Starters prove popular at Hana

It was a cold night when 24 of us arrived in one fell swoop at Hana. The newish Persian grill restaurant tucked round the corner of West End Lane knew we were coming and the welcome was warm. Several of us had eaten there before so had some idea what to expect, while the others were venturing into the unknown.

Given both the numbers and the nature of the cuisine, I’d taken the dictatorial decision of pre-ordering table-loads of starters for everyone. These were generally agreed to be the highlight of the meal although as more and more arrived, the tables got very congested.

On Tom’s table, the garlickiest of dips was a little too much for Michael and Nathalie, but Tom himself loved the intensity of so much garlic. The lamb meatballs were a big hit with Karen and Emily, while on Mark’s table Tony and Ged were also fans.

The various dips were all well received – Dee heaped particular praise on the warm aubergine dip – though we needed extra bread to mop them all up. This was no hardship – the bread is excellent. The salads made for an interesting texture contrast, though the cucumber and pomegranate salad divided opinion. The combination of spices and flavours when you bit into the pomegranate was memorable.

Overall, the variety and depth of flavour of the starters seemed to impress pretty much everyone. It would have been nice if the waiting staff had told everyone what everything was as they put it on the table, but that’s a minor gripe.

A more substantive gripe – albeit one that was related to the size of our group – was the slow service. My table in particular seemed to suffer and two hours elapsed between arriving and getting our main courses – even though the other tables were more or less finishing up. Naturally, it was a larger group than the restaurant was used to, but by the same token they’d turned down my offer of us staggering the tables to ease the pressure on the kitchen and were brave in accepting a couple of other tables of two during the night given that we ostensibly filled the place.

Main courses, which are predominantly various versions of grilled chicken and lamb, were good though didn’t receive the same sort of acclaim as the starters. Nevertheless, one of the lamb dishes converted Goetz who confessed it wasn’t his usual choice. Half of Mark’s table opted for the Ghafghazi – a skewer of marinated lamb fillet and marinated chicken, served with saffron rice, salad and grilled tomato, and all of them enjoyed it.

Rosie’s Ghafghazi

The lamb shank was also a popular choice but comments were more mixed. Liz and Karen thought it was beautiful and tender, Michelle said it was very tasty, but Tony felt there was too much rice relative to lamb, and I thought it was a rather small portion and although it was tender it lacked a punch of flavour.

Lamb shank and a lot of rice

Portion control did seem to be an issue. Simon looked at his plate with one skewer of meat and then at Rosie’s plate of two skewers, and remarked on the fairly small difference in price.

Jill and Elaine both opted for the sea bass – and this may have been the best dish of the evening. The plate certainly looked attractive and both of them were pleased with it. Suzanne also eschewed the grilled meat for the chicken and pomegranate stew, which she liked.

The same could not be said for Debbie’s vegetarian dish. In fact she was so disappointed with it (and Phil and I both tried it and agreed with her) that we had it taken off the bill. The spinach and kidney bean stew tasted of tinned ingredients, she said, and it was certainly swimming in oil. Tom had the same and although he was not as underwhelmed as Debbie, he thought it was rather one-dimensional in both taste and texture. Tom D had the vegetarian special, which looked and tasted much better.

Few people had desserts, but those that did were generally happy with them. In my book you can’t go wrong with a strong coffee and baklava.

Wines – consumed in quantity as usual at whampreview – were all good with most tables sticking to the house red or white or graduating to the next one up the list.

Overall, the night went well – the atmosphere was cosy on a cold night though with all of us chatting it got pretty loud. But that’s not a bad thing, right? Tom suggested that more of the starter dishes could be extended into main courses to add some variety to the grilled meat offerings. I’d certainly be happy just ordering a selection of hot and cold starters and a bottle of wine.

Tom’s table: 7.9
Mark’s table: 7.6
Jonathan’s table: 7.1

351 West End Lane
T: 020 7794 1200

Hana on Urbanspoon

Thanks to Tom and Mark for hosting tables

Whampreview: Hana February 21st

Ever since Montefiore closed some three years ago, 351 West End Lane has struggled to deliver a good restaurant. Now, there are new owners and new impetus. Hana has been open a few months serving Persian food. The owners had a successful restaurant in Temple Fortune but wanted to try cracking the West Hampstead market.

But is it any good? Only one way to find out – and meet a bunch of lovely locals at the same time. Come along to whampreview on February 21st.

