A London pub may not be the first place you would expect young Orthodox singles to frequent, but what is claimed to be Europe’s first kosher pub has rapidly become a destination of choice for this particular demographic.
Sadly, it is not called The Chief Rabbi’s Head, but Fernando’s Chicken Grill and Bar in Hendon, North-West London, is doing a roaring trade since it opened a month ago in the premises of the former White Bear pub.
Co-owned by Israelis Sam Elia and Gil Ovadia and under the supervision of both the London Beth Din and Sephardi Kashrut Authority, it is regularly attracting young, frum singles.
Taking a break from pulling pints behind the bar, Mr Elia said: “Gil and I were involved in the food business and we wanted to give the Jewish community the feel and the atmosphere of a West End venue in North London. Gil and I came up with this idea of starting a kosher pub. We know it’s the first in Britain and we believe it’s the first in Europe. For us, it’s not just a business to make money, it’s enjoyable as well.”
Mr Ovadia added: “We saw an opportunity to do something for the young Jewish crowd. We’ve opened up a new front in the kosher market. Now there’s no excuse for not having a good beer in a kosher place. People said we were mad to take this on because it is so big — the pub can seat 200.
“The pub is a place for young people. We have no problem with them staying until midnight in a place where they feel safe,” noted Mr Ovadia.
When the JC visited this week the pub was packed, although the owners admit they sell “more Diet Coke than is usual in pubs”.
After taking a sip from his pint, Paul Flynn, son of a former landlord, said: “There’s nothing overtly kosher about it. The fact that it’s a kosher pub wouldn’t stop me coming here.”
Rabbi Jeremy Conway, director of the London Beth Din Kashrut Commission, said: “We had no difficulties at all with the licence.”
So what does our pub critic think?
Styling itself as a family pub, Fernando’s has replaced its darts with a toddlers’ play mat, writes Alex Barnes. With eight tables full for Wednesday lunch, this kosher version of Nando’s is doing well. The wobbly tables and collapsing umbrellas need TLC, but the young Orthodox couple and a group of Chinese teens prove its wide appeal.
I would have ordered the non-mevushal wine (mevushal means it stays kosher even when handled by a non-Jew), but for fear of confusing the Filipino barmaid I ordered a half-pint of Carlsberg. My quarter of BBQ chicken was tasty, but corn-on-the-cob was soggy. And while in the kosher world it is great value (£5.95 for the chicken and soft drinks for £1.80), it is twice the price of non-kosher fast-food equivalents.