Think of Middle Eastern food and you’ll probably think of the regular hummus and falafels. So we took it upon ourselves to find you something that takes its influences from all over the Middle Eastern region and dates back over 2,000 years – fine Persian cuisine. Welcome to Shabestan, the convivial haunt to enjoy authentic Persian street food and warm breads. Similar to Indian cuisine in some ways (with its choice of curries, sides and kebabs), this restaurant makes for a great choice when you’re in the mood for something different yet familiar.
Shabestan: The Setting
Shabestan has been honouring the timeless traditions of Persian dishes since 2013 against a backdrop of the Singapore River along Robertson Quay district, adding a touch of vibrant cultural heritage with friendly service. Diners can choose to sit al fresco or amid air-conditioned interiors, tastefully adorned with Persian artefacts and local music. As the owners of this Persian restaurant are also chefs there (Managing director and executive chef Mohammed Hosseini has spent 16 years specialising in Persian cuisine, while Chef Yang adds her touch to Persian cuisine with her flair for western pastry and Asian food), only the finest (healthy) ingredients are used. Madan Kishor, who is the Food and Beverage Director manages the restaurant and makes sure that your dining experience is great with attentive staff and fab service.
Despite not having regular suppliers to import some hard-to-find products for them – the chefs usually have to resort to bringing in the products themselves when they travel to the Middle East. Nevertheless, you don’t see them scrimping on authentic basic building blocks such as saffron, olive oil, pomegranates, prunes, raisins, nuts and other spices. Add to that slow-cooked charcoal grilled kebabs (yes, vegetarian ones too), soft breads, superb appetisers and brilliant cocktails, and you’ll definitely not want to leave Shabestan in a hurry.
Tried and Tasted Appetisers & Salads at Shabestan
The ample vegetarian appetisers are the best thing at Shabestan when you’re hanging out with friends over drinks, and make for great relaxed sharing plates. We recommend starting off with the Falafel (S$ 15++ for 5 pieces) and Executive Chef Hamid’s Mixed Appetiser Platter (S$ 58++) where you get a selection of chef’s 8 most recommended appetisers along with two fresh pieces of fresh Iranian bread (akin to naans). The appetizer sounds expensive but is actually value for money as it is large enough to be shared amongst four people. There is also an option for a veg platter with 5 appetisers at S$30.
As went with the 8-dish platter, we got to try a range of appetizers. The smooth Hummus is delicious, given the fact that it is all natural, without any artificial flavouring. Something different is the Kash-e-Bademjan, where gooey sautéed eggplants and mint are tossed in a secret homemade dressing and are delicious to dip the bread into. The brightly coloured Muhamara is a blend of walnuts, pomegranates, molasses, roasted bell peppers, bread crumbs and spices and is definitely worth trying. Normally we aren’t big fans of dolmas, so tried the version here with great trepidation – however, unlike usual dolmas, these ones weren’t bitter at all and we finished every last piece of them. Equally novel is Mast, the Persian yoghurt made of three Caspian style dips – mountain shallot, spinach, and cucumber with sundried mint.
Our favourite starters at Shabestan though, were the Borani Esfanaj, best described as a distant dry cousin to regular spinach saag, where spinach is simply fried with onions and garnished with sundried tomatoes; and the Homemade Cheese, a highly addictive smooth secret recipe cheese that chef makes himself on a daily basis. For a touch of fibre, you might want to add on a side salad such as the regular Shirazi Salad (S$ 12++) with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in house dressing; or the more exotic Zeytoon Parvardeh (S$ 14++) with marinated green olives, walnuts, herbs, spices and pomegranate.
Tried & Tasted Kebabs & Mains at Shabestan
While the delicious tapas-style beginning may be enough for some, those with heartier appetites (or larger groups) can try Shabestan’s only chargrilled vegetarian kebab – the Sabzi Kebab (S$ 25++), where grilled seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, cucumbers, red peppers, celery, mushrooms and chili peppers are marinated in a special homemade spice blend and then served with rice and green salad, making for a very substantial meal on its own.
Other main options include rich Persian stews such as the Khorest-e-Bamieh (meaning okra cooked in a tomato-based curry with garlic) and Khoreh-e-Ghureh-o-Bademjan (eggplants braised with baby green grapes in saffron and tomato gravy, S$ 27++). Both dishes are served with Basmati rice, and dispute being delicious, they turned out to be a little too oily for our liking. The stews however, perfectly complemented the very colourful speciality Sabzi Polo (SGD 25++), which is best described as a Middle Eastern style pulao with raisins and fried onions. Shabestan considers Persian rice to be the soul to fine Persian dining, and takes pride in carefully selecting the best grains of rice possible. The rice is soaked in salty water for at least 48 hours prior to any preparation, before being finished off with saffron flavouring.
Tried, Tasted & Drooled Over Desserts at Shabestan
Save space for something sweet to conclude the decadent meal. Your options are going with the regular rich but delicious and not overly sweet Baghlava (SGD 10++), or trying the house special – Faludeh Shirazi & (Persian saffron) Ice Cream (SGD 15++). Though Indian falooda is generally soft vermicelli suspended in a milkshake or on ice-cream, the Persian version of falooda dates back to 400 BC, where crispy vermicelli noodles surround frozen wild cherry and rose water syrup, crowned with special homemade pistachio ice cream and pomegranate, along with just a touch of lemon to bring out the sweet flavours.
Know Before you Go
We won’t beat around the bush – Shabestan is not overly wallet-friendly, and things can add up pretty fast when you’re ordering a couple of drinks and nibbles to go along with the food. But, the portions are very generous and food quality is top-notch, so rest assured, you’re getting your money’s worth here for sure. Would we come back? Yes, in a heartbeat.
Shabestan: The Pier @ Robertson, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-13, Singapore 239013