48 posts categorized "Restaurants"

13 May 2013

The Beckford Arms

Initially we weren't supposed to be staying at The Beckford Arms, they didn't have any rooms available when I first inquired and unfortunately a stay at The Lime Wood was on the cards.

Like a super-hero being in the right place at the right time, a tweet from The Beckford, indicated that their new lodges, known as The Splendens Pavilions were now open and there was an introductory offer.  A quick email and call secured the room and ensured I wouldn't be subjected to The Lime Wood's hospitality.

The Splendens lodges are newly built, located on The Fonthill Estate about a 10 minute walk from the pub. There are two adjoining lodges.  Each has its own kitchenette, a couple of swish TVs and most importantly a wood-burning stove, allowing me to light a fire and BE A MAN.  I was also pleased to see I had no mobile service, a rare treat indeed. This was spoiled somewhat by the wifi.  But there was a roll-top bath overlooking the fields to make up for the inconvenience of being able to receive emails.

The pavilions are meant to provide a bit of splendid isolation, away from the vague hubbub of the bar and hotel.  The kitchenettes are there to fulfil your culinary needs and in particular to break the arduous hours of fasting that generally accompanies asleep.  Usually the fridge is stocked with the ingredients for a full english.  Eschewing pig, they offered us smoked salmon. And eggs, yoghurt, bread made in the restaurant, wonderful jams, orange juice, decent coffee, milk and a couple of chocolate bars. It was a big breakfast.

There are a couple of odd touches to the room, first among them being the lack of anywhere to put your clothes away. There was no cupboard or drawers, which meant living out of a suitcase.  It turns out none of the rooms have this basic convenience. The owner reckons guests don't stay long enough and it takes up space.  But still.  I'd also have liked a super king size bed rather than just the king-size.  I am greedy I know.  

As for the the pub, the most striking thing were the sweet staff.  From those behind the bar, only too keen to ply you with their excellent bloody mary (mixing the tomato juice and herbs is the first job of the day for the bar manager) to the waiting staff, nothing was too much effort.  And they didn't give the impression that anything was any effort at all.  Just so long as guests were enjoying themselves.  Many of those guests seemed to be doing what we were, relaxing, unworried by a dress code, eating and drinking too much.

All of this wonderfulness made up for food in the restaurant that could be a bit hit and miss.  The crispy duck egg, dandelion, beetroots, turnips, radishes with wild garlic and walnut pesto read well on the menu, but needed a good salting and peppering.  The pesto rather underwhelmed.  However, fish and chips was at it should be - well battered with nicely steamed, flaky fish.

A surprising hit was the curried Israeli couscous with halloumi.  As someone who regularly looks to the veggie options on the menu, it was good to see something slightly different.  This dish was not too far from kedgeree and similarly comforting.  No problems with seasoning here.  Whitebait were large, lightly fried and served with an aioli that wasn't embarrassed by its garlic heritage.

Overall, it was a great experience and one I would strongly recommend.  The Beckford Arms was everything that Lime Wood was not.  There was hospitality, there was an eagerness to please and serve and there was enormous generosity of spirit.  Which, when I go somewhere for hospitality, like a hotel or restaurant, is what I want.

Google Maps 

The Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford, Tisbury, Wiltshire, SP3 6PX, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1747 870385

29 April 2013

Lime Wood

To be clear, this isn't a review of Lime Wood’s rooms or the food in its restaurant. This is a review of its service.  

First some context: A kind offer from the in-laws meant that Silverbrowess and I were going to get a break. As any parent of young kids will empathise, a break means the opportunity to catch-up on sleep. I'd tried The Beckford Arms but they were fully booked.  I tried a few other places and in the end the only one with availability was Lime Wood. It does look beautiful and I was intrigued by the restaurant.

When I inquired about the room, I was told they only had a Forest Suite available at an eye wateringly expensive £495 per night.  I noticed that in the booking confirmation there was no mention that the rate included breakfast. Shurely an error?  When I called to check, they confirmed that breakfast wasn't included and never is on weekends.

