Seven Afghan Restaurant -London
Last month I jumped on my bicycle and took a ride to Seven for some Afghan feasting in Sheen, West London. As the first stop on a new project eating London's World of Food from A to Z I am delighted to give Seven a THC Wheel of Approval. Read a full review below.
Digital photo frames annoy me. They have the same effect as televisions in pubs. Place a moving image within a darts throw of a human and before long our attention span has vanished and whether it’s smug family snaps or rolling news we become so suitably distracted so any chance of good conversation is lost. This distraction occurred on my visit to Seven, an Afghan fusion restaurant in Sheen SW14.
The lighting was sultry, the walls dark, the carpets thick, but on the bar a digital frame burst through the darkness intermittently scrolling its way through countless megabytes of beautiful scenery. Wide verdant meadows; snow capped mountains; baskets of spices; poppy fields; waterfalls; turquoise rivers; blue skies. Where was this paradise?
“This is my country”
Announced our waiter proudly as he took our order
“This is Afghanistan!”
It’s a shame that pretty pictures only sell holidays and they don’t sell news stories. Thus the images of bomb damage, bloodied faces, bulky US Marines, bemused children, dust-coated artillery and inhospitable mountains are the images that we have become accustomed to when we hear about Afghanistan. Thanks to rolling-news it is almost impossible to imagine what day to day life looks like in Afghanistan and it has become easy to forget that despite being ravaged by war for the best part of half a century, life for millions of Afghans, goes on. They still sleep, they still shop, they still celebrate and they still eat, and it was to eat and get a taste of Afghanistan within London that we headed to Seven.
With an ocean-swimming global-triathlete, two long-range cycle tourists, an ex-solider and three explorers at our table we were pleased to see the generous mix of Afghan starters and platters that arrived at our table. A sweet and sticky burani kadoo, fried pumpkin cooked with onions, came topped with a sour garlic and yogurt sauce. A buranji banjaan, sliced aubergines stewed with tomato and garlic, topped with fragrant fresh mint was subtle and delicious. A burta of smoked aubergines mashed and cooked in a stew of tomato, garlic & coriander was rich and filling. Plump dolmeh, vine leaves generously stuffed with fragrant rice and fresh herbs made perfect finger food and a shor nakhut of boiled chick peas and chopped potatoes, mixed with coriander and sweet almond chutney was perfect spooned onto strips of warm flat bread, along with a nutty homemade humus awarma garnsihed with salty strips of fried lamb. Ingredients were fresh and the flavours strong, but was this meal any different to a Turkish or Lebanese meal? Seven claim to be a fusion restaurant of Central Asian cuisine but a short visit to the kitchen to meet the owners, chefs, waiters and wash-boys left me in no doubt that above all this restaurant was proudly Afghan.
Seven is named after its owners, seven Afghan brothers with an inspiring story more suited for the silver screen than East Sheen. In 1979 the young brothers enjoyed an opulent life in Kabul on the back of their fathers successful clothing business, but in 1979 the their world was turned on its head. Soviet troops invaded their country and it wasn’t long before the whole family had to leave behind their mansion home and lush gardens to flee the country.
“My dad had everything! Houses, cars, businesses, money. Everything! – and then we found ourselves in refugee camps.”
Fleeing first to neighboring Pakistan and later to India, it wasn’t until 1996 that eldest brother Ehsaan (now head chef) made his way back to Afghanistan to try and reclaim his family’s property, only to find Taliban warlord had taken everything. From Afghanistan he made his way to England and after working for five years as a minicab driver and in a Lebanese kitchen, he persuaded his family to join him and it was then that the mother stepped in.
“The restaurant was our mothers idea – She told us we should open a restaurant and let the food do the talking.”
For six months she taught her seven son everything she knew about Afghan cuisine and in early 2009 Seven was opened to the public.
“It has been a long journey. We started from nothing – but our mother taught us everything!”
And she has taught her sons well. Each brother has to wait on tables, tend the bar, manage, cook and share the washing up duties and the results are commendable. In a small and tidy kitchen gas grills hissed with rosy-pink minced lamb kebabs. Heat-stained pots bubbled with rich and aromatic sauces of yogurt and chickpeas. Tender hunks of lamb marinated in the juice of onions, forced through a cheese cloth and heavy heat blackened casseroles appeared from the ovens to reveal sticky shanks of lamb sitting in sticky caremalized onions.
“This is chainaki … in Afghanistan this dish is slow cooked in a teapot” ”
called one of the brothers dropping a balanced casserole full of hissing potatoes, tomatoes and onions squashed around a crumbling slow cooked lamb shank. While another brother removed the lid from a steel steamer that rattled and puffed steam to reveal a dozen mantuu, plump steamed dumplings stuffed with lamb and topped with yoghurt, fresh mint and chickpea puree.
“If you go to a wedding or party in Afghanistan and you do not eat mantuu something is very wrong”
And from the way the brothers talk food and hospitality are not at the heart of their operation but also the culture of their homeland.
“If you go to any Afghan house the most important thing is food” Even if an Afghan family is very poor they will do their BEST to give you the Best food in the house – in Afghanistan we say the guest is the shadow of god”
At the table our guests picked at the remaining flesh that clung to the slow cooked lamb shanks and argued over the last cubes of marinated meat and delicious mantuu and it was again clear that at Seven the Afghan ethos of the hospitality runs through the restaurant from the moment you arrive to the pouring of cardomen tea and baklava served at the end of your meal.
The digital photo frame continued its loop through stunning Afghan scenes while we sipped our tea and I was reminded that we began this project, not only to expand our culinary horizons, but also to expand our understanding of other cultures by unearthing interesting travel experience without leaving London. Until eating at Seven my understanding of Afghanistan was, naively, that of an inhospitable war-torn nation. The brothers at Seven have turned my assumptions son their head and for that alone Seven is well worth a visit.
- 44 Sheen lane, East sheen, London, SW14 8LPX,
- 0208 878 5657
- Hungry Cyclist Wheel of Approval
This entry was posted on Friday, December 24th, 2010 at 12:41 and is filed under A to Z of London Food, A to Z Reviews, Cycling & Food, Cycling in London, Great Food Finds, Travel Writing, Wheel of Approval, World Food. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.