What: The Persian Place.
Where: 43 Bolton Street, Newcastle. 4926 5500.
Chef/Owner: Bob Abbaszadeh.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11am to 8.30pm; Friday to Saturday, 11am to 10pm. Closed in between meals for a few hours.
Drinks: Fully licensed. Hunter wine and beer, from $7 a glass and from $32 a bottle.
Vegetarian: Five mazzeh plates.
Bottom line: Mazzeh plates range from $8-$26. Our three dishes cost $50 in total.
Wheelchair access: A step at the front door, plus steps to the toilet.
Do try: A taste of everything - that's what mazzeh is all about.
ORIGINALLY starting life as Cafe Zeytoon, the great Iranian food served up at this eatery didn't seem to quite match its environment: bare tiles, exposed walls, light wooden tables and chairs and big folding glass doors.
After a fairly brief renovation this year, The Persian Place emerged and it has worked. The space has gone from airy and cold, to warm with oodles of atmosphere. Beautifully patterned Persian rugs cover every centimetre of the floor, there are new dark wood tables and chairs, rich gold-stitched tablecloths, intricate paintings, sparkly chandeliers and more cushions than you could throw a sofa at.
When we visit it's a busy Saturday night and the two wait staff are a little rushed. We are shown our table and brought menus and water.
I suppose I'm so used to front of house pouncing on you for your order - I'm always asking them for a few more minutes - that being left alone for a while seems like neglect.
But it's not. It gives us a chance to peruse the menu properly (although a drink would be nice) and with patience we are served by an enthusiastic, informed, helpful and friendly waitress.
All our questions are answered - the menu is a mazzeh-style affair - all 10 or so plates are designed to be shared. To eat slowly and be enjoyed over conversation, that's the Persian Place way.
Classic Iranian flavours are present: herbs, rich meats and sauces, sweet touches from pomegranate and molasses, vegetables such as eggplant and potatoes and pinches of saffron throughout.
Dolmeh comes out first. They are baked eggplants stuffed with saffron rice, braised chicken and haloumi, and come with mint yoghurt and tomatoes with sesame. The eggplant flesh is a neutral board for the salty haloumi, the meaty chicken, the herby rice and bursts of tart redcurrant. All the flavours work well, but it could also act as a side dish to a richer leader.
After a great sell by the waitress and some goading from my husband, we pick the goat meatballs (koofteh). Unlike lamb or beef, it has its own flavour. Not as strong as lamb, it still has grunt. The four big meatballs are juicy and succulent; the sauce salty and rich. The balls come with a gentle saffron rice and fried cauliflower and are served in a big earthenware bowl. I like it, I don't love it, but I'm guessing that someone with a penchant for goat would be in heaven.
Meygoo are fried prawns in chilli, garlic and tamarind sauce. I've never associated Iran with the sea, but it has plenty of coastline and I'm not quibbling over the big fat juicy prawns in front of me. Being fried adds a lovely smokiness to the astringent and tangy tamarind. It's almost like it's pickled. There's a hit of chilli and plenty of onion, but parsley adds a freshness and the tails are crunchy enough to eat.
Three dishes are definitely enough for two people with fairly healthy appetites. This is a great place to bring a group to enjoy a banquet or just pop in for a midweek winter warmer.
The drinks are all from the Hunter - both beer and wine. It's a lovely local touch and the Innercity Winemakers sangiovese (smooth is an understatement) goes really well with both the lighter vegetable dishes and the heartier meat offerings.
The restaurant has been full all night, people are happy and relaxed. It seems the Persian Place has found the right place to call home.