I have passed Seven Artspace and Cafe Bar many times on my commute to Leeds City Centre to cover events for Leeds Living, but until last night I had never been inside. After five minutes, even though I was due to revisit for another presentation today, I had promised myself that I would never go in again!
I was there to take part in a Leeds Indie Food event called Asfaneh’s A Taste of Persia and had been looking forward for some time to my first event at this year’s Festival. The problem started the second I walked into the place. I had to join the back of the (orderly) queue for the bar. I didn’t want a drink, but there was no other way to get into the room because of the many people who were either standing around or blocking up the aisles, having occupied all of the seating. There was no signposting to the tables for the event, but I eventually spotted a likely looking area, so excused myself whilst squeezing through the multitude and confirmed with another attendee that I was in the correct place.
They told me that there was someone floating round taking names and I eventually spotted the lady, who turned out to be Asfaneh, doing just that. When I gave her my name she said that I was not on the list and no one had told her I would be attending which, I must admit at this point, was a bit of a relief as I would rather have fought my way out and stopped at my local takeaway for supper than squeeze onto the overpacked table with no elbow room. The host told me to wait a minute and began to shuffle people around, finding me a seat at a long table. She then seated two young ladies next to each other but one moved to the chair next to mine so that they could talk to each other across the table. She spotted my notebook, which was open, and the exposed page had two words and one punctuation mark on it – ‘Total chaos!’
When everyone was in their place Asfaneh apologised for the start and said that she usually hosted these events at home or took over the whole room. Tonight, however, she had only a portion of the space as there was a performance taking place in the back room at the same time.
She explained that Persian food was always a celebration, not just on special days, and what we were about to experience was a selection of authentic home made dishes reflecting the integrity shown to the freshness of the ingredients, which is another element of that cuisine. She once again apologised for the start and set off for the kitchen to begin service. By this time, the people at the bar had begun to make for the back room performance space and so the atmosphere became much more pleasant, which became even more so by the negotiations between myself and the two women next to me that we invest in a bottle of Sangiovese rather than buy three separate glasses. This became a great decision, as the bar had run out of proper red wine glasses, so we were given ones with tiny bowls more suitable for port. Fortunately, this saw the end of the glitches and, to everyone’s relief, the food appeared. A carafe of water was also supplied with what now seems to be obligatory extra ingredients. Thankfully, they had limited themselves to mint and lime rather than stuff a whole herb garden in it.
There were three courses; starters, mains and dessert. (Some things are international). By the time multiple platefuls of each of the five dishes, along with traditional flatbread, had been put on the table it was absolutely groaning. All of the starters were vegetarian, comprising Mirza Ghasemi, smoked aubergine, garlic and tomato dip; Borani Bademjan, fried aubergine topped with yoghurt and mint oil; Kookoo Sib Zamini, onion, herb, potato and courgette frittata; Masto Esfenaj, yoghurt and spinach dip and last but not least, Salade Sabzi Ba Kadoo Tanbal, feta and butternut squash herb salad which also contained unannounced ingredients such as pomegranate seeds and almonds. Every part of this feast was superb ,with my favourites being the Kookoo Sib Zamini and the Mirza Ghasemi. Not only did the elements taste good individually but also a lot of thought had gone into the combination offered, a theme we were to learn about later on, with even the dips contrasting between the fresh yoghurt and mint and the sweeter aubergine and tomato. Although they all played their part, none was strong enough to obliterate the flavour of the others. I was also pleased to note that the fried aubergine was cooked to perfection and didn’t have that slimy texture which it has if not done just right.
On to the main course, another five treats. Morasa Polo, steamed saffron rice topped with barberries, grated carrot and nuts; Chelo steamed saffron rice; Khoresh Fesenjaan chicken with walnut and pomegranate molasses; Ghalieh Mahi fried sea bass in spicy herb and tamarind sauce, whilst bringing up the rear was Khorak Loobia lamb, green beans and tomato stew. This being my job, I tasted each of the dishes individually but we were told that the correct way to eat them was in combination. The lamb should be mixed with the saffron rice and topped with a salad which had magically appeared, whilst the sea bass should be eaten with the Morasa Polo to experience the sweet and sour combination of the rice’s extra ingredients with the tamarind sauce. I have to say that once again, everything tasted superb, whether in tandem or, like the poor chicken dish, on its own.
The dessert arrived, this time already plated. It was described as Baghlava Ba Jeleh Maast, baklava, jelly and berries. Once again, there was an interloper on the plate in the form of a panacotta-like confection. The jelly was a surprise, being clear with a single whole raspberry embedded, its taste was of rose water and subtly delicious. The baklava was sweet and crunchy with the pistachio element, countered by the fresh berries. A cup of mint tea followed.
I have never had a full Persian meal before, although I have had the odd course here and there, but it is a type of food I could very well get used to. I have said many times before, anyone can look good when everything goes well; it is how people act in adversity which sorts the wheat from the chaff. I must say that the immediate flustered reaction did not bode well but I am more than happy to report that the evening turned out to be a triumph and I am now looking forward to, rather than dreading, my return visit to Seven.
Finally I would like to mention my two new best friends, who were brilliant company, being both charming and hilarious. As there was a considerable age gap, we were able to look at a range of subjects from different, if still cynical, perspectives. One of the things we spoke about was the internet, or in my case, newspaper personal ad. dating, as one of them had been out with a chap last week but he had ghosted her. I put her mind at rest by relating some of my disastrous encounters, which seemed to work. Whilst writing this review, I searched to find out what the crowd in the bar had turned up to see and it was What Becomes….? ‘A wickedly dark, extremely funny, fast moving comedy about the dating scene.’ Perhaps we should have gone into the performance space instead. Second thoughts, I would rather have a good meal at my age.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.