So, here we are again, lockdown V3, staying at home to protect the vulnerable and our NHS. I wonder, will we do it differently this time? Or will we find our days are merging into one, punctuated only by mealtimes, food and what bottle of wine to open? I find myself daydreaming about walking down Carnaby Street in London, where I work, and being surrounded by the general hustle and bustle of the city: the noise, the smells, people chatting, laughing, listening to their headphones and walking with purpose toward something, anything.
One of the things I love about working in the City, when I get chance to get down there, lockdown aside, (I say “down” as I live on the North Wales/North Shropshire border), is the absolute abundance of choice this city has on offer for something to eat!
However, this hasn’t always been the case. If I go back a few years (and I wish it were only a few!), to conversations in the school playground around what we all ate for dinner the previous evening, I always felt like the odd one out. My parents cooked amazing Persian food. Food that had been lovingly prepared and cooked for hours with stories about each dish. Stories of my Grandmother and how she used to cook for swathes of people every day. Stories of her making Kofta as big as her hands and serving halva that she had made that day – halva so perfect that it had the same shine and consistency of butter and the sweetness of hot, sugared doughnuts.
I grew up eating things that most of the children I went to school with had never heard of. My friends used to come for dinner and would be amazed at what they called ‘shiny rice’, which my son now calls ‘scratchy rice’! This Tahdig (the bottom of the pot) is fought over and is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family. I am ashamed to admit that, until my early adult years, I took all of this for granted. I didn’t truly understand what a beautiful gift this was. The passing down of recipes and stories. The flavours and lessons I was learning with each mouthful taken.
…and then things changed. Cultural food diversity happened. More and more choice became available. Today we are lucky enough to live in a society where you can sample tastes and sounds of different cultures if you just cross the road.
From street traders selling sweet treats of mini pancakes with Nutella on the corner of Hanover Street, to handmade falafel wraps that taste like little bites of Lebanon, to the underground eatery beneath a sex shop in the middle of Soho that serves sharing food with a Mexican influence. Food that ignites conversation as it arrives at your table. Food that is meant to be shared with friends, that evokes emotion and is meant to be talked about and enjoyed and appreciated for fulfilling its purpose of bringing people together.
I am nostalgic for all the things I have taken for granted. I miss being able to get on a plane and explore a new country with nothing but my passport and hand luggage. I want food that I haven’t cooked, in eateries that I frequent and those that I am yet to try, afternoons with friends whilst sat in a stunning restaurant in the clouds: Sushi Samba, where the whole experience is a sultry assault on the senses.
The experience begins from the moment you leave the pavement and utter the words “40th floor, please”. You hold your breath as you step into a glass-fronted elevator and watch as it soars up through London’s iconic skyline, speeding up as you start to look down on the city below, all the while holding on to the handrails to steady you, as you journey to your destination. You step out after one long look back over the city and are greeted at the top, whilst your legs are still trembling, with a gentle smile and a cocktail menu. When you are seated, you are so engrossed in the mouth-watering selection of cocktails, with ingredients fit for a Persian palace, that you fail to notice the view. When you eventually look up from your menu to order your first (of many) drinks, you catch your breath. The view, sat atop the clouds of this, the City of London, is breath-taking and awe-inspiring. A perfect setting for such a robust menu. You turn back as you are handed your menu and your host discusses the best dishes to pair alongside drink choices and personal preferences. You choose from an inventive menu; one that offers culinary creativity from Japan, Peru and Brazil. You make your choice and ask to keep hold of the menu so that you can continue to look at the other options as your food is being prepared.
Unhurried and relaxed, you sit back and enjoy the whole experience. Your food arrives. The Kobe beef is so tender, your teeth are rendered useless. It slices with ease, and melts on your tongue and you cannot help but respect the extraordinary care that created the rich and deep flavour in your mouth. The Tuna Sashimi is a wonder: I found it to be as fresh as if I had plucked the tuna out of the ocean myself, instead of being sat in an opulent restaurant, forty floors up. Our host comes over to ask how we are finding our choices, how we are enjoying our drinks and whether we would like to sample any other dishes. We settle on ordering more cocktails and a few other dishes, wanting to enjoy the experience for as long as possible. When we finish our meal, we are given tea, in a beautiful Japanese pot with the most delicate teacups. We are escorted to the terrace, as the host carries our drinks, and shown to a cosy nook under a Japanese maple tree, above the clouds. Laid back into soft, dreamy cushions on the sofas whilst we chat and enjoy our tea, watching as the sun sets and the city wakes, ready for the night. We are unhurried as we sit and enjoy the experience. We continue to order drinks and vow to come back again.
A country’s food has often so much to do with the heart of that culture and nation. Food can be wild, frenetic, vibrant and assaulting. It can also be calm, nourishing and comforting. It can transport you to the world’s farthest places just by sampling that country’s local speciality, so richly intrinsic to a country’s culture and never far from religion, that by experiencing it in all its glory, you get a feel for the location, the people and the landscape. At Sushi Samba, we could explore three countries in a slice in time. My experience was so exquisite that it left my taste buds tickled and wanting. Well done Sushi Samba, we will meet again soon when the war on the pandemic is won, lockdown is lifted, then and only then, we will savour every single moment of being able to do just that.
Until then, lovelies, stay safe and stay at home xx
For more ramblings, and yummy recipes, head over to Amazon and buy my new book! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Persian-Kitchen-Rebekah-Jones/dp/1784656755
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