Great food + Time & Patience = Satisfaction
Most of what I know about Afghanistan is based on what I’ve learned from Paul Bien and Greg Mortenson’s New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. According to Paul, the snowboarding out there is awesome – I don’t think he ever mentioned anything about the food.
Based on its location, I assume that Afghan food might be somewhat of a cross between Indian/South Asian and Middle Eastern food. Think korma meets kebab = stretchy pants, please.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Ariana 2 on Thursday night was that the vast majority of its patrons were NOT from Kilburn. Kilburn has the highest Irish population of any area of London and has a reputation for being fairly rough around the edges. According to the blog London is Cool though, it is “not a crap hole.” Honest. People come from all corners of London to eat here; I even managed to convince my boyfriend to venture outside our happy little South London hood to check this place out. When we arrived, there were two other couples dining – an older British couple; quite posh looking. Not too posh to nip around the corner to pick up a bottle of red when they realised that Ariana’s isn’t licensed, but you can bring your own wine. Behind them was a younger, well-dressed Japanese couple. They drank coke.
The staff is attentive and friendly. The decor is simple; the walls adorned with tapestry and photos of a beautiful place where most of us would never dare to actually visit. The walls have eyes. Literally.
Still bloated from lunch at Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden (have I mentioned I like to eat?) I restricted myself to two starters – the bolanee gandana, a traditional Afghan bread/pancake stuffed with buttery, crispy leeks, and a paneer salad, which, for all of the Indian food enthusiasts out there, was not actually paneer, but feta. The bolanee, incidentally, is another excellent addition to my list of food stuffed with other food.
As if this wasn’t enough, other menu options included aushak, boiled dumplings stuffed (!!!) with leeks and topped with ground meat and yogurt, as well as the obligatory samosa. We didn’t even have to ask for a side of chakni, a homemade spicy chutney, to go with – it came swiftly. On a spicy scale of 1-10, the chakni rates about a 7 according to the experts, or at least the one that I live with.
While we put away our starters, a large group arrived and were seated under the eyes. A young woman exchanged friendly greetings with the waitress. “I phoned the other night for a takeaway, and you guys recognised my voice!” the woman exclaimed. Ariana’s is a family run establishment, and clearly has built up a stable of loyal clientele. It also has a branch in New York, so if you’re reading, Amy Rothberger, I expect you to get on this, stat.
As it turns out, I could have a kebab AND a curry at Ariana’s. I went kebab – and holy bananas, it was the best piece of chicken I have ever had. This may sound dramatic – but its succulence and perfectly balanced, chargrilled garlic flavour would be unmatched, in my books. The waiter offered me the “special rice” – I accepted without knowing exactly what this was. Its official name (although I do like to order things that people think are special) is kabuli palow, and it consists of a generous heap of fluffy, seasoned basmati rice topped with pickled carrots, raisins, almonds and pistachios, although the pistachios were suspiciously absent from my serving.
I now understood why the staff were so familiar with takeaway girl. I want to eat here again. Every day. I don’t know who Ariana is, but she’s awesome.
Too full for dessert, Duncan took a swing at the dough, a traditional Afghan yogurt drink. “This is interesting,” he concluded. To me, it tasted similar to the sauce which came with our bolanee. It was salty. To each their own.
I opted to finish off with a black tea infused with cardamom, because the menu said that this “guaranteed happiness.” And boy, did it deliver.
Need to know:
241 Kilburn High Road
Nearest tube: Kilburn
Opening hours: Noon-11 pm, Mon-Sun
Reservations recommended; unlicensed