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Middle Eastern flavour 

From atmosphere through to dessert, Persepolis Food Market brings a welcoming and delicious flare to Bedford

click to enlarge MELISSA BUOTE

As we pull into the parking lot atPersepolis, we get a filmy view of the restaurant through the warped plastic that covers the windows into the dining room. A giant chalkboard overlooks the parking lot, singing the praises of the grilled meats and stews. Walking into the market, it smells fantastic. Like spices and nuts. It's the ideal introduction to a Middle Eastern restaurant.

We are greeted with a smile at a counter, and led through it into a sunroom. A big brick charcoal grill dominates a corner. Hulking wooden benches covered with rugs and pillows run the length of the outer walls, while dark outdoor tables and chairs make up the rest of the seating area. Lanterns and planters hang from the ceiling, along with a few televisions that alternate between Middle Eastern shows and local news. It smells like charcoal, pleasantly smoky in a summery sort of way.

Our server drops off menus and asks us if we'd like drinks. We order water. When she returns, we're given bottles. It turns out they only offer bottled water. Lesson learned. She comes back a few minutes later to ask us if we have any questions or need clarification on any of the dishes, and lets us know one of the stews is unavailable.

We choose the mixed platter for two ($12.99) as an appetizer between three of us, and settle on the chicken kebab ($11.99) served with pita, a combo kebab ($10.99)---which features a chicken and a ground beef and lamb skewer---with rice, and gheymeh ($9.99), a stew, as our entrees.

The stew and combo kebab are served with appetizer salads of lettuce, cucumber and tomato. The simple citrus dressing is really, really tart. It's so acidic that we have a hard time eating much.

The mixed plate features hummus, stuffed grape leaves and cabbage rolls, along with a big basket of warmed pita. The hummus is less garlicky than I like, but it's thick and has a silky, lovely texture. Diced tomatoes are sprinkled down the run of the plate, pops of fresh flavour. The grape leaves and cabbage are both stuffed with the same mellow, herby rice mixture. It is all delicious.

A group at a table on the other side of the restaurant catches our eye. They have pulled two bottles of wine out of thin air. Apparently there is free corkage with a food purchase. We sip what more than ever feels like very overpriced water.

The gheymeh is nice and tomato-y, though a little flat in flavour. The split peas offer a nice texture, but there is less heft to it than I expect---a heavier hand with the split peas, onion and chicken would be nice. Still, with the huge pile of basmati rice, there is too much to finish in one sitting.

The chicken kebab is outstanding, tender and juicy with a fragrant and very flavourful marinade. The plating of the kebab with pita includes a small salad, which is nice and fresh. A side of grilled tomatoes is the highlight of the meal. They are sweet and charred, just delightful.

The chicken on the combo platter is also nicely cooked, and the lamb and beef kabbab is moist and tasty, wonderfully seasoned, with a depth of flavour added by the charcoal grill. It is served with another generous pile of basmati rice---too much to finish.

We're too full for dessert, and wander through the baskets of nuts and spices to the cash, eyeing the pastries, dates and figs as we ready ourselves to leave. I'm keen to come back and try one of the lovely looking desserts, and imagine I'll do so when the weather warms up. In the summer, especially, I imagine the charred smell of the brick oven, sunny breezes and free corkage adding up to a great night.

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