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16th February 2024

Chelo Review by Ronel Lehmann: “the welcome doesn’t live up to the quality of the food”

Chelo Review by Ronel Lehmann

I was invited to Jin Kichi, a Japanese restaurant in Hampstead. I always like on such occasions to drink hot saké, wine made by fermenting rice which has been polished to remove the bran. During our discussion about the cuisines that we most enjoy, my host mentioned another restaurant which I hadn’t heard of: Chelo, which serves Persian food. I made a note to try it.

Chelo is based in Maida Vale, it can just about at a squeeze seat 13 people on four tables inside and has a buzzing community which doesn’t seem to mind sitting outside under heaters adjacent to the pavement. I had made a reservation for two and managed to park right outside the restaurant.

There was only one available table inside and after having confirmed our name, we were seated by the window. Then came a warning that the table was required within 90 minutes which was suddenly discourteously downgraded to one hour and telling us that we had booked outside.

I explained that we were expecting to be seated inside and wouldn’t be moving from our comfortable chairs. The waiter did apologise for any confusion and the menus were provided somewhat in haste. Looking at the other diners’ table spreads and the continuous barrage of takeaway drivers collecting food, we were clearly in for a freshly prepared treat.

We ordered Zeytoon, marinated mixed olives and they didn’t disappoint. As soon as these had arrived, our other chosen dishes followed in quick succession, including Mast Khiar, yogurt, cucumber and mint dip, Truffle Olovieh, potato salad with chicken, pickled cucumber and mayonnaise, Shirazi Salad, chopped cucumber, tomato and onion with lemon and oil dressing, hummus, chickpea and tahini dip with extra virgin olive oil, Kashk Bademjian, grilled aubergine, caramelised onion, yoghurt, walnuts and mint, and naan bread.

I must admit the hummus was delicious, but I found it a bit over drenched in olive oil. No sooner had we finished our starters, Tahchin Morgh was served, a chicken fillet de-skewered with saffron rice. We elected not to have the dish baked and topped with Zereshk, silvered pistachios and almonds.

There was no room for desserts, in fact we had run out of time. The bustle of collections and new hungry diners queuing outside, meant that we could not really overstay our allotted time slot. This is a wonderful restaurant. The food is prepared with a good deal of care, and I could see why it is so popular. It isn’t a place where you can have a leisurely meal. The accommodation is completely outstripped by demand.

I think that the staff are under extreme pressure to ensure that as many people can get served as possible. This means that the welcome doesn’t live up to the quality of the food, which is a shame. I couldn’t fault what we ate or the service, but just wish that we hadn’t been so rushed. You couldn’t move away from the front door which reminded you when ajar with a cold draft blowing, that you would soon have to be on your way. As we left, my mind raced back to Jin Kichi and the warmth of the carafe of hot saké.

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