La Perse Persian Restaurant, Osaka (Kansai Scene, December 2008)

La Perse is found not far from Shinsaibashi Station, just off the Shimizu-dori. It opened earlier this year and its specialty is Persian cuisine (that is, Iranian food). Iranian culture greets you from the ground up, as you take off your shoes and sit at low tables on fine Persian rugs. (there are also tables and chairs along the back wall and the choice is yours since Iranians, like the Japanese, enjoy eating either way).

Persia is the home of slow-cooking, and the staff was keen to point out that the day’s the main dishes are prepared fresh on the premises every morning. La Perse’s menu is based upon the four pillars of Iranian cookery: stews or hotpots (khoresht), thick, pureed bean-based potage (aash), rice-based dishes (polo, or pilaf) and kebabs. La Perse serves a selection of all four and we tried a few.

First of all, though, we had some traditional Persian appetizers – two types of paté, one made from pureed eggplant, tomatoes and herbs (mirza ghasemi, 400 yen), the other from broad bean, garlic and dill (baghalia ghatogh, 450 yen). These went very well with the freshly-made nan and pickled vegetables.

We tasted three very distinct stews (prices are for small/large sizes). In the West (and in Japan), our image of stew is beef or chicken dishes flavoured with vegetables and herbs. Iranian cookery ignores this assumption – one vegetable can be featured in the stew with meat added for extra garnish. For example, the excellent Khorehst-e-Kyarafs (780 yen/1300 yen) contains large chunks of celery in a slow-cooked sauce of beef and dill. Khoresht -e- Ghemeh is a rich stew of beef and split peas (700/1200 yen). For a really unique taste, though, I recommend the Khorsht-e-Alu (830/1380): it’s a mixture of chicken, vegetables and small Iranian plums (alu), which give it a unique tartness. Mind the plum pits, though – they’re left in during the cooking so the plums don’t lose their shape.

La Perse serves Iranian-style kebabs both chicken (650 yen per skewer) and beef (680 yen per skewer), served with with grilled tomatoes and pickle. With these we had a bowl of tomato-based potage with rice, split peas, tomatoes and herbs (aash-e gowje, 650/1100 yen), which I recommend as a good hearty winter dish (this is a vegetarian dish, and many others are available on the menu).

At 7:30, I took a very necessary break from all this eating to enjoy a performance by a group of belly dancers (there is a low stage at the far end of the room for live shows). Dancers perform twice nightly – the second show is at 9:30 – from Tuesday to Saturday.

After this interlude, I was ready for dessert. We tried three. Now, LaPerse’s desserts aren’t really desserts. Let me explain: in Persian cuisine, these sweets would be served as small side dishes to the main meal, palate cleansers between dishes. This explains their clean, light taste. (note that these sweets are served with a bite-sized piece of cake, a scoop of ice cream and a slice of fresh fruit). The first was shole-zard, a thick rice and pudding, coloured yellow with saffron, flavoured with rosewater and sprinkled with pistachios (850 yen). The second, kachi, was made from whole-wheat flour, cooked in butter and rosewater, and it tasted faintly of butterscotch (my favourite – 900yen).

LaPerse is open from 5PM to 5AM. Last order for the restaurant is 10:30, and at 11 the well-stocked bar takes over (all non-alcoholic drinks, including coffee and tea, are 400 yen). Besides the usual cocktails, beer (from 450 yen) and wine (500 yen per glass), I noticed an excellent selection of single-malt whiskeys, which I mean to take advantage of the next time I visit.

La Perse, Persian Restaurant,
La Mer Bldg, B1,
1-16-24 Higashi-Shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka (subway Midosuji Line, Shinsaibashi Stn, exit 6)
tel: 06-6251-4300 / fax: 06-6260-2499
http://www.laperse.jp/english/index.htm

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