When you think about Persian cooking, what springs to mind? The subtle scent of saffron? Colourful spices piled high in a vibrant Bazzar? Tender stews, slow roasts and lip-licking marinades? Well, whatever tastes you’re imagining right this minute, when award-winning chef Steve James is on the case you can discover authentic Persian flavours (and pretty much anything else), right here in the heart of Somerset!
Steve hosts unique pop-up foodie events in a homely farmhouse in Tintinhull, cooking up an absolute storm in the kitchen... and we were lucky enough to be invited to see what all the fuss is about, at his recent Persia-themed evening.
To be honest, we didn’t really know what to expect at first, as we packed our wine into our cool bag (the events are Bring Your Own) and headed off on an exciting foodie adventure. We’d been advised to go there hungry, but nothing could’ve prepared us for just how empty our tums needed to be to enjoy all the delicious dishes Steve created from scratch.
We began in the farmhouse garden, basking in the last of the evening sunshine with 15 of our fellow guests. As we poured a glass of chilled Sauvignon blanc and said bye to a busy week, we were definitely ready for our first taste of Persia!
And when it came, in the form of Spiced Vegetable Cakes with Tahini Sauce followed by Tahcin (Basmati rice baked in Saffron yoghurt) our taste buds really started tingling! It was a certain sign of luscious things to come, as we headed to the dining room for a feast to remember.
Our group was split over three tables and it was lovely to tuck in and share Steve’s fantastic food with people we hadn’t met... until then!
Over a stunning sharing board of creamy Pistachio and Feta Dip, freshly marinated Feta and Olives, Persian Koofteh, crisp Fennel Salad with Yoghurt Cacik Dressing and melt-in-the-mouth Sumac Bread, we were lucky to get to know Poppy and Bill and Sharon and Mike – four friends who've started up an informal dining club together and who couldn’t wait to get stuck in to Steve’s delicious food too. You could say we hit it off! ;)
The chat and laughter flowed on our table - along with the wine ;) - and it was just wonderful to sit back, relax and experience beautiful Middle Eastern flavours and foods we wouldn’t have thought of creating ourselves (and definitely not to Steve’s award-winning standards).
And what can we say about the mains? Well, if the truth be told, we might've filled up on the huge starter portions (we blame the chef. They were so tasty!) and we can certainly say if you go to any of Steve's events, you won’t leave hungry - that’s for sure! Of course we found room though... and as we don’t eat meat, we tucked in to the Sweet and Spicy Fish Stew with Saffron-spiced Bulgar Wheat. Every forkful was pure Persian pleasure and the Roasted Tomato and Feta Salad complimented it perfectly. The fish was definitely melt-in-the-mouth and the bulgar wheat perfectly cooked, with a hint of aromatic Saffron that was light, warm and slightly bitter to the taste, all in one go!
Our table of new friends loved their Lamb, Walnut and Barberry Stew and Ras el hanout’ and Rosemary Chicken too. Put it this way... there were lots of pretty loud "oohs" and "ahhs" coming from our table!
Steve told us this was his first time cooking Persian and we all felt privileged to have experienced it. We knew he was passionate about flavour combinations, presentation and texture, but what we didn’t fully expect was the authenticity of the dishes and how much we'd love them. Me and Graeme managed to polish off a bowl of stew between us, purely because we just had to have another mouthful... and another. And another!
None of us really had any room left for dessert, but what can you do when a platter of juicy Pineapple Carpaccio with Cardamom Sugar and Rosewater Cream is placed in front of you? ;)
And as if that wasn’t enough, the most delicately poached apricots, cigar-shaped baklava and honeyed yoghurt was also calling our names!
All you can really do in that moment is savour the flavour and that’s exactly what we all did. The pineapple was my favourite. The thinly-cut slithers brought a refreshing end to a beautiful Persian banquet and we all rolled home with our tummies full and smiles on our faces, thinking about the food we'd experienced and the new friends we'd made.
Steve's got lots more pop-up events on the horizon so if you fancy one of those, check out the selection and book right here.
Whichever event you choose, you can be sure that the ingredients will be sourced as locally as possible, using the best available seasonally. In fact, Steve grows his own veg and herbs and often just pops out to his garden for inspiration. And that's not all. He's a private chef too and will happily come to your home and prepare dinner for you, while you relax or entertain guests or celebrate any occasion you like. I think that's definitely got to be on the menu for us next! ;)
Our review of 'A taste of Persia' in three words: Social and spicy!
We loved it so much we actually forgot to take tons of photos (now that's the sign of a genuinely great night), and we can't wait to try more of Steve's cooking. Steve was trained by celebrity TV chef Lesley Waters and we definitely think she'd be proud of him.