Over the past year or so, if I want to give myself a little pat on the back I usually do so with lunch at Spuntino. It'll be quick, it might involve a sneaky cocktail or glass of wine and a few plates of great food. My particular favourites are the deep-fried olives and pickles. There is always a good buzz to the place, the staff are well informed and friendly and all in, it's a good meal.
Its part of a small group fronted by Russell Norman and located around Covent Garden and Soho. The latest opening in the group is Mishkins which bills itself as "a kind of Jewish deli with drink." I've mentioned it previously noting that it was part of a triumverate of new Jewish openings in London.
I should have realised it was wrong from the silly moniker "a kind of Jewish deli...". It's meaningless. There is no such thing as a Jewish deli. I think they mean New York deli. To be a Jewish deli, even a kind-of Jewish deli, they'd need to have a broader menu, not one that solely draws from the Ashkenazi tradition. I'd want to see some deep fried artichokes by way of Rome, some fish curry from Kerala, an orange and almond cake from Spain and some decent grilling courtesy of Bukhara.
Mishkins ignores all of that and takes its Jewish inspiration firmly from the middle-European tradition. Think salt-beef, bagels, latkes and chopped liver. But these foods really aren't particularly Jewish, they're just eastern/mittel European. They're as familiar to your Polish Catholic or Russian Orthodox as they are to your Jew. Even more so perhaps if your Jew comes from Spain, Africa, India and wherever else on the four corners that Jews are still left.
Which means Mishkins is as much a Jewish deli as The Wolesely is. Afterall, they too have chopped liver, chicken soup, smoked salmon bagels and salt beef sandwiches on their menu, but no-one suggests they're a Jewish restaurant.
Enough on taxonomy, it's the food that matters and overall, the food was dull. Not that I was bored, just pretty much everything lacked flavour.
The cod cheek popcorn have got a lot of positive press, I'm flummoxed as to why other than possibly someone forgot add an ingredient to what we were served. I note that lots of places refer to chilies on their popcorn, there wasn't any on ours. We were given bland pieces of vaguely fishy fried batter, like the stuff that works itself loose from fried fish.
The herring on beetroot tartar at least looked very pretty. The fish itself was nice and firm, with a decent vinegary brine. But the beetroot was rather insipid. It would have benefited if they'd used beetroot and horseradish (chrane) rather than just beetroot. The heat from horseradish would have kicked the dish up the back-side, made it stand up and be counted.
The bagel was really a bad example of its kind. It was tough, hard and lacking any flavour. The lox looked no different than smoked salmon and 'the house shmear' tasted pretty similar to bog standard cream cheese. If they really do make it in-house, why not add a bit of pizzazz to it? They should reintroduce liptauer, a delicious cream cheese laced with paprika, onions and various spices.
The cauliflower and caraway slaw and the knish were largely forgettable. Bananas foster was nice, but that's not saying much for caramelised bananas and ice-cream.
The other restaurants I've been to in Norman's group have great food as well as a fun atmosphere. Mishkins really did not live up to that. Whereas the others have some character, this feels the most formulaic. Until now, the formula has lived up to scrutiny: alight on a genre of food that goes well with alcohol and can be served in small portions, get some props to make it look 'genuine', hire heavily tattooed staff, open. Then again, that is the point of a formula. There's one way of doing things and it always results in the same answer.
Mishkins, 25 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JS, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 2078
What others think
Tracey Macleod - "What kind of meshuggener would apply the small plates concept to Jewish comfort food, which is all about abundance and appetite?...Turns out that this Jewish deli-meets-rackety bar is just the place London has been crying out for."
A rather unusual Chinaman - "I guess it's no surprise that I enjoyed Mishkin's."