At Koocha Mezze Bar, flavourful food matches tasteful décor. No wonder it could bring about world peace, as Alex Diggins discovers
“I like the tiles.”
“Yep, they’re very striking, a real centrepiece.”
“Hmmm, any thoughts on the food?”
“Well, there’s a lot of it.”
Attempts to outsource my review were not going well. But I could see my companion’s point: there was a lot of food. In fact there was a whole table-threatening spread of the stuff that was so dotted between us that it was difficult to find space to rest a glass.
Emma, the engaging manager, had more than fulfilled her promise to allow us to taste the menu. In truth, if we were given any more of the menu to taste, we’d soon have to start colonising neighbouring tables in some miniature version of the Great Game. But considering there was barely any room in the first place, and it was rammed with other parties gnawing and jawing happily, and as this is a vegan restaurant (a notoriously warlike people), I felt that itchy-footed expansionism was not a smart move. Besides, vicious territorial warfare would make a mess of those lovely tiles.
Koocha’s problem – if it can be called a problem in the restaurant trade – is that this Persian eatery is so damn popular. I’d spent a few months trying to get a spot there, and I had the considerable weight of Bristol’s leading free property publication behind me. Lord knows, you probably don’t stand a chance.
But don’t let its impenetrability put you off; Koocha is well worth waiting for. With an enviable terrace area, consistently rammed during the summer (and still popular on the decidedly nippier October evening we visited), Koocha has hit the mark in matching food with atmosphere. Flurries of small, sharing plates sailed frequently through the bustle of candlelit space – which I’m desperately trying to resist calling ‘intimate’– to pile up on the table, cueing us up to begin another wave of joyous munching.
As we’d happily let our waitress hijack our ordering, I’m a little hazy about what arrived when. (The Wild Beer Bibbles we slurped while waiting may also have borne some responsibility.) Nonetheless: koopa were delightful fried rice balls, redolent of cinnamon and turmeric, sitting in a slick of garlic mayo. And gormeh sabzi was a pot of green herbyness so funky – “It is very earthy,” our waitress warned us, unnecessarily – it tasted like it could cure the common cold singlehandedly.
Beetroot hummus was similarly a sucker-punch of vegetable potency. Stick that swaggering bad boy in front of anyone who claims vegan food lacks taste, and watch them get knocked out cold. However, the cauliflower with saffron yogurt tasted, by contrast, a little wussy. At its best, roasted cauliflower can be as gnarly and toothsome as the best T-bone, but here its flavour was muted by the yogurt. Aubergine dip was likewise a bit of a let-down. It lacked that deep-fired delicious that comes when the aubergine has been thoroughly blackened and abused over screaming hot coals. This effort, though pleasant enough, seemed a pale imitator.
No imitator was the doner kebab, though. This was the real deal. I know there are vegans who object to the whole idea of ‘fake meat’, but I feel these gateway drugs into the pleasures of a fleshless lifestyle have their place. And, on the evidence of their seitan doner, Koocha will have a few people hooked. The ‘meat’ was well-marinated and had an authentic chewiness, the pitta was light and pillowy, and the salads added a serious vibrancy and crunch. Stuffed in the gob with a handful of Koocha’s special house fries, it made a winning treat.
Given the fact that half of Bristol seemed to be there, you hardly need me to tell you that Koocha is a cracking spot for an evening out. Diehard carnivores or vegans-for-life alike can come here to meet, mingle, and bond over good food. In this sense, Koocha is more important than a mere eatery: it is a mission for world peace. Must be the tiles.
Koocha Mezze Bar
10 Zetland Road
0117 924 1301