Ariana II (London, UK)

Our visit to London this time was a short one, so after just a few days we found ourselves looking for one last good ethnic meal before our departure, and my brother decided that it would be good to head over to Kilburn and get some Afghan food. Kilburn has an interesting assortment of ethnic restaurants, with more than a few places serving Afghan food, but Ariana II is one of the best-regarded (for those curious, the original Ariana is in New York City. I’ll have to check it out sometime).

Much like our previous outing for Uyghur food, you can immediately tell looking at the menu of Ariana II that Afghan food reflects the region’s history as a trade cross-roads, in that it really resembles other similar cuisines, with influence from Turkish (kebabs), Persian, and Indian cuisines (a naan-like bread). And the basic approach is basically small plates, so we ordered their Family Grill, a selection of appetizers, mains, bread, and desserts for the entire table.

First up was baudinjan buranee, which was basically a dish of fried eggplant served up in a rich pepper and paprika sauce, making for a nice dish that we could sop up with some of the bread. The bread itself was somewhat halfway between a Lebanese pita and an Indian naan, having more of the texture of the former but the nice oven char of the latter.

Most any cuisine that’s even close to Turkish or Greek also generally has some sort of hummus dish, and Ariana II’s version was quite pleasant: creamy and smooth, with more than a bit of garlic bite.

Next up: some beef samosas. If there was an underperforming dish during the meal, this was it: the meat filling was pleasant and nicely spiced, but the wrapper was a bit dense and not very crispy. Either a lighter, or a chewier samosa wrapper would have added nicely to this.

The aushak (leek dumplings) that followed, however, were a success: the same wrapper that wasn’t terribly good in the fried samosa worked quite well as a steamed wrapper, around a very rich and flavorful leek, onion, and hot pepper filling, served up with a nice beef, ginger, and tomato sauce with just a smattering of yogurt, this was a pleasant and unique dish.

One of the more pleasant sides was kabuli palow, a pleasant aromatic pilaf with raisins, peppers, and some vegetables that was a very pleasing variety of pilaf, offering up an almost sweet counterpoint to most of the other dishes.

The mains consisted of three plates of meat for the table: some chicken kebab (not shown), a lamb kofta (skewers of minced meat), and mantu (stuffed dumplings). Both the kebabs and the kofta were nicely done: well-marinated meat with a good spice blend, grilled to a nice crispy char. I’d happily return for just more of the kofta.

Mantu is a classic Afghan dish that’s similar to the above-mentioned aushak, except using a lamb-based filling, making for a particularly pleasing dish: the lamb filling was basically like a perfectly-spiced lamb meatball, the wrapper holding in some moisture, and the sauce serving as a pleasant complement.

Rounding out the meal was some pleasant baklava, of the variety containing a substantial amount of rose water resulting in a pleasant, floral note.

Overall, we really enjoyed Ariana II. In the somewhat rough neighborhood of Kilburn, it’s a neighborhood gem serving up a nice variety of Afghan food in a pleasant environment. Along with some of the nicer cocktail bars and theaters in the area, Kilburn is starting to become a bit of an attraction.

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