Review: Old Hall Persian, Dorrington

Persian is one of the three “grand cuisines”, along with French and Chinese. For me it conjures up images of delicate meats cooked with perfumed spices and exotic fruits. Yet it isn’t something you see a lot of in provincial towns and cities (well, unless you want to count doner kebabs as cuisine). So to find a Persian restaurant in a small rural village in Shropshire is not much short of astonishing.

The Old Hall Persian is in Dorrington, near Shrewsbury. As the name implies, the dining room is set in an old half-timbered house in the middle of the village. Instead of playing to that ambience they’ve chosen a fairly neutral modern decor, in essence what you’d expect of a small town Indian. This is a family operation and service was very friendly, helpful and informal.

My starter was simplicity itself; thinly sliced mushrooms fried with oodles of cracked pepper, on a paper-thin and crispy piece of oily flatbread. It was delicious. Maureen’s appetiser was a concoction of aubergine and yogurt with sharp citrus flavours, also very good with the splendid flatbread.

For main course I ordered the Ghormeh Sabzi, and it was a lovely earthy bean stew with fine, clear flavours of preserved lime and aromatic spices coming through. It’s one of the national dishes of Iran, and now I know why. Chef Lal has put the recipe up on his website – I have a feeling I may start cooking it a lot. Maureen’s Fesenjan was an unusual stew of chicken with ground walnuts and pomegranate. The dish fell on the sweet side of sweet/sour and although we’re always keen to pick unusual flavour combinations I have to admit that we didn’t fall in love with it. It probably didn’t help that the chicken was bite-sized bits of dry breast. It may be received wisdom that British people want nicely chopped up pieces of white meat in their ethnic cuisine, but I think restaurants really ought to start testing this and serving up chicken on the bone, with all the improved flavour and texture that would bring.

I wanted to try a pudding, as none of them were familiar to me. Because they were Persian! The Sheer Birenj dropped me straight into the bazaars of old Araby, with the high scent of rosewater and other floral notes coming from the sticky ground rice with its little puddles of milk and scattering of sultanas. Very classic, very good.

We drank a glass of wine with the meal, rather oddly served as 250ml measures. I really don’t need a third of a bottle in one go! This is a restaurant, not a boozer. I would also have liked to see a couple of interesting soft drinks on the list; some suitably Persian teas or long drinks.

Given the rarity of Persian restaurants pretty much anywhere, it’s great to find a place that delivers genuinely classic dishes so well executed. The bill came to £30 each, including two drinks apiece. I think that’s about spot-on. If you’re not familiar with Persian cuisine then I’d recommend you take a trip to the Old Hall, it’s a fine introduction.

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