Piano Restaurant And Lounge Hits All The Right Notes
Persian hospitality and cuisine in sumptuous surroundings
As a child I had the most horrific grasp of geography. Maps were simply something I didn't understand; ask me to point to the Atlantic or Indian Oceans and I'd freeze, turn bright red and stab my finger randomly into the vast blue. My lovely school geography teacher will probably bury her face in her hands at this point and lament my lack of learning but some people are born with a marvellous sense of direction and some, like me, go the wrong way on Kensington High Street for half an hour, despite having been a West London native for a good 20 years.
So when Persian restaurant Piano Bar opened up towards the King's Street end of Chiswick High Road, just a little ways after the Stamford Brook bus garage, I pulled out my map and I tried to figure out just where exactly Persia was, feeling like that lost school girl once again.
Persia is, in fact, the alternative name for modern day Iran but in Ancient Times was the name given to the Empire that spread from southern Iran, across the Middle East and even into Greece. Unsurprisingly then, the cuisine is extremely diverse and rich, influenced by both Turkish and Greek food and often misaligned with the broader term of "Middle Eastern cuisine." Though with similar characteristics thanks to the neighbouring countries and influence of the Ottoman Empire, Persian food is in itself one of the oldest cuisines in the world and really quite different from that of the Middle East (or so I'm told).
With sleek black surfaces, interesting lighting and even the occasional glitter explosion, the venue manages to still stay on trend and classy, exuding an air of sophisticated elegance, helped along no doubt by the beautiful baby grand, situated just next to the doors and boasting live music for most of the week (though sadly we were there on the pianist's day off). Most impressive about Piano Bar is the fact that the co-owners designed it themselves, from the partially-secluded private area at the back of the main dining room (which would be perfect for a party), to the hand-carved and marble-effect painted infinity sculpture in the main body of the restaurant. Ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling, the crystals for which, I was told, were imported from Persia, along with the wood used for the hefty tables.
As newcomers to Persian cuisine, it was suggested that we try the mazeh sini to start - a selection of some of their more popular small dishes, including mizrah ghasemi (smoked aubergine), masto-o-moosir (shallot and garlic yoghurt), kashk-e-bademjan (an aubergine dip), hummous and olivieh (a potato, chicken and carrot salad), all served with taftoon nan, a crunchy and addictive cracker-like bread. I was glad for the selection, partially because I'm greedy but mostly because every single element was absolutely delicious, especially the kashk-e-bademjan and the olivieh. Perhaps the closest I could relate it to would be a Greek mezze (and that makes sense as the two names are very similar) but with a much lighter quality. I could've happily eaten ten more of these dishes and called it a night.
Persian main courses, it seems, consist mainly of grilled meat and copious amounts of rice. I had selected the baghali polow (rice with a braised lamb shank) and my dining partner for the evening, KM, the bareh (grilled lamb chops), served with rice and a side salad. It must be said, after the initial punch of the starters, the mains proved to be a little on the bland side though hearty and filling. The meat was cooked beautifully and KM's lamb chops were mouth-meltingly tender, but the lack of any defining characteristics made it all a bit too easily forgettable.
Thankfully, our shared desserts, the makhloot (a traditional combination of Persian ice-cream and sorbet, laced with rose water and rice noodles) and zoolbia and bamieh(traditional Persian sweets, one a rose water flavoured doughnut, the other similar to baklava) brought the meal back from the brink of mediocre. We particularly enjoyed the makhloot, the inclusion of rice noodles in the ice-cream entirely fascinating, the texture bizarre and yet completely right.
The only real issue with our meal was that we had to wait a very long while between our starters and mains, but considering how at the time of review it had only been open for 5 weeks and there had been a steady trickle of (large groups of) diners arriving, it was understandable and forgivable.
Prices are very decent, at around £20 per head (excluding wine), service is attentive and the staff friendly and the stunning venue makes it a wonderful escape from the rest of Chiswick. Perfect for a party, family or intimate meal alike, Piano Bar really is a superb addition to the West London dining scene and definitely worth checking out.
November 10, 2011