I’ve been wanting to try Leyli Joon’s cooking for a good while now, a situation only heightened by m’colleague Soliciting Flavours’ love letter to his December meal last year, all wrapped up in a righteous grumble about how Christmas meals out typically offer little of interest.
(I couldn’t help but envy him: working in education, you count yourself lucky to get a complimentary sandwich from Costco, a sandwich ashen with sadness and thwarted dreams.
Which, by the way, is what teachers do on those INSET days so beloved by parents: live the dream with occasional Costco sandwiches and regretting their life choices.)
Anyway. Last time I was here at The Tramshed it was to see Craig Finn of The Hold Steady play a solo show, but tonight’s event is far removed from sweaty tales of redemption, of street corner struggles and salvation. (I’ll resist the urge to weave song titles into this piece, though I dare say Leyli Homayoonfar herself felt more than A Slight Discomfort, having mandolined the tip of her finger clean off just before service. I don’t know about you, but that would certainly put a crimp in my day.)
It’s a slick presentation. Leyli Joon only do things like this: I say ‘only’ but I shouldn’t underplay the effort here, because it’s clear some thought has gone into dressing the room. It’s a corner of Grangetown all gussied up to anticipate something special. It’s billed as ‘a feast’, after all: an occasion, not just another dinner: and ‘Joon’ is a Farsi endearment, so the welcome is warm. This, after all, is Persian food by the daughter of a Persian father, by someone who connects with this food at a cellular, instinctual level.
Lighting is on the low side of cosy- be prepared to read the menu to your companion: whether you do it ‘GOB club sauce style’ is your prerogative. It’s BYOB, which means you can bring something decent along to impress your friends- you could even consider slipping into full-on wineponce mode (‘Mmmmm…I’m getting… misty woodland walks… the smell of Nanny’s freshly starched apron…the inside of an old cigar box…its oaky inflection makes it a cheeky little number, but I’m amused by its impertinence’) if that lights your candle.
They do a lot of functions in Bristol and London; you can see the big-city slickness in the between-courses introduction to the dishes, which are greeted warmly by a sold-out room.
Service is, inevitably, a little hampered by Leyli, formerly of local standard-setters Bar 44 having to direct others rather than cook herself. All tables are served simultaneously- there’s just the one sitting tonight, and 64 hungry people to be fed- which means a couple of the dishes suffer from hanging around on the pass for a couple of minutes and suffer a little, temperature wise. That said, the cooking is inventive and designed to impress.
Knafeh pastry is a cone of vermicelli-size fronds, but with a savoury twist. Usually served as dessert, here it comes with the rich notes of whipped burrata and the sweetness of confit tomato . It’s unusual, but after a couple of bites you could call this ‘hairy Iranian cheese’ and I’d still lick the plate.
The next course wafts across, the unmistakeable scent of barbecuing seafood. It’s a play on a taco, with soft unleavened lavash flatbread the base for a plump prawn from which the meatiness still comes through, pepped up but not overwhelmed by the harissa marinade and the pineapple salsa which is all sorts of smoky, hot and sweet.
The dish I was looking forward to most was a slight disappointment, though I’d cheerfully eat it again.
It’s one of those hugely patient, time-intensive dishes which offer their own brand of alchemy. Here, lamb shoulder from (Rosedew Farm in Llantwit Major) has been massaged with a Persian spice blend called advieh (a complex marriage of toasted and ground fennel seeds, cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, white peppercorns, rose petals, mace, cardamom and sumac, I’m told later) before being coated with a baharat mix, then given a long, patient braise for 18 hours, all in preparation for being portioned up and breaded before meeting the scalding oil.
It would normally be exactly my thing, but the delay in serving means it has lost some of the crispness it promises. The flavours, of course, are impeccable, the tangle of meat a pleasure. There’s a loving nod to her grandmother’s recipe for mirza ghasemi (a regional speciality from Rasht, near the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran), the aubergines given a serious char before being mixed with saffron, garlic and tomato, there’s heat from the spicy green chilli zhoug. There’s more: it’s a neat trick to present ears of sweet corn ingeniously carved to mimic ‘ribs’ which recall Ottolenghi’s at Rovi. They somehow reveals themselves as ‘meaty’ without annoying with their label (‘Quorn chicken-free vegan slices’ these aren’t).
The cooking of the pork belly is nothing short of masterful. Just enough fat has been rendered to balance meat and wobble, and for the crackling to be impeccably brittle. Lemony, sweet-tart pomegranate molasses is the perfect way to cut through all that opulence.
A platter of ‘jewelled’ rice studded with pomegranate and roasted squash- allegedly for sharing- sets the right festal tone. It’s all tremendously good-humoured and relaxing, this format: muck in, enthuse about the cooking with people you’ve never met before, have fun.
We finish with a flourish. Wild orchid powder- salep – lends an unusual texture to the cremeux: the added touch of starchiness makes for a distinct chewy ‘feel’. This means it has to be stored in dry ice, so the billows and plumes which emanate from the kitchen, just before serving- though eye-catching- are not just for show.
A few hits of citrus from grapefruit and segments of fresh orange cut through the white chocolate sweetness, and a Persian candy floss called ‘pashmak‘ and crystallised pistachio ramp up the fun. It’s accomplished stuff.
What you get with Leyli Joon is more than ‘just dinner.’ You leave feeling you have eaten well, but you’ll feel you have been part of an evening you’ll remember for a while. There’s a sense of a shared event, a sense of community. Some of the best cooking in the area at the moment is happening in pop-ups and supperclubs, whether it is here, John Cook’s Ember or Grady Atkins at Paysan. It’s a trend we should be thankful for.
Leyli Homanyoofor is a horribly talented Chef, her family team delightful and her food undeniably impressive. When you next get the opportunity to eat her cooking, whether at their Academy Espresso popups or this feast, don’t let it pass you by.
This was my First Night (ah! and we were so close…) with Leyli Homanyoofor’s supper club menu. It won’t be the last.
Follow Leyli Joon on Twitter or at https://www.leylijoonco.co.uk/contact-us
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.