As AA Gill recently lamented (£) it is remarkably difficult to get a decent salt beef sandwich in London. As I regularly lament, it's remarkably difficult to get any decent kosher food in London, let alone a salt beef sandwich. But a host of new openings suggest the worm might be about to turn. Kosher Roast is a pop-up focused on great roast beef and Mishkins WC2 is the latest from the Polpo hothouse.
Whilst Kosher Roast brands itself as selling great food that is kosher, Mishkins is all about the Jewish/New York Deli experience. The difference between kosher and Jewish is important. Kosher food basically means it’s got a religious stamp of authority, which for some is very important. Jewish food is that which is culturally influenced by the fine canon of Jewish cuisine, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi. It is complicated and if you want to really understand it and own one of the greatest cookbooks out there, then I strongly recommend Claudia Roden.
The others are yet to open but The Deli West One has now been open for a couple of weeks and it’s all about great kosher deli food. Based on my visit, I think they’re getting into their stride.
Being a martyr to kosher food I tried a few things: the chopped liver; a salt beef sandwich and a pastrami sandwich. I also had some pickles. As I said after lunch, the meat was great, other elements less so.
Unlike some, I'm no maven of pastrami - it is a resolutely US dish - but I like to think that I know my salt beef. I also know what I like and both the pastrami and salt beef at West One were good. The pastrami was moist, a bit spicy and a little bit sweet. The salt beef was also moist - I think more so than the pastrami - but didn’t hide its salty light under a bushel. They instinctively started to carve from a depressingly lean brisket, but a request for something with more flavour (read fat) resulted in a very good sandwich.
I was impressed with the chopped liver. Whilst I generally err towards slightly sweeter chopped liver - copious amounts of onions fried in schmaltz are the answer - theirs was much better than most commercial chopped liver. That having been said, they garnish their liver with a red onion jam and crispy fried shallots which add texture and sweetness, so eaten together were very good.
The pickled cucumbers - half sours - were fine. I think they’ll appeal to US diners but I’m less certain how the Brits will respond. With our new greens and pickled dills, we’re used to vinegar based brines, rather than the salty ones our American cousins prefer. It’ll be interesting to see how they go down over time.
Those were the good things. On to the less so good. Two items stuck out: the bread and the service. The bread was supplied by Grodzinski, a kosher baker that has been around for ever and frankly the bread tasted as if it was from their inaugural batch. They call it rye, but actually it's caraway seed, rather than proper black rye bread. It was horribly stale. This is a fairly heinous crime given that much ink has been spilled as to whether what makes the sandwiches at places like Katz in New York so good is the quality of the meat or the quality of the bread. I appreciate that at this stage it might be a tall order for West One to bake their own bread, but there are enough kosher bakers in London that they should be able to track down something much better than what they currently have - or get it made bespoke for them.
The service was also not the best. I don't think this was an attempt to recreate the miserable sods who famously served at the now defunct Bloom's or the exceptionally rude staff at near-neighbour Reubens. Rather, I got the impression they were very stressed. Understandable as it's still early days and they seemed to be having problems with their till. I got chatting to one of the owners who seemed a thoroughly nice chap, but it was the staff, the guys and girls on the floor who seemed a bit flummoxed.
They’re about to face stiff competition from Mishkins for attention of those who aren’t worried about whether they keep kosher or not but want deli. Whilst I generally love their restaurants, the Polpo guys appear to be colonising London a bit (I'd love to know how they've managed to roll out so many successful restaurants so quickly) and I’m supporting the under dog in this fight.
I don't necessarily come to this review unbiased. I want them to do well. I want all restaurants to do well, more good food and more people employed are worthy goals. But I really want there to be a great kosher restaurant in London and at the moment West One is our best hope.
What others think
Youngandfoodish - the salt beef sandwich...though nicely rimmed with fat, was a tad tough and dry and the rye was limp, with no oomph in the middle and little chew-and-tear in the crust. The hot dog was plump and meaty, with the right quotient of garlic and what tasted like paprika.