As well as being a darling of the neighbourhood, Ariana II (I is in New York, though there’s nothing Manhattan-esque here) attracts people from across London with its excellent cooking, budget prices and BYOB policy. The frontage is pretty indistinguishable from Kilburn High Road’s ranks of kebab shops; inside is a small, plain dining room with a few Afghan portraits on the walls (there’s more room in the basement). But you can be certain of a sunny welcome and swift service.
The menu reflects the multiple influences on Afghan food – from Arab lands, the Indian subcontinent and further afield in Asia. These show up in dumplings, tikkas and kebabs, but the cuisine has a unique slant too. Plump, moreish leek-filled aushak ravioli topped with ground meat and yoghurt, and warmly spiced fried pumpkin turnovers (bolanee kadoo) with a side of fiery chakni relish (also available to buy by the bottle) make ideal starters.
For mains, kabuli palow (a melting, slow-cooked lamb shank buried in a mound of yellow rice dotted with pistachios and peppers) is a must. To drink, order minty yoghurt dough or freshly squeezed juices, and conclude with cardamom-flavoured tea and pastries. A treat.