The secret is out thanks to Jay Rayner – Nandine is the full kit and kaboodle.
On a very blustery, damp and rather chilly day, my brolly and I headed to Camberwell to eat at Nandine. An hour and a half later as I entered the restaurant, defeated by the wind and looking rather dishevelled , I muttered under my breath, 'this meal had better be worth it'. And praise be it was.
Kurdish cuisine is not widely represented in London. It has cultural similarities with their immediate neighbours in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Armenia, which is why even though this was my first time eating Kurdish food it had a familiarity about it. Think kebabs laced in smoke, dips and rice made with herbs and spices and soft springy bread.
Never, ever underestimate the thrill of a classic being nailed. Chicken shish, tickled with spices, grilled over charcoal might sound simple, yet the mezze it was partnered with – labneh, crunchy salad, pickles and fresh bread soaking up all the meat juices - make it a blockbuster. Portions are enormous. I stare down at what seems to be an insuperable eating challenge but the tender cubes of deliciousness gives me the extra oomph I need for everything to magically disappear.
Aubergine regularly features on menus yet this fragrant, tomatoey, oniony breakfast stew if you will, made with bare minimum ingredients is the holy grail of grails. Simple yet compelling - it just goes to show that not every wheel needs to be reinvented.
The charm avalanche keeps coming at Nandine in the form of stuffed rice dumplings. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with your choice or meat or veg. Not to miss out, both were ordered; these dumplings were endearingly rustic and almost narcotic. If they weren't so filling I would have ordered another plate.
There's plenty of glory in the dessert too. Out of curiosity, I thought I'd try something I've never heard of before; belachuk. It's candied butternut squash in a pool of grape molasses and cold brew black tea with a wodge of tahini ice- cream and crushed walnuts. It looks like a teenager's room on a plate, but tastes divine.
There is no right way to eat here. Sharing is recommended but not sharing is equally acceptable so here's a handy advance warning; almost every dish on the menu is big in size and big in taste, so go hungry - and by hungry I mean faint from hunger.
This is not so much of a review per se, more of a love letter to Nandine. When a chef knows to cook their truth, that is what makes a truly great restaurant. That's what makes Nandine one.
Nandine is celebrating International Women’s Day by putting two special dishes on the menu, and will be donating 10% of sales from these dishes throughout March to IKWRO Women’s Rights Organisation.
Nandine was set up by Pary Baban, who came over to the UK from Kurdistan in 1995 after being displaced from her home under the rule of Saddam Hussein. IKWRO is a registered charity which provides advice and support to Middle Eastern, North African and Afghan women and girls living in the UK, who have experienced, or are at risk of, all forms of “honour” based abuse.
The two special dishes are Qabuli Rash, a smoked basmati rice with chunks of mutton and fried leek, and Kurdish Picked Veg, comprising salted qazwan pods, ajami garlic, cauliflower, carrot, sweetheart cabbage and red wine vinegar.
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Chatting Food Contributor: Erica Pilavaki
Growing up with the aroma of meat grilling over open coals, views of vine wrapped mountains and surrounded by the abundant seas of Cyprus, Erica has food and drink in her heart and soul. Contact Erica about London restaurant recommendations and the latest products in food and drink.
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