The original Parwana Afghan Kitchen on Henley Beach Road might have doubled in size after renovations earlier in the year but it remains as welcoming and delicious as ever.
Parwana is buzzing. Not many places are packed at 6.30pm on a Wednesday night but Parwana isn’t your everyday Adelaide restaurant. Started in 2009 by Zelmai and Farida Ayubi, the Afghan eatery became an Adelaide favourite due to word of mouth. For years it has been one of the city’s go-to restaurants, the place you bring interstate and overseas guests when you want to impress.
After undergoing renovations a few months back, the Henley Beach Road restaurant is more welcoming than ever. On this winter’s day it is a warm escape from the blustering cold outside. This warmth includes the design palette by Studio-Gram and Mash, which is bold and colourful with hints of darkness on the freshly painted walls reflecting mismatched geometric tile flooring. A few sparsely placed family photos and traditional ceramics tidily arranged on shelves break up the otherwise simplistic styling. These photos reflect the Ayubi family’s vision for Parwana: to share an authentic piece of the Afghanistan they left behind in 1987, the year they fled their country of origin to escape the Cold War.
The Wednesday menu is succinct. A handful of dishes are listed under each of the four headings: small appetisers, mains, accompaniments and dessert. Come on another evening and you’ll be offered a different helping, as only a few staple family favourites are dished up every night of the week. This allows the Parwana kitchen to hone the flavours of the selected dishes each night. Their days start early, infusing the essence and spice of Afghan flavour into each dish through traditional methods of tandoor slow-roasting, grilling and stewing.
One of the regulars is banjaan borane. This divine eggplant and tomato dish is packed with robust flavour and a hint of sweetness thanks to garlic-infused yogurt and fresh mint. It isn’t the most attractive dish but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in aromatic flavours of the homeland.
Another must-try item is potato qorma; tenderly-roasted chunks of this usually humble vegetable are coated in a zingy, spicy curry. The coriander accent is muted by a series of other spices and fresh chilli. Steamed dumplings is another must-try dish. There’s nothing fussy or glamorous here either, just good wholesome morsels stuffed with sautéed onion and carrot, swimming in a splash of light yogurt sauce. We skip the option of a mince sauce topping, our sights firmly set on the gosht (grilled Afghan meats) to come.
Kabuli palaw is widely recognised as the national dish of Afghanistan. Parwana’s version takes aged long-grain rice to a magical place, as the caramelised carrots, sultanas, slivered almonds and pistachios combine for a delicious showcase of simple flavours.
As the kabuli palaw plate empties, another dish takes its place. Tender chunks of grilled lamb are coated in garlic, coriander and chilli, served platter-style with wedges of naan bread and Parwana’s signature herbaceous chutney. A roughly hewn salad is piled alongside and cuts through the otherwise hefty dish with bursts of freshness, but the lamb, rolled up in naan and piled high with condiments, is the main event. It’s an eat-with-your-hands mess worth making.
Like many of the dishes on the menu, dessert is basic and utterly delicious. Seb morabah is a traditionally-preserved apple paired with cardamom and vanilla shir yakh (that’s ice cream for those not fluent in Afghan treats). While the apple is very sweet, the ice cream balances with a creamy texture and delicate spice.
Cooking and service at Parwana is a family affair. Many generations of the Ayubi family are in the kitchen and on the floor. Their tradition and integrity shines through in the food, service and ambiance of the place. Once I’m out the door, I know one thing’s certain, I’ll be back to visit very soon. Tomorrow, perhaps?
Parwana Afghan Kitchen
124B Henley Beach Road, Torrensville
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 6pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday, 6.30pm to 10.30pm, Sunday: 6pm to 10pm
Photography: Sia Duff