I’ve slept about ten hours in the last six months, so instead of typing words I’m going to mostly type pictures taken over three visits to Persepolis, a Persian corner shop in Peckham that has plenty of vegan options. The food is not only outstanding, but the quirky shop signs (“badly behaved children should be kept on a leash. Or we could always laminate them for you…”) and pretense-free environment make it a fun and welcoming place to eat more and more and more and then buy groceries so I can go home and eat more and more and more. The shop couldn’t exist, just couldn’t, without the personalities behind it.
The mezze platter is practically free at £2.75 for one person, £5 for two, and another price I don’t remember for three, which is what the platter above is. Some of the items change, which is great because the same can get boring except if it’s pickles. Pickles never get boring.
The kibbeh (the thing that looks like a meatball with tapered ends) is made from pumpkin and is stuffed with what I think are pickled walnuts, so not only is it called a word that’s fun to pronounce but the ingredients that make it taste good too. The vinegar overpowers the walnut flavour for the most part, but without an intense tartness (a great description I recently read of pickled walnuts described them as “lumpy Worcestershire sauce.”), and the texture is meaty. Also I love that lentil chips are considered mezze because yes.
Three of the four ice cream sundaes on the menu at Persepolis can be made vegan. Since the menu says “they’ve all got nuts and fruit in so they’re health foods already” and basically all I’m looking for in life is enabling and validation, I tried all three (not entirely true – I was in a group). The knickerbocker glory is a treasure trove of fruit and nuts, from dates and dried mulberries to pistachio and walnut. And lots of syrup. The turkish delight variation contains sweet rose syrup and chunks of lokum.
Both are magical (it’s healthy, after all, so probably ice cream should now qualify as a superfood, whatever that is), but the baklava sundae is where it’s at. Hot pastry layered with ice cream. Dreams are made of this stuff.
I have a lot to say about the ful medames, but I get so excited thinking about it that I can’t do words again. Let’s start with the cucumber salad. I hate cucumber. HATE. It is the most devil food in the universe and, like spiders, exists for one purpose alone: to ruin my life.
My partner timidly encouraged me to try the salad with the ful, and I cursed him silently (and audibly), but in order to prove I’m always right about cucumber I took a bite anyway. And a second bite. And another. Sally Butcher is up there with Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau for being the only other person ever to make cucumber that isn’t pickled taste good.
But the real star of everything at Persepolis is the vegan eggy bread with the ful. The first time I ordered this dish I asked Mr Shopkeeper for plain bread instead of eggy and he said Mrs Shopkeeper had a variation using, among other ingredients, tahini. It takes awhile to prepare (she needs a lot of space, and that’s limited), but it’s worth it. It’s like fried cheese with sesame and all the right things in the world. There aren’t words. I think it’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten.
A unique combination that works extraordinarily well is date with Arabic spiced tofu. The seasoning consists of cinnamon and other warming spices, which are fried with the bean curd and dates in a pool of delicious olive oil. I was further endeared to the place when Mr Shopkeeper jokingly told us off for not finishing all of the oil on the plate, only it’s no joke because he was right: that’s the best part. I will always appreciate an oil pusher.
Since I’m incapable of ordering a reasonable amount of food and I suffer from the serious illness of bread deficiency (I appreciate gluten), it was necessary to order more (most dishes come with bread). The harira (hearty spiced and warming lentil soup) was recommended. It’s cool how Sally realised in advance the destruction I could wreak on their shop trying to share soup and as a precaution served it divided in three portions. And I didn’t even spill any! And I didn’t break any glass!
Usually it takes me approximately seven seconds for my new favourite thing to be replaced by my next new favourite thing, but I reckon Persepolis will maintain rank for awhile. The only problem is it’s in Peckham and I’m in Crawley, and no matter how much I ask people to build me a teleport device, nobody listens. Clearly they have never suffered living in Crawley, which I guess is actually not too bad a place if you have a fiery appreciation for traffic lights.
Even more frustrating is the fact that I learned of Persepolis at least a decade ago. I’m reliving memories of an Armenian holiday during which I visited a Syrian restaurant and was introduced to pomegranate molasses (still one of the most memorable meals of my life). Once I returned to England I scaled every supermarket and all the land for a product that was probably available at Persepolis the whole time (and is now available everywhere).
There’s nothing at Persepolis (that I’ve tried) that I wouldn’t recommend, but the ful medames are a must, followed by the date and tofu dish. And obviously all of the ice cream. All.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for the handwritten signs.
Books by Sally Butcher