That is unjustifiable.  As Nicholas Lander and Danny Meyer both emphasise in their respective books The Art of the Restaurateur and Setting the Table, the hospitality industry is about just that, being hospitable and giving an impression of generosity. Charging breakfast in addition to that sort of room rate is mercenary.

Anyway, desperate to get away and not let the opportunity of fobbing off the Silverbrowlettes to willing grandparents, I acquiesced. Foolishly I convinced myself that it would be worth it in the end.

The hotel asked me if I'd be eating with them on the Friday and Saturday nights. As this was going to be a weekend of sloth, yes I would be. And when would sir like a table. Well, it's a month away so sir doesn't know exactly what time he wants to eat, but don't worry we can sort that out nearer the time. Ah, no we can't sir as the restaurant gets busy.  I'm sure it does, but we're staying with you so surely you can accommodate us. Oh no we can't. *Battered and wearied* Ok fine, we'll have a table for 8pm. Perfect, we'll organise one for as close as possible to 8pm.

I should have paid more attention to that closing line.  I received an email informing me that my tables were booked for 8.15pm and 9.15pm.  Yes, an hour and a quarter after the time I requested. Now thoroughly exasperated I pointed out the small difference in time and through the goodness of their hearts, they were able to change the 9.15pm reservation to one at 7.30pm. Only 45 minutes earlier than requested.  The generosity, the munificence.

I despair of this kind of service. The sheer arrogance to charge such iniquitous prices and make clear you couldn't care less about the customer is staggering.  I know Meyer and Lander were writing about restaurants and restaurateurs rather than hotels, but I think the premise is the same: the quality of the product matters greatly, but the quality of service and hospitality matter much more.  On the basis of my experience, Lime Wood doesn't do hospitality.

Which is why I was delighted to cancel my reservation.  A room became available at The Beckford Arms, where I had a wonderful weekend at a fraction of the price, with fantastic service and good food.  I took particular pleasure whilst at the Beckford to read Marina O'Loughlin's review of her meal at Lime Wood's restaurant. As the review and a subsequent twitter exchange made clear, she also experienced the hotel's own brand of service and hospitality. The idiots even chose to retweet her review. As I said, arrogance.

Lime Wood, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7FZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8028 7177

28 December 2012

Oslo Court

If British food in the 1980s was so bad, why is Oslo Court still going and remains so popular? 

If you haven't been there don't fool yourself into thinking that this place isn't a representation of what is considered a dark age for food in London.  This is the apotheosis of 80s dining. It's got the menu with over a dozen starters and mains, plus the 'specials' that miraculously are the same every day.  There's the salmon wallpaper, the entrance through a cloakroom and the obsequious staff.  Oh and it's located in a block of flats occupied entirely by alter kakers, on a street that if we're honest, is lucky to be able to call itself St Johns Wood.  Nothing about this place screams success.  There are no burgers, it's not east London, nor is it part of the Soho House group, tight jeans and dodgy moustaches are not de rigeur and neither is ennui.  

And yet, it is a roaring success.  Or at least, it's always busy and everyone comes away raving. I think I've cracked their rather complex formula, so for those not mathematically minded please bear with me:

a + b = c

where a = good ingredients well cooked; b = hospitable service (focused on the customer) and c = a good meal.

So yes you do have to walk into a block of flats and yes it does remind me of grandma's and papa's in Golders Green.  It's a bit like that block of flats in Poirot.  Then there is the entrance via the cloakroom into the Hyacinth Bucket inspired salmon wallpapered dining room.  But, there are also the staff who seem genuinely pleased to see you, the melba toast on your table that is crisp and the balls of butter that are well salted. Also on the table is a large plate of crudités and a punchy aioli.  Soon enough the menus arrive, so does some warm bread.  It's all so slick, pleasant and enjoyable.

The cynic might think that they're filling us up to sate our appetite before the measly/insipid food arrives. The cynic would be wrong.  I started with a fish soup, that was good, although not the best I've had and did leave me with diner's regret for not ordering the salmon and trout terrine.  Main course was a large, perfectly cooked sole meunière.  The sole was firm, but came away from the bone in large slugs with a small tug of the fish knife (I know).

