Soho isn’t an area you typically think of when you want to spend some time on your own. Historically, this is a part of London that’s for, and filled with, lots of people. Loud people, suited people, drunk people, horizontal people, rickshaw people. It’s an area that’s made for being with others. And most of the restaurants are filled with groups of twos and threes (or more) doing just that. Berenjak is no different. Only, we think, this place is far better on your own.
Berenjak serves Iranian mazeh and kebabs in a corridor-like space on Romilly Street. The main room is made up of booths, but it’s the counter that’s the heart of this restaurant. This ten person bar - and the meat-drippingly-enchanting, rotating, shawarma behind it - is what makes Berenjak so good on your lonesome. This isn’t a silent counter or, worse, an overly performative one. Sure, they’ll tell you that the tomato-y omelette Irani is a bit like scrambled eggs, but they’re not going perform a haiku about a chicken kebab. What it is is friendly, sometimes interactive, and much more fun to sit at than a booth. Especially alone. Or, if you must, with a friend.
You’re told the food here is made for sharing. It’s a ‘we recommend’ two dippy things and a kebab per person place. But you might get the feeling you’re being upsold whether you’re here in a group or alone. The odds of you really needing some totally okay hummus, the best liver in London, bread, and a whole lamb rump kebab, per person, is pretty low. And that’s before you throw in the unmissable baklava ice cream sandwich. That’s not to say that all of those things aren’t good, because they are, and we’ve placed this exact order (twice), but we know that’s not a normal amount of food. Nor is it stuff you can’t find in other areas of London at a lower price.
But the fact is, you’re not in other areas of London. You’re in Soho. And, perhaps because of that, everything here feels a bit considered. From the Persian patterns and stylishly crumbling plasterwork, to the careful piping of hummus. Even the inclusion of the Torki kebab - a pile of shawarma meat on a bed of chips with chilli and garlic sauce - feels like a thought out, kitsch, menu inclusion. Does that matter? No. Because it tastes great. And you’re not going to have many better casual options when you’re alone in the middle of Soho. Especially not ones with a hypnotic bit of meat to stare at for an hour.
The only kind of cleaning we like to do is mopping things up with bread, and this made-to-order sesame flatbread is perfect for it.
A yoghurt-y dip with cucumber, mint, and raisins. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Not that it comes out of a tin. But you know what we mean.
You know that picture of an omelette you have in your head? Get rid of it. This is an omelette that’s been through a shredder and then mixed with a tomato sauce. It’s alright.
Things that are sweet and smoky: the vape cloud from the guy at the bus stop, this aubergine dip. Things that are nice, sweet, and smoky: this dip.
Everyone eats hummus everywhere these days. At home, at work, on the move, in the dark with the fridge door open. This one comes out of a fancy piping bag and is alright, if a little cloying.
These little grilled calves livers are the best we’ve had in a long, long time. If you’re offal-inclined, make sure you order them.
If there was a league table of kebabs here, this minced goat one would sit in the middle. Neither brilliant nor bad.
If you’re coming here for the sole purpose of eating lumps of meat with bread, then well done. Good move. This lamb rump kebab is the one to order. It’s perfectly pink and juicy.
The rotating tower of shawarma meat is soothing and delicious. Soothing, because what slow repetitive motion isn’t? And delicious, because, well, they turn it into this juicy pile of meat with chips and sauce.
An aubergine stew with optional short rib (we added the latter) is perfectly fine, if a little forgettable.
We’re nation of proud sandwich eaters, but this is something special.