Kateh sits in a enchanting little lane in Maida Vale, not five minutes walk from the no-man’s land where the Westway meets the A4 (the fitting setting of J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island). Globe lamps hang outside and there is a silvery olive tree in the front garden. Inside, the restaurant is narrow and dimly-lit, with dark wood tables.
I dragged a Londoner and an out-of-town friend to Kateh a couple of weeks ago during a three-day, bank account busting food frenzy. We were greeted on arrival by a mournful, handsome man of about 50 and then greeted again, more effusively, by a charming woman in a smart suit. Then we were greeted by our server. Then the mournful, handsome man came to greet us more formally. This over-attention continued, culminating in a comedy moment when several servers successively tried to take our plates before we were quite done, and then one by one the servers, the charming woman, and the mournful man paraded to the table to offer their abject apologies. Kateh had recently been dinged by TimeOut for some service mishaps, so they were plainly anxious to correct the impression. It was awkward, hilarious, and rather adorable.
I thought the food was quite good, although not spectacular. I loved the taftoon naan (£2), which was crisp, steaming hot, and liberally dusted with sesame and nigella seeds. The dezfouli salad (£4) – cucumber, pomegranate, angelica powder – was fresh, sweet, tart, crunchy, and salty. It worked. Less successful was the borani spinach (£3.50), a mix of yogurt, spinach, garlic, and saffron. The garlic overshadowed the other flavours and – let’s face it – the texture was gloopy. Friend R had the dish of the evening with Chenjeh, marinated grilled pieces of lamb fillet with saffron rice. It was pricy at £14, but the meat was beautifully medium-rare and tender, and the marinade was tangy and salty and altogether yummy. My main, however, Khoreshte Bademjan (£12.50), described as a stew of baby chicken, baby aubergine, and soured grape, was dominated by tomato, and so although tasty was not memorable.
Kateh bills itself as a “sophisticated” Iranian restaurant. This and the Maida Vale location presumably justify the relatively high prices. Still, I had some sticker shock. The Meygoo (tiger prawns with carrot, ginger, green chili and lime), turned out to be four grilled prawns on a plate. £8.50 for four prawns comes out to slightly more than £2 per prawn. That’s spendy, no matter how tasty the prawns are. Our bill was £90 (we ate a salad, a dip, four prawns, and two main dishes). Even with two £22 bottles of wine, I thought this was steep, especially since earlier the same day I had a much better meal for the same price at Medlar.
As our evening progressed, and the restaurant filled up (Kateh’s doing well – on a Monday night every table was full) it got progressively louder, to the point where I couldn’t hear my friends and had to shout to make myself heard. I felt like I was at a bar, which is okay, if you’re at a bar. Kateh needs to work on the acoustics.
Overall, however, I liked Kateh, liked the food, and thought the well-intentioned service was sweet. It’s not the best Iranian restaurant in London (my quest is ongoing), but if you can afford it, it’s worth a go.
5 Warwick Place, London W9 2PX
Phone: 020 7289 3393
Price per person: £25 – £30 – more if you’re a lush like me and order TWO bottles of wine
The verdict: Worth a go