There are times when not knowing what you're doing is a very effective way of doing something well. Ignorance and naivety can be surprisingly powerful when combined with willfullness. Proof of this was there to see on Sunday, with the launch of Kosher Roast.
I admire immensely what Amy Beilin, driving force behind Kosher Roast has achieved. I have no doubt that setting up a pop-up is hellish: there is the sourcing; staffing; rent; cooking; health & safety; serving; washing up etc etc.
The problems must be compounded if as in Amy's case you've never worked in a restaurant before. But as problems go they are barely a flesh wound on the rampaging bull, on heat, in a farmyard of frigid cows, that are the requirements of being a kosher restaurant (even if it's not from one of the main kashrut authorities) and making the food taste great.
I should say at this stage that I was sitting down as more than just an intrigued but otherwise disinterested punter. Over the last few months I've been giving Amy some thoughts. I have no idea whether they were helpful or not, but in return for my bon mots, Amy said she wanted to buy me lunch. I decided it was a fair deal. (NB This is the first time I've ever accepted a complimentary meal whilst writing the blog. La Tasca, if you're reading, please don't let this give you false hope.)
As a reader with even the worst reading habits will know, I have a broad range of complaints on the rather niche subject of kosher food in London. The quality is poor, the variety is limited, the costs are high, the staff are rude and passion is non-existent.
And then there is Kosher Roast.
Starters were a tiny chicken and leek pie, accompanied by a scotch egg (turkey, not pork, natch) with a mustard mayo. The farmyard conceit was carried through to the basket of hay that everything nestled in. I've always wanted to make a scotch egg because deep fried sausage around a boiled egg sounds so very tasty. I'm sure it's not the same as one made with a piggy sausage, but let's just accept the fact: this was a very tasty dish. The coating had crunch, I'm pretty sure it was made from panko breadcrumbs, around a very moist and slightly spicy sausage mix. Ideally, I'd have liked the egg to be a bit runny, like the ones I've spotted at The Bull & Last. The chicken and leek pie was similarly good, although at little more than a mouthful, didn't leave much of a lasting impression.
The main course was roast beef, goose fat (imported from France because it's not sold here for some reason) roasted potatoes, mini-beets, kale and horseradish. Again, it was very good. The beef was nicely rare, wih great flavour, although I wouldn't have said no to a few crunchy bits. I fear the gravy might have been thickened with corn-starch or something, but let's swiftly move on.
The roast potatoes were almost as good as Silverbrowess's who is widely, and rightly, famed for her roasties. The beets added a touch of sweetness, helped along by the impressively garlic-laden kale. The yorkshire pudding was ok - it's always a bit tough making them without milk and I've never been the greatest fan anyway. Overall, it was a lovely plate of food.
Dessert is rarely anything of note in kosher restaurants, because as with the yorkshire pud, there's the problem of dairy with meat. Amy came up with three little dark chocolate petit fours that were wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon. They were surprisingly tasty, in particular the gooey cookie and the cornflake crisp.
My gripes are minor and overall, we were served very good food. I think it was up to the standards of many solid, local restaurants and reminded me of typical decent, pub/restaurant fare. I have yet to have a meal that was of this high quality in any kosher restaurant in London.
What I find almost more intriguing than the food, was the way she succeeded in getting the whole package right. The venue was a little bit funky and edgy (interesting artwork in the men's loos for example). There was a thoughtful drinks list, with good wines at reasonable prices and four house cocktails - unheard of in any other kosher restaurant.
I'm well aware that catering a set menu for two days is very different to running a restaurant. The waitresses I'm sure were all friends. Some suppliers would be difficult, but others would cut you some slack because they know this is a short-lived venture, more for fun than profit. Despite those caveats Amy has set a new bar for kosher dining - which in some regards isn't all that difficult. What Amy has achieved is doing something different with kosher food and has made a roaring success of it. For so long we've been limited to a cynical choice of poor quality, uninspiring food and iniquitous prices.
Kosher Roast has ably demonstrated that passion goes a long way. I would hope that other restaurateurs who serve the kosher market will experience Kosher Roast. They will notice the slightly alternative crowd, the brilliant branding and most importantly, the passion for what is on the plate and served to paying customers. As that great arbiter of kashrut, Roy Castle liked to say, dedication's what you need.
75 Chamberlayne Road,
London, NW10 3ND