The one duff note was the famed side dishes.  The restaurant is renowned for serving an obscene choice of sides and if you so much as raise an eyebrow in interest, they serve it to you.  I found all the sides we tried a disappointment, largely through oversalting.  The roast potatoes had been sitting around too long.  The deep fried courgettes were soggy and salty.  The cauliflower cheese lacked flavour and was also soggy, as was the spinach. Despite my high expectations being dashed on the rock of reality, it wasn't enough for me to write off the meal.  It was a disappointment but given it was just the sides, I will let them off.  Perhaps I'm getting soft.

Desserts are another highlight if only because they are served by Neil, who is surely the campest man alive. Camp or not, he loves his dessert and has a certainty rarely seen that whatever he is selling is the greatest dessert known to man.  I can vouch for the very good, but rather too-large strudel.  Flaky pastry and well flavoured apple filling.  A fitting end to the meal.

It was mostly well cooked food, served with care and at times passion.  At just over £40 per head, it is reasonable for what it is. Perhaps the 80s were a high point for British food, we just forgot for too long how to do the good bits. 

Google Maps

Oslo Court, Charlbert Street, London NW8 7EN, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7722 8795

What others think

Matthew Norman - ...so far as serving precisely what the punters want with warmth and patience, the Spanish family who run it are in the premier league.

Howard Jacobson -  I don't say that eating at Oslo Court proves his ordinariness, because there is nothing ordinary about the place, but it shows an unconventionality and daring, not to say exuberance, we don't normally associate with him.

14 August 2012


I was hoping not to like Trullo.  I'd railed against the inhospitable booking policy and managed to get into an argument with one of London's better chefs about it.  

Hospitality discussion

Storified by Anthony Silverbrow · Thu, Aug 09 2012 16:19:16

"We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at 8, please remember we need your table back by 10" ≠ hospitality. Restaurants should = hospitalityAnthony Silverbrow
@Silverbrow Sorry, you can't have a table all night in every restaurant out there. and sometimes we have to make that clear on the phone....isaac mchale
@itsisaac why not just work it in to the speed of service & menu construction and make sure diners are out in the necessary timeframeAnthony Silverbrow
@Silverbrow .....i don't like doing it but we have to. judge us on r hospitality when you get here, not that we have to use a table twiceisaac mchale
@itsisaac but that's not how it works, I start looking forward to my meal from before I arrive, including booking...Anthony Silverbrow
@itsisaac ...and the restaurant goes out of its way to tell me they really want me to leave at a certain time...Anthony Silverbrow
@itsisaac ...Surely restaurants can achieve the same ends without the need to be so passive aggressive to guests?Anthony Silverbrow
@Silverbrow Don't take it as aggression, just the need to reuse yr table that night at a preordained time. people get indignant at 'out by'isaac mchale
@Silverbrow ....times but you have to do something. or else charge more, or have a 'no bookings' policy.isaac mchale
@HRWright @Silverbrow s'times it does,s'times doesn't but you have to plan yr business n while i dont like, i understand necessity of themisaac mchale

I still think that if you tell a customer that you are looking forward to seeing them, but you want to make clear what time you want them out, is not a particularly welcoming thing to do.

Anyway, despite that I really can't hate Trullo.  I loved it.  Yes, I was apprehensive going in, but once it, it was an almost (see the dessert) flawless meal.

There is something cossetting about the blue tongue-and-groove room.  The service was faultless.  Just the right side of familiar, but totally focused on ensuring we had a great meal.  They were at pains to ensure that our slightly offbeat prosecco was to our liking and once the food was delivered, pretty much left us to enjoy ourselves.

We started by sharing a delicious, sloppy burrata with sticky, honeyed figs.  I then had a ricotta and butter ravioli that was silky, slippery and with a decent bite.  Silverbrowess had an almond soup.  I tried making one of these many years ago.  Mine turned out to be a gritty, garlicky mush.  Trullo's was a smooth, sexy mouthful.

