It may be a kind of a cop-out to review a restaurant that I have been enjoying for two years. On the other hand, that means it’s VERY VERY GOOD AND CONSISTENT. I have a tender place in my heart for Alounak. I want to say it is the first restaurant I went to when I moved to London, however I know for a fact I didn’t go until I’d been here for a few days. So I think there were some lost days which I must have spent clutching my cats and weeping on my couch. In any event, Alounak is my first, and most distinct, restaurant memory in London, and quite possibly the reason I am still here.
Alounak excels at anything involving fire, i.e., charring, grilling, braising, or roasting. So, for example, their Mirza Ghassemi (£3.50), a purée of grilled smoked aubergines, tomato, garlic, and egg was light, subtle, and perfectly balanced with a delectable note of char running throughout. Their taftoon naan (£1.50) – expertly prepared in a tandoor at the front of the restaurant by a handsome impassive man with a ponytail – is superb – light, crisp, flaky, and especially delicious when steaming hot. Their grilled meats, which dominate the menu, are spot-on. But my favourite thing about Alounak is their daily specials. I love Saturday’s lamb shank, braised until tender in a rich buttery brown sauce, and served with rich buttery dill rice (yes, there is a theme here). My sister and I devoured Thursday’s stew of lamb and aubergine (£8.70), which was aromatic and surprisingly delicate. In fact, if I have one complaint about Alounak it is that I think they don’t do enough Persian stews, and maybe lean a little too heavily on the grill and tandoor.
The second or third time I went there a shockingly gorgeous Iranian woman with ageless eyes and a voice like Marlene Dietrich dining alone at the next table leaned over her taftoon naan to tell me and friend V that Alounak was the best Persian restaurant in London. I’ve got a couple of others on my must-try list before I’ll fully commit, but I haven’t yet been to another I like quite so well.
44 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5SH
020 7229 0416
Price per person: under £20 including service, but it’s BYO
The verdict: I’d eat here again