Simon Richardson eats five whole bulbs of garlic and regrets it.
I must confess that it isn’t very often that I head to Harehills. For one, it’s right over the other side of Leeds from where I'm based. It also isn’t exactly synonymous with the bar and restaurant scene – or at least not the one to which I dedicate such a large part of my internal organs (the wallet is an internal organ, right?)
But, as Darvish is so keen to point out on its website, Jamie Oliver once went there in 2011 to cook a bit of Persian food and I’m nothing if not completely incapable of making a single decision that hasn’t been swayed by a lukewarm celebrity endorsement. So I pack my things, kiss my loved ones goodbye and make the long pilgrimage from west to east Leeds to see what all the fuss is about.
Now here’s a kebab that I could happily wake up to discover had stuck itself to one side of my face
It’s fair to say that Darvish sticks out from the seemingly endless row of completely random locksmiths, late-night supermarkets, nail salons and takeaways that adorn the main street that runs through Harehills. It feels quite upmarket, with a well-decorated interior, complete with authentic Persian art, and an elegant marble counter covered in tea paraphernalia.
I wouldn’t say that we are warmly welcomed; more that the lady who seats us is extremely polite and formal, reminding me of my past as an EFL teacher. There’s no alcohol (although you are welcome to bring wine), so I order a mango juice (£1.50) and we share a mint tea for two (£3.50). The pretty pot with tea glasses just about manages to distract me from the fact that I’m in a restaurant without feverishly sucking at Bacchus’ teat like an alcoholic calf, and the mango juice is quite refreshing. I’ve never felt so healthy moments before ordering an enormous plate of kebab.
For starters, we go for vine leaves (£3.50), hummus (£4) and pickled garlic (£2), the latter purely because the website displays a picture of two entire garlic bulbs on a plate, and it’s a spectacle I can’t bring myself to avoid.
The vine leaves are delicious – without any toughness from the leaves or that “briney” taste that often ruins them when they aren’t cooked fresh. The hummus is light and smooth, accompanied by an equally pleasing flatbread.
After eating five whole garlic bulbs, I note that 1) they aren’t peeled, 2) they’re supposed to go with something – like the hummus – which makes them much better and 3) my partner has suddenly moved several feet away from me, saying “at least we won’t have to worry about vampires tonight”. I get the strange feeling that I won’t have to “worry” about anyone at all tonight.
The mains are separated into casseroles, veggie dishes and kebabs. We decide to order the Chello Kebab Darvish (£29), an assorted plate of the different styles of meat, complete with saffron rice, flatbread and a salad. It’s enough to feed an army and I immediately wish I’d been for a long run in preparation.
The rice is fluffy and buttery, and the salad is fresh enough to provide the crunch to go with the rest of the food. The meat, however, is a very mixed bag. The Koubideh is excellent – juicy and springy. When I cover it in garlic sauce I find myself transported into a flashback to student days gone by. Now here’s a kebab that I could happily wake up to discover had stuck itself to one side of my face.
The chicken fillet has an unnerving taste to it that my partner equates to slightly off butter, and the kebab barg and kebab chenjeh are both dry, tough and chewy. We barely touch them. It’s a disappointing way to end a meal that had started with such promise. Still, we are both completely stuffed, and the bill comes to under £45 in total, which certainly isn’t to be sniffed at.
There’s something undeniably exciting about breaking from the routine and doing something a little different, but it’s better if you don’t find yourself wishing you’d stuck somewhere closer to home.
I wouldn’t rate Darvish favourably against the excellent Kada’s near the Corn Exchange, or even Haftsin on Burley Road, based on the comparative quality of the main courses and the overall atmosphere inside the restaurant itself. While the starters were undeniably excellent, it’s a bit too far away to justify another visit when there are, in my opinion, better choices closer by. That said, if you live in Harehills and the surrounding area, it would be worth a visit for some of the smaller plates and some excellent tea and juice.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Vine Leaves (dolmeh) 9, Hummus 7.5, Pickled Garlic 7, Koubideh 7.5, Chicken 3, Kebab Barg 4, Kebab Chenjeh 4
Polite but not welcoming or willing to make conversation
Some pumping Iranian music, but not much to back it up