Upon approaching Persepolis, you might be forgiven for consigning its unapologetically yellow exterior to your peripheral vision. But make no mistake: this is no YO! Sushi nightmare of misappropriated culture and colour (moment of silence for my first and only visit circa 2013).
There is a genuine warmth to Persepolis’s vivid pallet, which extends from its décor into its cuisine. At the risk of getting overly philosophical, this Peckham gem is refreshingly human, and forces us to consider the increasing trend of depersonalised, ‘serve yourself’ eateries in a new light.
To be fair, I’m thinking specifically here of Inamo, where the underlying ethos seems to be ensuring as little human contact as possible. Your food is literally projected in front of you so as to limit queries or complaints; the waiter, food and bill are all summoned at the touch of a button, which can be controlled by anyone at the table. You could feasibly eat and pay for your meal without communicating with anyone in the restaurant, including the poor sod you’ve chosen to take to dinner. While it’s well known that I hate most people, I find the current preference for obsessive functionality to be at best try-hard, and at worst soul-destroying.
By contrast, Persepolis is unashamedly convivial in all that it does. It reminds us that food is a shared ritual and a catalyst for human connection, rather than something that we must ingest as efficiently as possible.
But enough about the pervasiveness of the capitalist mode of production, let’s talk about Persepolis and what I ate there!
With its neon-lit windows set against a particularly worn-down corner of Peckham High Street, Persepolis is mildly reminiscent of Brendan Gleeson’s fairy-light bedecked zombie hideout in 28 Days Later. However, this is completely Peckham’s fault. It’s also an association that only I would struggle with, having been permanently traumatised by the film at the age of 16. Unless you too have this specific neurosis (doubtful), you probably won’t have any trouble with the lighting.
Persepolis’s focus is firmly Persian, and its menu boasts an impressive array of dishes ranging from mezze platters to hotpots; it also includes an exotic list of smoothies, juices, teas and desserts. As a very indecisive person, I usually hate equally indecisive menus that spread out into a small library. However, on this occasion I can be forgiving; the detailed descriptions of each dish (and how it can be modified to suit you) testify to a real love of cooking, rather than a real love of showing off. Everything is vegetarian, and the cuisine lends itself easily to vegan and dairy-free dishes.
For any veggie-sceptics out there who tend to fall back on the idea that meat-free meals are on the bland side, I can safely say that my Kashmiri pan-fried mango dish packed a decent punch. It is worth mentioning that some of the flavours on the menu might be classed as ‘acquired’, especially if you’re new to Persian/Mediterranean dining. Given that its menu is comprised of some more costly imports, one of the things I found most impressive about Persepolis is its modest pricing. For once, I felt unpunished for a restaurant’s bold ingredient choices.
If you are planning a visit, make it a lunch or brunch. Although the menu is wonderfully varied, it is the epitome of casual dining. This isn’t somewhere for a sexy date; this is somewhere to meet old friends, or at least people who are comfortable watching you eat hummus off your fingers (although that can be pretty sexy).
Persepolis is, first and foremost, a Persian corner shop, and the restaurant feels as though it is something of an afterthought. The shop’s wears tumble slightly into the dining space, making you feel as though you are eating in the back room of someone’s house. This is in no way a bad thing, and the casual love with which the food is prepared and presented is a welcome rarity within London’s increasingly detached eating culture.