On rainy afternoons, when you just feel like hitting the road and relishing some yummy food, just take a drive along the ECR and head to this beautiful Iranian café in Neelangarai. Shiraz Art Café is set in pretty alfresco environs with the waves lapping the shore nearby. Once you reach the place it’s easy to leave behind all your worries and just sample some absolutely novel delicacies. From the refreshing barley water, tulsi seed and fruit granite to start off a meal to the Ghaalieh mahi fish, bademjan cooked with mutton, shirin polow to the baklava; every dish is unique and exquisite for the palate.
But more than the food, it is the welcoming smile and absolute amiable conduct of the owners, Chennai-based Iranian brother-sister duo, Nasrin Karimi and Dariush Karimi, that bowls you over. They ensure that whenever you visit the place they give you a tight hug and exchange pleasantries with regular visitors. Cooked mainly by Nasrin, the food is delicate, has robust flavours and is evokes strong sense of familiarity. In fact, on lean days, the duo sits along with regular clients and tell tales of their land and discuss how the cuisine has certain similarity with India. Saffron, almonds, fresh vegetables, herbs, legumes, which abound in Iranian cuisine also, have a strong presence here, making the food healthy, nutritious and tasty, without excessive use of spices or oil.
Nasrin has been living in the city for more than three decades now. She hails from Shiraz, a place in South Iran, from which she came to Chennai to study and work. Cooking happened by serendipity. “I didn’t cook till I was 32. It was only when I realised that the food from outside was taking a toll on my health that I decided to try out cooking at home. I started making dishes that were cooked back home. I added my innovations to them and started hosting my friends at home. My house would never be out of food, even if 30 people came in together. The idea of a café was a natural progression,” she recalls.
And once you have had your fill, do not leave the place without having a cup of delectable lemon tea. It is absolutely out of the world. Nasrin informs us people from across Chennai at times come just for having this brew. One sip and you will know, why!