“I am in love, too much, for 30 years now,” says the man who created his own kebab empire from scratch 30 years ago: Hossein Sohrabi, the driving force behind the chain of restaurants we know as Hossein’s Persian Kebab. This suddenly wistful statement about his Filipina wife, Gloria, just about knocked the wind out of me, because mere minutes earlier, Mr. Hossein was at his most larger-than-life self, personally feeding us (I kid you not) one sinfully delicious kebab mouthful after another. “You like it? You love it? That is how you eat a kebab!,” he says jovially, expending the same amount of energy he does when calling out multiple orders to his kitchen staff.
“You have to talk to them that way,” he advises, “to give them energy, motivation. You must joke with them and support them. If not, they will work slow.” Indeed, there is clearly method to Mr. Hossein’s madness because the kitchen, when we dropped by for a visit at the upscale Serendra branch, was a flurry of efficient activity. “Very nice people,” he says of his staff, “I love them, all of them. They are like my family.”
Formerly a lifeguard and bodybuilder from his native Persia, Mr. Hossein came here in 1978 to originally study engineering in MAPUA, but the advent of the Iranian revolution made it difficult for him to return home or even receive financial support from his family. This seemingly dire circumstance was a blessing in disguise as it led him to open the first authentic kebab stand in Makati, an instant hit that eventually paved the way to the restaurant empire Hossein’s is today.
“The restaurant business is in my blood,” he says. “My uncle cooked for the Shah of Iran, my mother is a great cook; we even have a restaurant business in Iran before. Cooking is a passion for us.” Upon sampling the savory Mixed Kebab Platter, which Mr. Hossein served with Saffron and Beryani rice and a dollop of freshly made yogurt, it is evident that his family’s passion for gastronomy is passed on to Mr. Hossein—he crafted the more than 350 Persian, Arabic and Indian dishes served in his restaurants, all Halal-ready.
Visiting a Hossein’s branch is already an experience on its own, with interiors that leave guests feeling like they’ve just been transported to Persia circa the Sasanian Period. Mr. Hossein really went out of his way to bring a part of his homeland here—most of the materials used in the restaurant’s interiors, like the chandeliers that hang above the restaurant’s main hall, hail from Persia. The exotic and mystical ambience, however, is nothing compared to the food. His set of aromatic salads, which include the Palak Paneer (spinach with white cheese) and Tabulee, a zesty mix of diced tomatoes, onions and parsley dressed with lemon juice and oil, nearly sealed my decision to try going veg but only for about a minute because who could resist the exquisite Lamb Dopiaza or the fork-tender Shrimp Tandoori? And that’s not including his more than 100 flavorful kebabs.
While some might find the food here exorbitantly priced, rest assured that you get what you pay for. Only high quality ingredients are used—their gravy, in particular, is made of finely ground cashew. “People who eat here, they know their food and they pay for that,” says Mr. Hossein. Looking around the already filling up restaurant (at only four in the afternoon, mind you) and seeing his staff prepare for a single reservation for what looks like almost a hundred guests, I guess it’s pretty clear that this statement stands true.
Hossein’s is open from 11 a.m. to 12 midnight daily in any of its four branches: 2/F LKV Building, Makati Avenue, Makati City, tel. no. (2) 890 6137; 2/F Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati City, tel. no. (2) 729 0266; 2/F Serendra, Bonifacio High Street, Fort Global City, Taguig, tel. no. (2) 856 0632; and 4/F TriNoma Mall, EDSA North Avenue, Quezon City (917) 882 2056. For more information, visit http://www.hosseins.com.
This article was published in HIPP Magazine’s February 2010 issue.