Ariana, princess of Persia

Ariana is an unassuming restaurant in a location which is both splendid and awful. The back, including a covered dining area with warm friendly lights and a chance to enjoy the summer breezes, abuts Mile End Park and is therefore surrounded by healthy, relaxing green space which is maintained in a state of carefully managed wildness and features joggers, strolling families, young guys playing cricket and people of that ilk. The front end lacks this good fortune and opens onto Burdett Rd, which is a bit of a scumhole. Well, not your really awful kind of scumhole, obviously. But rather rough around the edges – it’s a major thoroughfare linking the whole east of the city with Limehouse and the Docklands, and that’s enough to rub the gilt off the nicest of neighbourhoods.

Somewhat surprisingly, this is quite a favourable place to find somewhere to eat. The Orange Room on the other side of the road provides good Lebanese food and Cafe Meds up the street does excellent coffee and mighty omelettes. But Ariana’s where you want to come for dinner really, especially on a balmy May evening when a curry is too heavy and a salad is too light.

The sweet smells and verdant spread of the park outside were echoed in the cooking with generous use of fresh herbs and complex seasonings. This is food with varied, unpredictable flavours which manage to be punchy and subtle by turns.  The dishes aren’t dominated by oil, ghee, garlic or chilli – the classic starter was a well-received plate of large fresh mint and tarragon leaves with a slice of mild curd cheese and some walnuts. You couldn’t imagine anything simpler, but it was so satisfying when wrapped up in a square of fresh bread that I would have happily just dined on that alone.  It was accompanied by a slinky, smoky, divinely tasty aubergine dip, a pink-orange marvel which knocked standard-issue baba ganoush into a cocked hat. (more…)

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Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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