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3 posts from December 2011

28 December 2011


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.

Now that I've been there, I realise I was wrong to lump it together with Kosher Roast and The Deli.  I take comfort from not being the only one to make this mistake, however.

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.

Google Maps

Mishkins25 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."

27 December 2011

The Cookery School hosts Valhrona classes

This is a short, intra-holiday note to ensure your larding is fully topped-up.

I always have a nightmare cooking with chocolate, so was intrigued to hear that the choc-snobs favourite Valhrona are holding classes with the Cookery School at Little Portland Street based around their reputedly very good book Cooking with Chocolate.  The class is being taught by Valhrona's UK executive chef Andrew Gravette.

The one class currently open to bookings is on 15 March. Places are limited to 14 people, but at the time of writing there is still availability.

I guess I should have written about this before Chanukah/Christmas, but I didn't.  Surely you haven't had enough of giving gifts or eating very rich food and so the prospect of freebasing chocolate is still appealing. 

I've no idea about Mr Gravette's credentials, but I went to a sourdough course with Dan Lepard at Little Portland Street a couple of years ago that was excellent.  I'm confident this will be as well.

06 December 2011

Kosher Roast

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.

Google Maps

Kosher Roast
The Shop,
75 Chamberlayne Road, 
Kensal Rise, 
London, NW10 3ND