Sounds great, right? Except for the dreaded question: where to go. French? I don’t get the fuss – the fussy food or the big deal. Southeast Asian? Done done done. Tapas? Some slabs of piggy and olives? Can be tasty, but naah. Chinois? Soooo not Saturday night fare.
And the list goes on. And on. And on. The hipster spots are too busy. The neighbourhood spots too, well, neighbourhoody. You go through the city, street by street, trying to think of somewhere new and different and then it hits.
There’s a new kid in town. Our town. Sorry foreign readers, you may want to stop now. But locals, keep readng. It’s down on Queen Street. Past the throngs of Queen West, but not too far deep into the newly-minted trendoids of Queen West West West. Look closely and you’ll find it, Banu: an unpretentious, delicious and totally unique vodka-and-kebab experience.
That’s right, experience.
If you find it. Banu has no sign, only Farsi writing overtop a blue-tinged sepia photo on the glass door. Once inside, you may be a bit confused – the place feels more spa than supper. Actually, it feels like a Hammam. I know I’m mixing my cultures here, but it feels like whatever the Iranian equivalent of a Turkish bath is. But go with it.
Pick your vodka – you’ve got about 14 to choose from. Pretend you’re an afficianado and try try try. Or just go for one of their delicious martinis: sour cherry, pomegranate or (yawn) plain. Then open your menu. You’ll find 3 starters, 3 salads, 3 yoghurts. That’s right, yoghurts. And a whole slew of kebabs.
Aaaaah, the humble kebab. It’s not just a late-night drink absorber anymore. Banu takes these humble meat sticks and turns them into an art form. We skipped the lamb balls and heart (I swear!), opting for more traditional fare of ground beef, marinated beef tenderloin, lamb chops and saffron chicken. Yum, yum, and yum. (Note only 3 out of four ‘yums’. Skip the chicken.)
Food arrived family-style, on a plate lined with traditional bread – I haven’t a clue what it’s called. It’s thinner than pita but it could be just that. Also on the platter were green onions, radishes, and a handful of greens. Herbs, that is: mint, basil and tarragon leaves.
And that’s it. A lovely restaurant. Looked pretty. Tasty food. The end.
Or so we thought. Boy we were wrong. ‘Cuz with the dessert menu came something else. A little thing some people like to call a Hookah.
HOOKAH HOOKAH HOOKAH
Water pipe, bong, call it what you want. We had a choice of around 10 flavours and went for the blackberry. And for those of you who are thinking we sat around getting high – maybe we did. But it was on blackberry molasses.
I know, I know. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. I’ma hookah virgin. All’s I know is we sat around the table, inside the restaurant, smoking! Yes, smoking. But nary an evil eye in sight. ‘Cuz with no nicotine, tar, or nasty bi-products, this was a totally natural, delicious way to lounge. And for those of you with an aversion to other people’s, erm, spit, fret not – every one is treated to their own hermetically sealed, totally non-gross plastic pipe.
The hookah went for an hour (insert porny jokes here). We smoked. We watched it bubble and burn. We marvelled. We smoked some more. Look at us! We’re so rad! Check us out! Tourists in our own town!
We topped it all off with Iranian desserts and tea and marvelled at how, well, different it was from your average night out for dinner. It was, as they say, an experience.
Are you experienced?