What’s the deal?
We’re taking 24 people to Hana. Each table will get a selection of starters for £6/head, and then everyone can order their own main course. It is a meat-heavy main course menu, there’s one seafood main course and one vegetarian main – however, they are going to put an additional vegetarian main on for us so even if you’re not a meat eater there’ll be some choice, and most of the starters are vegetarian. Main courses vary from £8-13.

Whampreview basics
Dinner will be at 8pm and we’ll meet at The Black Lion on West End Lane for a drink from 7.15pm. During the evening, whoever is hosting your table (there’ll be three tables of eight people) will note down comments about the food/service/value etc., which will go into the write-up, but the evening is more about meeting people than being ultra-critical about restaurants. The bill is split equally between your table unless there’s been a large discrepancy in alcohol consumption. Any questions, just ask.

To put your name in the hat, simply before 5pm February 6th with your mobile number. Whampreviews are always oversubscribed, so I draw the names out of a hat and will contact everyone with a “yes” or “no” on the 7th.

The headmasterly bit
Please don’t commit on the offchance you might be free. Once I contact you to say you’re in, please check your diary and lock it in. Chasing round to fill last minute cancellations is, to be blunt, a pain in the arse that I could do without. I appreciate that sometimes people do need to cancel for a good reason – obviously the more notice you can give me the better.

Tom purrs at Hana’s Persian food

On a chilly evening, I was grateful to be invited along with Jonathan to try outHana, the new Persian restaurant at the West End Green side of town. The venue has gone through a series of changes over the last few years, and the latest incarnation is thankfully quite different to Le Petit Coin, our second ever #whampreview destination some three years ago.

Happily, the neat, clean, nicely-lit room was warm; at this time of year it’s really awkward when you walk into a restaurant, then realise it’s freezing cold and quickly have to decide whether to make an about-turn or not. (There is one method I personally recommend to help warm up: try The Black Lion’s mulled wine as I did on this occasion – it’s fantastic).

Having been warmly welcomed by the delightful duo of manageress Alicia, and her very able waitress Pamela, we were guided through the menu. As usual, I was distracted by the wine list and took little in. Starting off with four dips, I was pleased to be warned that the hummus contained a lot of garlic. As @Sparklegirl21 correctly tweeted recently, there’s no such thing as too much garlic. Predictably, this was our favourite, but all four were good, one with spinach, another with cold chicken, and a warm aubergine dip.

The dips came with very thin flatbreads coated in sesame seeds. This thinness allowed them to be devoured without eating too much before mains arrived. When they did, they were well presented and immediately appetising. Jonathan noted that his enjoyable Ghafgazi mixed skewer (£12) – chunky cuts of marinated lamb fillet and chicken – arrived well-grilled, and I thought it had an elegant simplicity to it, with its colourful grilled tomato and perfect saffron rice.

I was drawn towards the Khorosheth Gheymeh, invitingly priced at £7.95. This stew of diced lamb in tomato sauce, split peas and sun-dried limes, topped with finely cut potato chips and rice (I took up the option of adding aubergine for £1), was delicious, and perfect for an icy-cold evening – though I don’t recall the chips being present for some reason! The various elements were warming and blended very well together; well-seasoned, with sweetness, sourness, and a healthy dose of cinnamon. The lamb was tender and flavoursome, and all in all this was an uplifting dish, cheerfully served in an authentic little pot. It’s a dish I’d like to have again. Our wine, a Tempranillo, also proved a sound choice.

Some excellent saffron ice cream arrived, accompanied by another plate that is a little hard to explain – a sort of sponge-pancake hybrid wrapped around a soft, sweet, creamy centre, which was quite enjoyable. Having recently mocked me for buying myself some Thornton’s chocolates to enjoy one night, Jonathan now seemed to find it gleefully amusing when I likened our dessert to that traditional family favourite, Arctic Roll!

Hana is something different for West Hampstead. It offers good value, and is only round the corner from plenty of other popular haunts – so I hope plenty of people will make the effort to get along there. Expect smiling, enthusiastic service, and a well thought-out menu that also includes some great-sounding seafood options by the way.

I suggest using the current bone-numbing weather as a very good reason to try Hana, enjoy interesting food in a nice environment, and reminisce about Arctic Roll. And if you’re still cold when you leave, pop in to The Black Lion for that piping hot mulled wine.

Happy Christmas, diners – the Port and cheeseboard are not far off now! My advice is to eat, drink, and be merry – and then repeat several times. Cheers!