Our First Dining Experience At Persian Cottage, Middlesbrough

16 Jan 2020

Usually, if I want to find a restaurant review, I take to the likes of Google and TripAdvisor. A newspaper isn't somewhere that I tend to look, but when a local restaurant, only a stone's throw away from my house, was given a rave review in The Guardian, it seemed rude to not go along and try the eaterie out for myself! Besides, it's only right that after walking past Persian Cottage for months when working at the nearby tea room, I'd finally go in and give it a go.

If you walk through Albert Park and down Linthorpe Road towards Linthorpre village, you'll see that it's pretty hard to miss Persian Cottage. In amongst the typical high street charity shop and mini supermarket offerings, the mansion-like, olive green building is set back away from the road, with grassy embankments and benches adorning the front. This is surely to accompany the ice cream shop hatch on the side, but approaching the door, you can smell wafts of Iranian food and spices almost instantly.

But before I get too ahead of myself, there was a taxi ride before we stepped a single foot inside. Our driver happened to be the biggest fan of Persian Cottage and absolutely couldn't wait to tell us about the food he recommended. He also made the big claim that it was impossible to have a meal there that was 'less than an eight out of ten', which is a pretty huge claim to make. So with this and the stellar review in The Guardian, surely we were in for a really good night.


The venue

First thing's first, let me talk a little bit more about this peculiar, mansion-like building. As I said, from the outside, this restaurant dominates Linthorpe village with it's towering, green presence, but walking through the door, you're met with a tiny interior. With a long strip-like floor space that houses tables two-deep and a bar area that takes up most of the room, it was kind of bizarre, but also somewhat cosy.

The overpoweringly wood-based restaurant also features some notably garish decor elements, which I'm not sure is typical of Persian restaurants, but it was certainly something that took me by surprise. Walls adorned with knick-knacks, plastic tablecloths and mismatched cutlery were just some of the highlights. While it was a bit unusual, it screamed 'homegrown'.

Bring your own bottle

A strong defining feature of Persian Cottage is that it is completely alcohol-free, but you're free to bring your own bottle if you would like to have a bit of a tipple. This makes it a pretty good spot if you're partaking in Dry January - there's no temptation!

With the lack of alcohol on offer, I opted for a simple glass of lemonade whilst my friend chose to try a pot of ginger tea - mainly because they were into the little tea sets that were brought to the other tables and wanted one for themselves. While the crockery was lovely, the tea was even more so! There was a gorgeous kick of ginger after each sip, which is one of my favourite flavours and it brought a fun bit of heat to the experience.

The menu

This was my first time ever visiting a Persian restaurant, so I wasn't too sure what to expect from the menu. However, the menu featured a great assortment of options, mainly all with a spicy, Eastern theme, like kebabs, wraps, spiced meats and more. It's a menu that was definitely up my street, being particularly fond of Eastern flavours.

It's definitely worth noting though, that while there were plenty of options for meat eaters, there weren't too many choices for vegetarians (there are plenty of starters, but there's a distinct lack of those telling green Vs against main dishes), let alone vegans. With that in mind, if you're not in the mood for meat, this may not be the restaurant for you.

The food

After our conversation with the taxi driver, he had recommended that we give the Koobideh Kebab a go, so I already knew that this was the dish that I was opting for. This was two skewers of spiced, minced lamb with a side of rice, which in itself sounds lovely, especially because The Guardian reckons that the rice is out of this world. I'll admit, when the plate was brought to the table, I was a little bit baffled. After a bit of research after the meal, I've seen that this is the way that a typical Koobideh is presented, but at the time and during my first visit to a Persian restaurant, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting.
The lamb skewers were absolutely delicious. You can't go wrong with spiced lamb and it's usually the meat that I'm drawn to in Mediterranean or Eastern restaurants, so I absolutely wasn't disappointed there. The rice wasn't particularly exciting, though, which left me feeling a little deflated after the review hype. So while the meat was the saving grace of this dish, it was lacking a little something for me and all together, it was kind of dry. I hate contrasting against someone else's recommendation, but this dish just wasn't all I thought it was going to be.

I know that my friend also felt the same way about their Slow Cooked Lamb Shank. This was another recommendation from our driver and on the menu it sounded incredible, but when the plate arrived, I could almost sense the sadness from across the table, as if this wasn't what was expected either. (Again, I want to just state that this was our first ever time at a Persian restaurant, so we really didn't know how foods were going to be presented, so after research, the way that this dish was constructed does seem typical to the Persian cuisine.)

The lamb shank was super tender and pulled clean away from the bone, which is absolutely what you want from a good shank. It had a decent flavour to it, mimicking the spices that featured in my kebab, but it was also smothered in a 'savoury aromatic sauce', which had a fairly runny and oily consistency. I'll admit, I stole a splash for my dish to help detract from the dryness, but it wasn't quite to my friend's taste. It also featured a mountain of rice, which again was slightly disappointing in taste.

The overall feeling from our main dishes wasn't the best, but we both sort of agreed that there were elements that we enjoyed. Perhaps if we weren't entering into the restaurant with such critical minds and an expectation from everything that we'd read/heard, we wouldn't feel the way that we did about the food.

The dessert

Yet again, we were influenced by our taxi driver and were inspired into trying out two slices of the pomegranate cheesecake. I'm absolutely head over heels for all things pomegranate, so I had high hopes that this would be a brilliant end to what was a bit of a meh dinner so far. Usually, we would get one dessert to share, but after hearing our driver rave about the cheesecake, we both wanted a slice to ourselves.

Truth be told, it's kind of difficult to get cheesecake wrong - it's just one of those things that's kind of always unreal, no matter what flavour you have. And I'm not saying that this cheesecake was bad in any capacity. In fact it was lovely, but there was a distinct lack of pomegranate. The cheesecake was more of a regular vanilla flavour with a layer of what should have been pomegranate on top, but it was dominated by the flavour of the strawberry syrup that had been drizzled on top.

Despite feeling a little bit let down by this dessert, I cleaned the whole plate because it truly was good, it just wasn't what I would expect from something that is branded as pomegranate.
Overall, our night at Persian Cottage wasn't as amazing as we had expected, but we did say that it would be somewhere that we'd try again, taking off our critical hats off to try some different dishes. We felt kind of guilty that we'd been told that it was impossible to have a meal that was less than an eight out of ten - what we had tried was more like a six at best, which feels harsh to say, but honesty is the best policy.

Like I said, I'm definitely willing to give Persian Cottage another try, but this experience definitely didn't get us off to a good start!

Have you tried this Middlesbrough restaurant? What are your thoughts?

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@thenorthernist