If the talk of Middle Eastern food makes you think of good ol’ hummus and falafel, then you need to expand your horizons. Enter Persian cuisine! Dating back over 2000 years and drawing influences from all over the Middle Eastern region, Persian food makes for a great choice when you’re in the mood for something different yet familiar. Now, authentic Persian food is somewhat of a rarity in Singapore, but Shabestan treats your taste buds to some of the finest food from Iran.
If you thought that Persian food was just about kebabs and lamb, Chef Hamid Hosseini and his team prove you fabulously wrong by offering an extensive Vegetarian Menu with a range of salads, appetisers, mains and desserts. What’s better is that several of the dishes on the vegetarian menu can be done vegan upon request. Says Madan Kishor, Shabestan’s Corporate Food and Beverage Director, “Persian cuisine is as diverse and multi-faceted as its culture and we would like to showcase another side of Persian cuisine with healthy and plant-based food”.
With the slow-cooked charcoal grilled kebabs (yes, vegetarian ones too), soft breads, superb appetisers and hearty mains, my guess is you won’t want to leave Shabestan in a hurry.
Vegan & Vegetarian Appetisers & Salads at Shabestan
The vegan Shirazi Salad (S$12++) of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in a house dressing, is super fresh with a pleasantly dominating taste of lime. The Gulf Salad (S$14++), which I remember from a previous visit, is quite refreshing, with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese on a bed of lettuce, and apple and pomegranate adding a surprise element. Feta can be omitted to make the Gulf Salad vegan.
Moving on, 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. Shabestan’s Dolma is one of the better ones I’ve had. The grape leaves are not too dry and their texture isn’t dominating. The stuffing of rice, split yellow peas and herbs is warm, juicy and delightful.
The star appetiser though is the Appetiser Platter (S$35++) which lets you taste 5 different appetisers served with Iranian bread. The Hummus is smooth, slightly garlicky and delicious and so is the homemade cheese. Husband’s favourite was Muhammara, a delicious blend of walnuts, pomegranate, molasses, olive oil, toasted bread crumbs, roasted peppers and spices; I would have preferred for it to be slightly less sweet. Kash-e-Bademjan is another great dip of sautéed eggplants and mint tossed in a secret homemade dressing. My favourite appetiser though was Borani Esfanaj, where spinach is simply fried with onions and garnished with sundried yogurt and saffron; absolutely great to dip that Iranian flatbread into. The appetiser platter can be done vegan too, upon request.
Vegan & Vegetarian Kebabs & Mains at Shabestan
While the delicious tapas-style beginning may be enough for some, those with heartier appetites (or larger groups) can try Shabestan’s only chargrilled vegetarian kebab – the Sabzi Kebab (S$ 25++), where grilled seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, cucumbers, red peppers, celery, mushrooms and chilli 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. Sabzi Kebab is quite flavourful, with the vegetables shining bright.
When you’re at Shabestan, do dig into a rich Persian stew with your mains. Khorest-e-Bamieh (S$27++) is a stew of okra cooked in a tomato and garlic-based curry; while Khoreh-e-Ghureh-o-Bademjan is a stew of eggplants braised with baby green grapes in a saffron and tomato gravy. The baby grapes come from Iran and add a tang to the dish. Both stews are similar yet different. I prefer okra to eggplants any day but I liked the eggplant curry better, so I find it hard to pick a favourite. Both stews are served with fluffy Basmati rice. *The rice is garnished with butter, you can request for it to be omitted to make it vegan.
The stews also perfectly complement the colourful and very flavourful speciality Sabzi Polo (S$25++), which is best described as a Middle Eastern style pulao with raisins and fried onions. I’m normally not a rice person but this is one rice dish I can get onboard with. The Sabzi Polo was heavenly with the first bite – seasonal vegetables like bell peppers and okra, cashew nuts and contrasting flavours of the sweet raisins and the sour barberries. Shabestan considers 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. You would normally not expect the Indian Paneer in a Persian restaurant but Sabzi Polo had a few pieces of paneer, so if you’re vegan ask for it to be done without.
Tried, Tasted & Drooled Over Desserts at Shabestan
Save space for something sweet to conclude the decadent meal. We went with the rich and delicious, but not overly sweet Baghlava (S$10++), which we enjoyed while sipping on Herbal Tea.
Verdict & Vegan-Friendly Factor
All in all, a great meal with barely anything we could find fault with. The staff are pleasant and the service top-notch. The vegetarian menu is vast, varied and well-balanced. The portions are very generous and food quality is top-notch, so rest assured, you’re getting your money’s worth here for sure.
Several dishes can be easily done vegan, but please do remember to request beforehand. The Appetiser Platter can be done vegan, and several of the dips are vegan and can be ordered on their own as well. The salads, rice, stews and veg kebabs can be done vegan as well.
Would we come back? Yes, in a heartbeat.
Shabestan: The Pier @ Robertson, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-13, Singapore 239013. Website