For main course I had a perfectly grilled mackerel (they could teach Brasserie Zedel a thing or two about grilling fish).  The skin was charred, adding a smoky note to the moist meat within.  Silverbrowess had a crespelle.  It is basically a veggie crepe covered in cheese.  She loved it, which is what counts.  I thought it tasted fine, but was more than happy with my mackerel.

The one off note was dessert.  We ordered the white-peach and almond tart and asked for a taster of the burned caramel ice-cream.  They kindly gave us a full scoop of the ice-cream, swapping it for what I think was supposed to be creme-fraiche that accompanied the tart.  I don't think the tart did justice to what I imagine was probably some delicious fruit.  It felt a bit of a waste.  The ice-cream was far too burned and I found it bordering on the unpleasant. 

One last word on that silly reservation policy of telling us we needed to be out after two hours.  We were comfortably out of our seats by 10. Not because we rushed, or felt rushed, but because the restaurant paced the meal and made sure that we were out in time.  Which is exactly why surely, they don't need to forewarn you.  They are good at turning tables, just do it, don't bother telling the customer you are doing it.

However, despite the dessert and the booking policy, I love the place and will be back there in a shot.  Most of the food was very good, great ingredients and spot-on cooking.  I'll ignore their entreaties to bugger off when I book and I'll simply order another antipasti and just ignore the desserts. 

Google Maps

Trullo, 300-302 Saint Paul's Road, London, N1 2LH, UK
+44 (0)20 7226 2733

What others think

Jay Rayner - Great food, expertly cooked and served by friendly waiting staff… There's no secret to Trullo's success.

09 August 2012

Brasserie Zedel

Chris Corbin & Jeremy King are for good reason held in high regard in the London restaurant world. They are credited with bringing us Sheekey's, The Ivy, The Caprice.  Their group, Rex Restaurant Associates, currently owns The Wolseley, The Delaunay and new kid: Brasserie Zedel.  They have two further projects on the go, Colbert, a brasserie and The Beaumont, a hotel.

Anything strike you about that list?  It's long.  Five establishments and two men.  Two men famed for being hands on, always around, keeping an eye on things making their guests feel special.  Don't underestimate how much their guests want to feel special.  They want the reassurance of people realising that they have managed to get one of the most-wanted tables in town.  Even better if one of proprietors of these evergreen deluxe joints comes over to say hello.

So, how to maintain that level of intimacy and quality over five venus? Ah, well that assumes the plan is to maintain that intimacy and quality.  Based on my lunch at Brasserie Zedel, it's not.

My impression is that Zedel is the restaurant in the Corbin and King stable that allows the masses to say "I've eaten there".  It is I fear, a place for tourists and the bridge and tunnel brigade.  I know I should be shot for using such a horribly snobby term, but it's true.

I've seen some reviews that have reported in some wonder at just how cheap it is.  Barely £4 for some starters or main courses.  The cynic in me says it's a reflection of a need for people to justify return visits and possibly, just possibly, lower quality ingredients.

Despite the aforementioned skill of Corbin and King in creating restaurants people want to eat in, I'm a bit ambivalent about their restaurants.  I do not like The Wolseley.  Over the past couple of years I have not had a decent meal there.  The service is ok, but the food is poor.  They seemed unable to poach an egg that was not either raw or had the consistency of a rubber ball.

However, I love The Delaunay.  It consistently hits the right spot of good food, great service and a nice space.

One of the things that really struck me in Danny Meyer's book Setting the Table, was his obsession with hospitality.  Meyer, founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group which owns New York stalwarts such as Gramercy Tavern and The Shake Shack, knows a thing or two about restaurants. And until Zedel, I would have said that Corbin and King were utterly focused on hospitality as well.

First off it's remarkable how impersonal the whole place is.  As you walk in, there's this weird tiny cafe, with no one in it. Then to get to the main restaurant and bars you walk down and round and down and round without anyone or anything to confirm you're heading in the right direction.

You find your way to the dining room because of the din. It's enormous, with massively high ceilings and a vast cavernous space.  And it's very very bright, weirdly so given how deep you are and also they're good at the lighting, as both The Delaunay and Wolseley testify.

The room is pretty gross.  Not just in the German sense.  There is a lot of marble (fake?), wood pannelling (from Ikea?) and gilding.  

