My family decided to venture out for dinner during the Chinese New Year, and after much time spent to identify the good ones open during this long holiday, settled on a Persian (Iranian) restaurant – “Shabestan” located at The Pier at Robertson. The place had good reviews though was clearly indicated as a pricey restaurant. We thought we should try out something we haven’t so far. And, Persian sounded exotic, what with Iran opening up after the U.N. sanctions going to Persia felt fantastic !
We were not disappointed with the quality of the food. We ordered a variety of dishes and rounded up our gastronomic experience with some white wine (Chilean) and Baghlava. No doubt the food was great, and the ambience was excellent.
However, there are always some issues for diners who are observant about dining decorum and the quality of service being provided. While the table was set ready for us when we arrived, it took a while for someone to arrive at our table to hand out the menus – we expected the waiter would explain the menu items in some detail as this was really exotic food, or at least enquire what kind of food we would prefer – non-vegetarian or vegetarian for instance, are we ordering some drinks, etc., None of that querying happened. The napkins set on the plates nicely lost their meaning when the waiter did not even attempt to open them up and hand over to us for laying on our laps – every fine-dining restaurant I have been to does that religiously, while keeping the conversation going nicely between the waiter and the guests.
The worst mistake happened when we ordered the wine and it arrived. The person who ordered the wine (in this case it was me), is always served with a little quantity of the wine to ensure it tastes good, before serving the wine in slightly larger quantities to the other guests at the table. Here, the waitress served the wine in the opposite manner – she simply was not trained. She poured the wine for the others in larger quantities and then came to my side and did the same to me ! Even after doing this, I was prepared to forgive had she waited for a second and enquired how was the wine – but, she did not ! Unpardonable !!
The Chef did not come out and talk to us, which is the usual practice in this highly specialized fine dining restaurants. The waiters were not knowledgeable on the history of the dishes and we read it up on the menu and the internet. It is critical to create new interest in the guests on the culture and history of Persian food even if that delivery is done in 2 minutes. The restaurant was not full, the occupancy was somewhere around 25% for the entire restaurant which was a large one. How do you create a lasting interest in a foreigner when it pertains to your food, which only you understand ?
Towards the end of the dinner, the waitress did not ask us about the dessert. She assumed that we would go for a dessert, and thrust the menu card on dessert part open to us. I thought they will clear the table first, ensure it is completely clean, and then come and ask us to try some delicious Persian dessert ! But, it was not to be !! We of course, ordered the Baghlava and the Persian Icecream, and both were very delicious.
The last insult was reserved to the last – when we left the restaurant at 8:45 PM, the two waiters who served us were standing with their backs to us, and engaged in a serious conversation ! They did not see us off with a customary “Thank You Sir and Madam, Please come again !”.
These might sound silly or unimportant to most of us, but not so………these are very critical gestures, words, and communications in a service industry which largely relies on word of mouth and social media. Don’t get me wrong, Shabestan offers Persian food of very good quality, but it is unlikely I will repeat my service experience, and that too for the kind of prices that the restaurant asks for its food. Gastronomical experience is a wholistic one, and has multiple dimensions to it. It just cannot be based on the food quality only. It is an “exotic” (!) combination of a variety of factors that we look for in a fine-dining experience. There are no numbers to it, but when you leave the restaurant your heart and tummy are full with the pleasure of the overall experience. On that count,I am unable to offer Shebastan anything more than 3.5 out of 5.
In any case, welcome to Persian dining. I am looking for more such restaurants, I love the food. And, my family loved it as well.
9th February 2016