don’t think about Iranian culture that way, it’s just about politics. Yes, some people are scared to go to Iran as tourists, but it’s really important when you open a place, you have to share your kindness and cultural things. In Iran, like everywhere you will maybe find bad people, but most of them are really kind. If you have a [Iranian] friend, they won’t let you go to a hotel or
restaurant; they’ll take care of you at home and give you food. When I talk to people here, I want to share love and Iranian culture”, she noted.
The reception from the local area has blown them away. Nottingham doesn’t have a huge Iranian population but those who do live here definitely know Saffron, even after just a couple of months of business. Farzaneh explains her motivation: “The time people sit around each other and share love is usually when they eat. That’s why food is so important. Love is important here too. This is a business but the way we do it is important. It is important to me that people come here and leave happy. I want to do the best food I can with the best ingredients”. Fresh and fragrant dishes of lamb neck, stews, smoked aubergine, some of the best olives I’ve ever had, flatbreads, cheese, yoghurt, salads and plates of rice flavoured with pomegranate, walnut, barberries and of course,
saffron. Several times a year, the family open up their own spice routes by returning to Iran to source and export the authentic flavours necessary for these dishes: ingredients they couldn’t do without but can’t find easily in Britain. “It’s expensive, but it makes the difference” says mum. By her son’s admission, Farzaneh is the real star of this show. The respect is evident. How could
you not respect work like this? She has clearly inspired a passion in her son for this food and culture and looks on proudly as he enthusiastically tells us about their travels home, their family history, the process involved in creating these dishes and the warm
sense of community that they are already feeling from the neighbouring streets.
Nima talks fondly about a Sudanese friend who is related to the men spilling out of the social club next-door and reiterates his
mother’s point about nationality not being important to them. “We had a customer from Saudi Arabia who wanted something
like they eat, and my mum made her version for him. He loved it and came back again with friends”. “We have a customer from Italy – every time she wants that stew” says Farzaneh, pointing to a customer’s dish at the next table. This is why they do what they do: to show what Persian home-cooked food is about and bridge cultural gaps. Where else in the world are Iranians and Saudis breaking bread and enjoying themselves together? Food, setting and charisma can be powerful tools, as they understand well. This is their first crack at a business and it’s Farzaneh’s first job, even if she’s been training for it all her life. It’s hard work, but they already inspire loyalty in their customers and to Farzaneh, this makes it all worthwhile. “When you’re tired and you see their reactions, when you see them happy, this takes the stress from us”. Good and simple is the recipe to success it seems in life and cooking. Good, simple qualities of kindness, hospitality and honesty, and good, simple ingredients for the pan. Don’t overcomplicate things. Represent yourself and express with truth. These are the values that come across by the bowlful when
Farzaneh speaks about her art.
Unquiet Meals: The Road to Radford is a cultural blog series with images by Phil Formby and words by Josh Osoro Pickering. See more at unquietmeals2019.wordpress.com
Nima is the business mind behind Saffron, and he speaks passionately about future plans and expansions: a chain one day, shisha and events such as music and dance – including one for women only, with blacked out windows and a chance to let down the hair
in privacy and comfort. There is no political statement here, just an attempt at inclusivity and welcoming.
Written by: Joshua Pickering
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