On to the meal.  The menu is ok, but strikes me as odd that it is all in French, with some explanations in English. Stick to one language or another and given we're in the UK, let's make it English.  What with almost cartoon-like vastness of the room, it feels like Disneyland.

After sitting down, it took about 25 minutes and a bit of handwaving to get attention to be served.  I started with a herring salad and went on to have a grilled seabass.  My spicy virgin mary was ordered but never arrived.

The herring was a good piece of fish, but it had been molested by a very oily potato salad.  Herring is oily enough, it doesn't really need much in the way of oily accompaniments.  I know that filets de hareng, pommes à l’huile is a classic, but this did not seem to be an effective execution.  The potatoes added some starch, but not much flavour.  Frankly a traditional potato salad, with a dash of mayo and lemon juice would have been a much better contrast to the already oily fish.

I'd been warned when ordering my seabass that it was a whole fish.  Fine, happy with that I've no problem filleting it.  What turns up is, as warned, a whole fish.  As I go to work demonstrating my fine dexterity it's clear that it's already been filleted.  I found it (perhaps unduly) disconcerting that this entire fish turns up, including head and a lopped off tail, but there's no skeleton.  What was inside was some overcooked fennel. The fish itself was flaccid and lacked any taste. It may have been grilled, but the skin was soggy.

It was served with what they described as pilau rice.  It seemed to me to be just ordinary white basmati rice.  Fine but dull.

I ordered a side of tomato and shallot salad.  The tomatoes looked pretty enough, lots of different hues and sizes, but lacked taste.  It had none of the sweetness of tomatoes or slight kick of oil and vinegar that you get at say Sheekey's with their version.  It was this dish more than any other that made me question the quality of the ingredients.  I was reminded of those multi-coloured boxes of tomatoes you can get in any supermarket.  They look good, but lack flavour.

In a state of some despondency I needed something to revivify me and so ordered an espresso.  It was grim.  It didn't look like an espresso, there was no crema and it had that horrible, over-extracted taste that I'd hoped had been banished from London restaurants.

I wonder whether Corbin and King are genuinely proud of Brasserie Zedel.  I'm sure it will be a financial success, but that alone has never appeared to be their driving motivation.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for restaurants making money, they are businesses and need to make a profit.  I'm well aware of the problems of profitablity at the top end.  But this just felt so cynical and so much like the Corbin and King diffusion range.

Google Maps

Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, London, W1F 7ED, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4888

What others think

Zoe Williams - It's vulgar to harp on about the money, but at these prices it's churlish to complain. The quality is solidly good, and the atmosphere swanky. Nevertheless, I feel that they're not giving themselves enough freedom. Even the slightest kink or experimentation would liven things up a bit.
Matthew Fort -  Zedel is a dream of Parisian brasseries as they never were, bigger, grander, more theatrical, dare I say better.

17 July 2012


The British national trait of self-deprecation is way over the top.  The weather isn't always terrible (despite current appearances), not all trains are delayed and the food is pretty good.  We like to think we're particularly bad at big infrastructure projects, 'oh the tubes, where's the air conditioning?', 'ach the M25 is a nightmare'.  

Au contraire, recently as a nation we've pulled our finger out and delivered some pretty special things. Exhibit A is the redevelopment of Kings Cross.  I'm not commenting on the social impact of the redevelopment (for more on this it is worth watching BBC1's brilliant The Secret History of our Streets episode on the Caledonian Road) rather, the impressive use of land.  First there was the new St Pancras terminal and the redevelopment of Gilbert Scott's stunning St Pancras Chambers, with the soaring train shed behind it.  Now the redeveloped Kings Cross station has been opened, with its stunning lattice roof and cavernous ticket hall.  Behind it is the redevelopment of land going almost the entire length of York Way and straddling the Regents Canal.  As part of that renovation they've ensured a healthy injection of cool with the relocation of Central St Martin’s School of Design from its original home on Charing Cross Road.  Also there, on an otherwise unremarkable path is Eat.St - a collective of food trucks.

