Perhaps like many foodies (the glorified term we have now come to use for people like me who like to eat. a lot.), I’ve always hated the question ‘what’s your favourite restaurant?’ I mean, what do you mean? Do you mean for breakfast, or for burgers? Or is there somewhere I can have both?
Shiraz isn’t one of those places…although I wonder what a Persian breakfast would be like. (Light, I hope, considering how much meat is consumed towards the end of the day.) It is, however, a strong feature in my answer to that aforementioned question. And here’s why.
Tucked away on the decidedly non glamorous Hagley road, amidst various off-licenses, bookies, a stuffy Subway, your standard fried chicken shop, and a scattering of little cafes, Shiraz is a true gem. Okay wait, I should backtrack and paint a more accurate picture: Hagley road isn’t so bad – conveniently located just off the mammoth 5-ways roundabout, walking distance (if you’re brave) from the city centre, and home to the infamous Akbar’s and a rather stunning Catholic church, it’s an integral part of the bustling Birmingham centre. It just happens to feel a little peculiar past 8pm on a Friday or Saturday night (I try to avoid walking alone), and parking is a myth. So that’s that. Back to Shiraz.
It was (not quite) YL’s birthday but I decided I would play nice for once and take us out to an early celebratory dinner one Saturday. YL pretends not to be a fussy eater, but if it’s not a ‘proper curry’, it could be happier days. On the other hand, I feel morally offended by always going out for curry. I mean, give me an onion and a tin of tomatoes, and I (my mum) can make that at home. Yet who goes out for a burger, which is the next best bet after a curry, for a birthday meal? This is why Shiraz fits the bill: it is cuisine not far removed from the Indian palette, and yet it is new and somewhat exciting.
The menu is fairly extensive, although more often than not, I always go for the same thing. In fact, when I used to work on Hagley road many a moon ago, JN, AD and I would come in so often and order the same thing, I think our waitress was baffled the one time I deviated from the norm and ordered a lamb stew of some sort with kidney beans and bitter lemon, served with rice. I guess it’s safer to always go for the one item I can pronounce properly anyway; Chello Kebab Bakhtiarey.
My favourites from the starter menu include the very typical hummus and bread, and olives. Boring, I know. But hear me out. The olives have a little surprise, with pomegranate and what I think is thyme hiding in the bowl. And the hummus is completely different from your usual Lebanese place; it’s chunkier and blended with something (please don’t ask me to elaborate) which gives it a herbier, nuttier taste. And it looks different too, so, you know, that must mean something. The bread is soft yet crispy in all the right places, and sprinkled with a generous scattering of sesame seeds, which gives the whole experience an earthier taste.
The mains are a real treat. Chello Kebab is the national dish of Iran according to Shiraz’s website, and for such a simple combination done perfectly, it’s easy to see why. Steamed saffron rice, topped with slowly melting butter, served with skewers of the most tender grilled chicken and lamb, charred tomato, and a refreshing side salad of mint, corriander, pickled cabbage, red onion and lemon…my mouth all but waters. In fact, had it not been for YL remarking that ‘it’s just like sweet rice and meat babe…bit dry, pass the yoghurt?’ and therefore tainting my memory a tad, I may have had to actually wipe a bit of dribble off my keyboard. This time round we ordered a Chello Kebab Shiraz as well, which has Koobideh kebab in place of grilled lamb cubes and an addition of berries, pistachios and flaked almonds to the rice. Incredible.
We did indeed order some yoghurt on the side. AD got me in to this habit from our days of coming to Shiraz together as the Dream Team, and I feel my meal isn’t complete without it now. Its a cooling blend of mint and corriander in yoghurt, topped with raisins and currants, and it marries perfectly with the rice and meat combo, which can get a little dry if all you’re used to is curries *insert eye roll*.
To further assist in washing it all down, I ordered us the lemon and mint drink, which is another firm favourite. It’s incredibly refreshing, and Shiraz doesn’t skimp on using the freshest mint and the zestiest lemons. It is a real treat on summer evenings and I guess on winter evenings, too.
Perhaps the star of the show comes at the end in the form of complimentary rice pudding; a bowl of not-too-hot rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon and pistachios, which is honestly the right amount and the right texture to satisfy your stomach and sweet tooth without leaving you feeling bloated and in need of a nap.
If you fancy something more, Shiraz serves tea in those fancy tea pots, which makes the whole event of drinking tea feel a little more special. They also have a selection of baklava and cream cakes – and I can testify to having tried a few complimentary pieces of both.
However, it is not skimping on the details that truly makes Shiraz special. It is a family-run business, and this shines through in the way the friendly staff interact with each other and their customers. It is no exaggeration that we have ‘our’ waitress who recgonises us by face and isn’t shy to ask about the other members of the Dream Team if we happen to visit with someone else. On quiet evenings, the elderly gentleman whom I presume owns the place in partnership with his wife, can be found enjoying a plate of beetroot and hummus to himself in the corner, often waving over and spreading Salaam to diners as he walks past.
The decor is perfectly suited to this small and intimate restaurant; there is dark wood and trinkets and ornaments and plants detailing the walls, complimenting the framed paintings of a beautiful Iran, and depicting an often seemingly mystical Persian culture. Each table is adorned with a rose in a vase, and can you believe it, an actual tablecloth! It is a quaint, romantic place, and despite its minute size, the queues out the door every Friday and Saturday night are testament to its true character and above all, impeccable food.
Guest post by SA
All meat is halal and no alcohol is served
167 Hagley Rd