Cardiffians who pride themselves on knowing a thing or two about local chicken kebabs have long thought of Mowlana as ‘the one’. Since 2013, in fact. We don’t need to rehearse the recent challenges faced by hospitality, but Mowlana’s delay in reopening promptly when restrictions were lifted led to more panicked queries in my inbox than about any other local restaurant. Happily, that extended hiatus was only for refurbishment and things are running smoothly now.
There have been some changes, naturally. In the meantime, the menu has slimmed down a little, the range of Persian traditional focussing on favourites such as baghali polow (lamb shank) or the vegetarian gheyme badenjan stewed aubergine and split peas. Their famously huge naan – as long as your forearm – has been replaced by the light, brittle crusted bronze of an airy loaf. There are welcome familiarities, of course: the freshly squeezed juices (mint is particularly good), the little pat of butter melting through the rice, and the inevitable headliner, that joojeh chicken.
Chicken breast marinated in minced onion, saffron and tenderising lemon: breast isn’t supposed to be as tender as this, as tender as a kiss, but time after time that grill gets it just right. And you can have it your way: add garlic, chilli, or the citric sprinkle of sumac. Just revel in the simple pleasure of expertly-grilled meat, rice and salad. It’s simple stuff, sure. The koobideh runs it close, too, its just-fatty-enough minced lamb gently smoky and juicy.
Restaurant writing is, typically, the search for the new and noteworthy. The danger is that we overlook places that go about their business quietly and do what they have always done: make people happy. Mowlana does things simply and it does them remarkably well. They’ve been doing so for 10 years, and that’s worth celebrating.
Mowlana, Clifton House, 2-4 Four Elms Road, Cardiff.
Info: 029 2048 0100 / mowlanarestaurant.com
words JONATHAN SWAIN