It's shwarmaggedon as Solly's closes down
The Mediterranean might have been far away and the double-decker buses cruising past the awnings would have reminded you that you were not in Israel. But for 24 years Solly's brought a taste of Tel Aviv to Golders Green.
Now the shwarma towers have turned for the last time as one of London's first kosher Israeli restaurants closed this week, prompting laments from loyal customers.
One Direction star Harry Styles, introduced to the restaurant by his film producer friend Ben Winston, was said to be "mortified". Pop culture journalist Chas Newkey Burden described the news as "shwarmaggedon".
Linda Sade, owner and widow of the eponymous Solly, said: "We decided to leave the area and are planning to open a few smaller places around town, in the City and North London, instead of having one restaurant."
Self service: 1pm on Monday, and unusually for such a thriving establishment, the tables are bare
But Menashe Gavish, who said he was associated with the business, was more outspoken on the cause of its departure, blaming over-competition. "The London Beth Din has given so many kashrut licences," he said. "They were warned three years ago, 'consider who you are giving licences to because you are killing us'. There about a hundred thousand Jews [in North-West London] who eat kashrut - enough for four restaurants but you have 15 to 20 locally."
When Solly's opened, barely a handful of kosher restaurants existed in Golders Green Road, including Bloom's, which bit the dust in 2010.
A generation familiar with Israeli food from kibbutz and youth tours could now enjoy Israeli cuisine back home. "Solly was the first to introduce kosher lamb and chicken shwarma, and Lebanese-style dishes like tabbouleh," Ms Sade said.
Now in a 200-metre stretch at the station end of Golders Green Road, there are 11 kosher supervised restaurants and cafes, six others, like Solly's, licensed by the LDB. While Ms Sade would not criticise the rabbinic authorities, she believed the number of kosher restaurants in such a small area "ridiculous".
The restaurant managed to endure its founder's death in 2000 and a serious fire seven years later.
On its final night, the fairly lights above the pavement tables were still flashing, a queue had gathered by the takeaway counter and the downstairs was more than half-full.
But earlier in the day, the lunchtime trade had been sparse, while further up the road a more recent kosher arrival was packed with post-exam teenagers.
Solly's bare wood tables and ochre arches seemed jaded compared to the sheen of some of the newer establishments. But at least some kick was left in the hot harif sauce.
Regular Joshua Toff, of Hampstead, lunching with colleagues, was surprised at its closure. "It is the most well-established place on the street. We'll definitely miss it."
Gill Varon, from Kingston, South London, thought it "a great loss".
Mr Winston said: "With no warning, it makes this terrible news harder to swallow. I will forever miss the chicken shish, the laffa, and the pretence that their card machine was temporarily not working."
A spokesman said the Beth Din was saddened at the end of a flagship restaurant but the authority could not restrict the number of restaurants. "That could be considered an illegal restraint of trade," he said. "We must also recognise that there are at least four kashrut licensing bodies in London, and even if we were to withhold a licence, a company would undoubtedly gain one from another.
"In a thriving Jewish community like London, if a business is trustworthy, has appropriate supervision and is fully kosher, in the interests of the consumer, the Beth Din could not, in good conscience, refuse them a licence."
In 2011 Ms Sade obtained planning permission to build flats over the restaurant, and last month Barnet Council granted permission to an applicant called Baruch Zekaria to add additional flats and office space, although the JC understands that restaurant space might remain downstairs.
Mrs Sade hoped to have better news in a few months' time. "Our name will be the same. It's definitely not the last shwarma."