In the cacophony of the London restaurant scene it can be hard for newcomers to make themselves heard, but when Nutshell opened it needed hardly any introduction before it was booked out for weeks to come. The recipe for success, perhaps, was in it singing its own song. With few other high-profile Iranian restaurants in the capital, there aren’t many places serving up this colourful cuisine in such a contemporary, central setting.
The menu is a tumble of vibrant ingredients – aubergines, saffron, pistachio, rose, barberries, pomegranate – made up into small sharing plates served family-style as and when they’re ready. The brevity of the menu’s terse descriptions can make dishes hard to decipher, but enthusiastic staff are on hand to guide and recommend.
Sesame and salt topped bread is delivered warm from the oven, crispy outsides pulling apart to reveal a fluffy centre – just the right consistency to mop up dips elsewhere. A baba ganoush style starter was powerfully smoky but garnishes got in the way of it being silky and scoop-able, and we’re not convinced the blackberries belonged, no matter how pretty they look.
Crisp brik pastry parcels, wrapped like small samosas, were filled with warming turmeric potatoes and served with fresh, crushed tomatoes that somehow made us feel nostalgic for a food we’d never had before. Elsewhere, grilled chicken was soft from a yogurt marinade and smoky from the grill; a saffron-rich stew of lentils, aubergines and onions, while not standout, was comforting.
There’s a concise wine list that runs through the European hero territories, while cocktails have been given an Iranian twist. A rose, raspberry and lychee concoction managed to avoid becoming cloying and too perfume-heavy, while a Champagne and Cognac classic was scented with orange oil.
For diners who find as much enjoyment from the visuals of a restaurant as they do the flavour of their dishes, Nutshell is a buzzy sweet spot: all candy-shop pink and green velvet, with plants filling shelves and floorspace. The dishes follow suit with intricate garnishes, and while sometimes over eager with its use of petals, nuts and fruit, Nutshell offers welcome respite from the chain restaurants of Covent Garden.