Back to the Regents Canal and York Way. Let’s not beat around the bush, for most of the time London has been a major city, it has been a bit of a shit hole.  I always got a thrill driving down York Way wondering if I was about to be ambushed by some modern day highwayman.  It never happened, but the soulless, vast wasteland made it a distinct possibility.

The canal is nice in places, but is also rather stinky and fetid in others.  As I learned while attending a couple of conferences recently at Kings Place.  It is opposite Kings Place, in what was a BP petrol station, and is now called the Filling Station, that Shrimpy’s currently exists.  I say currently because it is one of these longish-term pop-ups like Roganics, just popping up for a couple of years.

Perhaps it is because of this impermanence that they try to make the whole experience last longer by making accessing the place so difficult.  Constructed from what looks like corrugated plastic, the entrance is cunningly located around the back, overlooking the canal, not by the road.  Unhelpfully there are no signs, smoke signals or even smells (beyond the canal) to guide you along.

The restaurant itself is tiny.  I would guess that at the tables they cannot sit many more than 35 people in any given sitting, with about another 8 or so at the bar.  Not having booked I perched at the bar.

Being owned and run by the team behind Bistrotheque - who let's not forget also ran one of the first pop-ups in this current wave, The Reindeer - it is very cool.  It's all creams, soft lighting and colourful doodles on the wall.  It feels like you're walking into your idealised New York restaurant for brunch. Staff are dressed in chef's jackets that makes them look like a throw-back to Oslo Court.

Their natty attire does not seem to equate to attentive service.  I was one of only three people at the bar and it was about ten minutes before anyone spotted I was there. And I’m not of the size where it is easy to miss me. Waiting did give me the opportunity to watch what was going on and it was clear that this was a very trendy crowd, or at least a crowd who remembered being trendy at some point in the late 90s.  Service seemed friendly (especially if your hair was sufficiently distressed and your lip-stick a livid hue) but was also rather hectic and disorganised.  

There was an air of fun to the room however and I hoped I was about to be let in on it.  Unfortunately the lurching start set the tone and lunch consistently felt like it was slipping a gear.  

When I eventually got a menu, water was poured into my glass (good), the water was tepid (not good). The Virgin Mary I ordered however was spicy as requested and well chilled. So they can't add ice to water, but can add horseradish to tomato juice.

A cheese and pimento toasty, from the snack menu is a delicious gooey, lightly spiced delight.  Perfect ballast.  If I have any complaint it's that it's not big enough - or perhaps I just wolfed it down far too quickly.  And then it came stuttering to a halt again with the smoked trout salad.  It was so utterly bland not much more can be said about it than it comprised of pale fish and green salad.  The trout lacked flavour and it was hard to see what the point of the dish is.  

There was a tuna tostada.  I felt a twinge of guilt ordering this, given the problems with tuna and felt even more guilt when I ate it as the fish, like the trout, died in vain.  There was none of the freshness and lightness that can make good Mexican food such a pleasure. This was just some chopped up protein on a crunchy corn crisp.

I finished with the salt cod croquettes.  They were delicious - nice and crispy, not greasy, with a good flavour of the preserved fish.  The croquettes were ably assisted by a delicious, but suspiciously white aioli.  At the least, it ensured the meal ended on a high - relative to the lows.  

There is a lot of buzz around Shrimpy's and as far as can tell, that is because the reviewers forgive the crap food for the buzz.  None of the problems I had are catastrophic and perhaps once the restaurant settles down things will improve.  But this restaurant is not setup by newbies.  There must have been extensive menu testing before opening.  I can only surmise this is more about the cool than the food. I’m all for a dose of cool, but in the end for me, it's always about the food.

Google Maps

Shrimpy’s, King's Cross Filling Station, Good's Way, London, N1C 4UR  N1C 4UR

Tel: +44 (0)20 8880 6111 

What others think

Marina O'Loughlin - "Yes, yes, I know I haven’t got to the food yet. That’s because, despite loving the restaurant, it’s the least successful element.”
AA Gill - "A hot salsa was hot and the tuna tostada was as forgettable as the Christmas sales. The octopus was like chewing condoms out of the canal."


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."