59 Nellie Hamilton Avenue Gungahlin, Australian Capital Territory 2912
|Opening hours||Tues-Sun 10am-3pm, 5pm-9.30pm; Mon 5pm-9.30pm|
|Features||BYO, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Seats||54 inside, 15 outside|
|Payments||Visa, Mastercard, eftpos, Cash|
|Phone||02 6262 2997|
There was a tiny Mexican restaurant in the O'Connor shops a decade ago with owners you could not flatter. The husband did the floor, the wife the kitchen, the recipes all came from the family book. No matter how much I gushed about the purity of the flavours, the eschewing of Tex-Mex mush, the tang of the cactus salad, the owner would return my overexcited gaze with a friendly statement of fact - they were, after all, his mother's recipes: that explained it all.
Among all the fashion and hype and constant change in today's eating universe, a little stability borne of confidence in a noble culinary tradition is refreshing, and that is what you will find hiding in suburban Gungahlin. Opposite a carefully sculpted lake, occupying the understorey in a street of town houses, is a little piece of Persia, Gungahlin's Saffron Room.
With a self-confidence like the O'Connor Mexican before it, this genuinely authentic restaurant is a delight. Decorated in a magnificently eclectic way, the inspiration is drawn from the second-hand furniture shop the family has next door. We are welcomed in as soon as we open the door, with courtesy not showy fuss, and are settled into a well-proportioned table.
The BYO bottle is opened and drinks delivered for the kids, and we settle into a good examination of the menu. There are familiar kebabs of all sorts - chicken, lamb, beef and seafood; grilled fish, less standard stews with pomegranate, salads dressed with lemon and oil, dips with eggplant and cheese curds.
We start with a dish of smooth hummus and dolmeh (both $8.50), as well as the less standard Kashke bademjoon, eggplant and cheese curds ($9.50), all served with a lovely dense brownish bread that made a nice change from the puffy Turkish we have become used to. The hummus is nutty and nourishing, with none of the vinegar tang that shop-bought specimens have. The dolmeh are warm and filled with a lovely herby rice and beef mix, that leaves you reaching for more. The eggplant dip was terrific, slightly creamy with curds and a hint of mint.
For mains we shared a range of dishes, from kebabs to stews and salads. The kebabs included lean chicken, lamb fillet and ground lamb and onion. All were very generous, lean, tender and juicy, served with fluffy rice or good French fries and beautifully fresh salad with others. A generous serve of grilled barramundi flaked under the fork was lovely and came with with fluffy basmati rice, green with fresh dill and mint.
Fesenjoon (chicken in pomegranate, $17) was interesting, but less to our taste, with gravy thick with smashed walnuts and none of a tang I would have expected from the dark pink seeds. Salads were jumping fresh and dressed perfectly, to heighten, not douse the ingredients. Extra plates of rice arrived if there were too many kebabs per plate to fit it in and a general feeling of plenty prevailed.
Traditional Persian pistachio ice cream was subtly flavoured and a real bargain at $5.50 a three-scoop bowl, as was the chocolate and honey alternative. The traditional honey, rose water and saffron "pastry", zolobia bamieh ($4.50) is addictive and fantastically sweet. On Sundays Saffron does a $25 a head ($12 for kids) buffet, extending the great value to new heights.
Saffron Room exudes a warmth and life that flows beyond the doors, out on to the streets that are lucky to house it. A great place to eat and a genuine addition to the suburb it calls home.