Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fine restaurants spring up to serve Iran’s elite

With its high ceilings, big chandeliers, grey and red velvet furniture, and walls decked in contemporary Iranian art, the Divan restaurant, which serves modern Persian fusion cuisine, is one of the most exclusive restaurants in Tehran
On the eighth floor of a shopping mall in the affluent north of the capital, diners at Divan enjoy a view of the mountains that surround the Iranian capital. On their way to dinner, they can stop off at the floors below where shops sell expensive watches, furniture and clothes
Welcome to the rarefied world of the Iranian elite, the tiny proportion of the country’s 75m population that has managed to thrive despite international sanctions that have seen ordinary Iranians struggle with a weak currency, rising inflation and stubborn unemployment

The Divan restaurant in Tehran. While the capital once boasted just a handful of fine restaurants popular with foreign diplomats and Iranian expatriates, over the past year more than a dozen new restaurants have opened and most of the diners are Iranian

“The new restaurants are to address the demand of a class who drive Porsches, wear suits worth €20,000 and need to eat out,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economic analyst. “The government of [outgoing president Mahmoud] Anmadinnerjihad created this political class but now they are only loyal to their wealth and want to have peace”
These people, who make up about 1% of Tehran’s population of 12m, have the kind of wealth enviable not just by Iranian but also by international standards, said Bernard Ezraeelian, who manages Leon restaurant. They have the kind of lifestyle that means they can enjoy restaurant food most nights of the week, he said
The customers range from the nouveau riche to wealthy Iranians of noble origin. The women cover their hair with fine scarves – in an effort to observe the obligatory pislamic dress – and sport shoes and handbags made by Western designers

Another expensive restaurant in north Tehran, in Darband. Yet for the vast majority of Iranians, the average Divan bill of 1m rial or $40 per head – roughly one-fifth of a monthly wage – means they are unlikely to darken its doors. “The only thing we had in our life was to go to a coffee shop once a week [and even ] that we cannot do any longer,” said Azar, a 52-year-old university-educated government employee

Some of those operating at the highest end of the Iranian restaurant market have to negotiate a way round the country’s ban on serving alcohol in public
Some import syrups from France and Armenia to serve non-alcoholic cocktails, said Bernard Ezraeelian, who manages Leon restaurant. “Instead of Coca-Cola, people can have cocktails which look beautiful on the table and conjures up a feeling of having wine,” he said
Not all the younger customers stick to the rules. Some add black market rum to non-alcoholic Mojitos. It is not unusual for glasses of sour cherry or pomegranate juice to be refilled with French or Spanish wine. “If it is obvious and a bottle of red wine is put on the table, we will deal with it,” said one restaurant owner. “But if customers do it delicately, we ignore it”
News report here.