Hampstead has traditionally been a gourmet graveyard. Many restaurants open in a blaze of glory only to disappear months or year later. It’s worse on the slopes of Heath Street, but the entire village has long been a difficult sell. Only a handful of eateries have stood the test of time.
Bizarre when you think of the rich pickings in terms of local diners, who have long moaned at the lack of decent eateries in their postcode. To open a kosher restaurant slap bang in the middle of the NW3 enclave is an interesting move.
The S Group have been busily opening their own little collection of kosher cafes and restaurants, including Soyo; (joint-venture with JAMI) Head Room and Pzazza. All are modern in style with menus heavily influenced by Yotam Ottolenghi. Soyo executive chef Or Golan — a fellow sabra — spent time working for Israeli food’s poster boy, and it shows.
In mid-December (during Chanukah) they opened Delicatessen, a casual venue serving smart Middle-Eastern inspired grub, on Rosslyn Hill. I was invited to check it out.
On a dull, drizzly evening, the restaurant’s windows glowed warmly onto the street. At 7pm it was already buzzing inside.
It’s a second venue for the group’s flagship, replacing the first, on Fairfax Road in Swiss Cottage, which suffered licensing issues, that led them to move the concept to this similarly affluent North-West London suburb.
Judging by the full tables — full from my arrival until we left at 9pm giving up our table to more hungry diners — it was a good move.
I was confident enough in chef Golan’s talents that I took my non-kosher siblings — my foodie brother — visiting from Sydney — and my West-End-based sister.
Charming waiter, Gabriel, poured our Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc while advising on what we should choose. We kicked off with Yemenite Kubaneh — a cute, round loaf of sweetened bread, not unlike airy challah. On the side — tiny pots of tahini and a punchily spiced tomato-based herby paste resonant of Yemenite hot sauce, zhug. We also made light work of beef tartare — blobs of chewy beef strewn with soy yoghurt, sweet green peas, bitter rocket and crunchy nuts. Similary pretty, ‘tanned’ aubergine (roasted and spread across the plate) was dressed with unseasonal figs, cherry tomatoes and tahini. Both plates peppered with sumac and both cleared and mopped (with bread) in moments.A rich and pinkly rare, bone marrow and ribeye burger was pronounced the best little sister had eaten. I’d been intrigued by accompanying ‘pulled’ chips. They transpired to be an on-trend restaurant term too far. No problem with the potatoes, which were simply skin-on potatoes deep fried to crispness, with tender, smooth insides. Just not chips and definitely not ‘pulled’.
Little bro’s seared duck breast was pink perfection. Tender and lying in a pool of stickily sweet meaty jus and pale, smooth celeriac puree. The heritage carrots (complete with leafy tops) completed the autumnal picture.
My sea bass ‘mesachen’ — another Golan-coined culinary term — was grilled and scattered with preserved lemon, za’atar and a piece of toasted pita. A scatter of pomegranate seeds and grilled courgette plus more of the ubiquitous (but welcome) tahina added moisture.
Too full for solo puds, we shared a rich chocolate mousse — a party-sized portion, served in a terracotta pot, with sea salt, thyme and tahini ‘soil’. It got a thumbs up from little bro — a choccie mousse fiend. The second dessert was similarly oversized (be warned) — two warm basbousa cakes. Basbousa is a semolina-based Middle Eastern treat. These mini-loaf versions were served with a third mini-loaf-shaped serving of of tahini semifreddo (delicious) and a berry coulis. We left as full as Friday night.
This is a first for Hampstead and for observant diners — an eatery of which they can be proud. If the kosher eaters come this is one restaurant that could beat Hampstead’s curse.
Find out about booking, opening times and menus at the Delicatessen website