Food: 8 Drink: 6 Atmosphere: 8 Overall: 7.5
In the three years of living in Bristol, there have been plenty of places that have caught my eye. These eateries have done so due to their convenient location, in particular the great stretch of street students walk up and down a thousand times a day – the one and only Whiteladies Road. However, over these years, I’ve fostered the idea that to discover the best restaurants, you should look beyond your familiar surroundings. This does, to an extent, ring true. Bristol students should break from the parameters of Clifton and Redland for alternative places to take the parents – take the unique Dela in Easton, the innovative Rootat Wapping Wharf or the Italian Bomboloniup Gloucester Road (they’ll probably be driving a car, so there’s little excuse, really).
Nevertheless, after three years of straying from what is probably the most popular road in Clifton - except when Falafel King is concerned - it was time to try the mysterious Kuch (you’ll know it, it’s that bright blue restaurant opposite Clifton Down, next to the tanning studio).
I’ve been eager to visit Kuch, partly because of The Guardian’s flattering review published last summer, which the restaurant unsurprisingly displays as a badge of honour on their homepage- but also because my understanding of Persian food wasn’t exactly up to scratch. More importantly, judging from the menu online, it looked rather delicious.
Kuch, which derives from the word 'kuchi', a member of the nomadic, south-west Persian, bahktiari tribe, claim to serve southern Persian ‘soul food’. Considering their list of options, this alludes to marinated and barbequed meats, chargrilled fish, herby dips and lofty flatbreads.
Small plates are also given a lot of attention, with over 12 options including tabbouleh, chargrilled halloumi and fattouch salad. We went for the ‘Kash_k Bazanjon’ (sic), a smoked aubergine, green lentil, walnut, whey, crisp fried garlic, onion and sweet mint dip. Smoked aubergine is always a winner, especially when sprinkled with crispy onion used as a dip for the ‘Naan-o-Paneer’, a fluffy circle of bread bigger than my head. This is accompanied with a bracing salad of herbs, feta, olives, walnuts, green raisins and sekanjabin dressing - a traditional Iranian drink made with honey and vinegar. Flavours and textures hit you left, right and centre, and my only critique is the dip portion being way too small for my liking.
Mains are by and large meat or fish-focused, with a strong competitor being the ‘Khoresh Aloo Sfenah’ (£12): braised lamb in pomegranate molasses and tamarind, cardamom, cinnamon and roasted cumin, caraway, fennel seed, prunes, lapeh (split peas), spinach, potato and saffron rice. Alternatively, there’s the Persian Gulf sea food paella (£12): king prawns, mussels, squid with fresh herbs, broad beans pilaf, chilli and tamarind salsa. My dining companion opted for the turmeric chicken thighs off the Manghal (barbeque), served with sumac and fresh lime hummus, harissa with southern tabbouleh and glazed apricots. I had serious food envy; my fork danced around the meat to taste the tabbouleh with the spicy harissa and sweet apricots, all of which was really, rather exquisite.
My main of ‘Bendi baaji khoresht’ (£11) - braised okra, fresh tomato, tamarind, turmeric, sweet potato crisp and saffron rice – is by all means tasty, but not enough to win me over. It lacksthe complexity of flavour combinations the preceding dishes offer. Vegetarians will find more promise with the small plates and dips; an alternative mezze of the ‘Mirza’, a warm smoked aubergine with tomato sauce feta, coupled with the chargrilled halloumi with fig chutney and thick Iranian flatbread and the ‘Southern Gemneh salad’ – parsley, mint, onion, tomato, gherkin, chilli, avocado and bulgar – would attest to Kuch’s ability to create delicate flavours whilst feeding you well (I will also remember this menu for when I’m lacking food inspiration myself).
Nevertheless, the mains are certainly good value for money; prices start at £8 and end at £14. For pud, there’s the expected appearance of baklava, soaked in rose water and served with Persian tea for £5. Alternatively, the Persian apple cake with frozen yoghurt, Manuka honey, saffron, roasted almond slivers and cardamom is the same price and arguably a more adventurous and fulfilling choice. It’s a pretty cool place to eat, too. Brownie points are awarded to the open kitchen, where fragrant meaty aromas waft through to the seated area which is casual and laid-back, even when waiters are scurrying around with scolding hot plates. Jars of pickled vegetables, olives and more Persian goods are nonchalantly stacked on wooden shelves, with orange and blue accents on the walls matching its lively surroundings. Besides, if a fully booked restaurant is anything to go by, then this is a place you should consider visiting.
It’s certainly not perfect; the wine list is brief and the service slow, but the people that eat here don’t come to be coddled, they come for remarkable food.