I have read a lot in the JC in the last few weeks about the supposedly dire state of kosher restaurant dining in London.
First, Jenni Frazer wrote about the difficulty a non-Jewish friend had encountered in finding somewhere sophisticated for an observant friend.
Then, JC editor Stephen Pollard bemoaned the fact central London “hasn’t had a single upmarket kosher restaurant” since Six-13 closed.
Maybe I have a different interpretation of “sophisticated” and “upmarket” to my colleagues, because as far as I can see, London really should not complain about the provision of kosher eateries for those who want them.
I came to this view even before a remarkable experience last night at Delicatessen, the relatively new posh place in Hampstead, but more of that later.
I would be the first to criticise the generally dire state of the mid-market kosher restaurants in North West London.
Watching people double-park and schlep along Brent Street, Shenley Road, Golders Green Road or Edgware High Street is not conducive to an enjoyable night out or a big birthday celebration.
The complete lack of imagination in most of the menus at a variety of locations is soul-destroying. What passes for “customer service” in most kosher joints is not worthy of the name.
But there are, if you look carefully and are prepared to pay (and if you’re going out for a kosher meaty dinner you have clearly already decided you’re willing to cough up the cash), perfectly good dinners to be had in very nice restaurants.
Ok, Aviv might not be the classiest looking venue, but its value for money and mixed grill have made it a staple of Dysch family celebrations for nearly 15 years. The Kitchen is a popular recent addition; Met Su Yan (Edgware, not Golders) is noisy but not offensive, and peculiar as it may be, Kaifeng is always a smart, respectable option.
That brings us to Delicatessen.
The second we walked in I knew this was no ordinary kosher restaurant. The clientele were, quite clearly, upmarket. Smartly dressed, beautiful (the men and women), evidently wealthy. That the queue for tables continued to reach the door until gone 9pm suggested the owners must be on to something.
I am no Giles Coren or Jay Rayner, but I know a good meal when I’ve scoffed one and this was superb.
Describing itself as “modern, Middle Eastern cuisine”, Delicatessen’s menu was largely unintelligible to an Ashkenaz son of the north of England, but thankfully Sephardi Mrs Dysch was on hand to translate.
Where else could you get a Turkish lahmajun meat pizza; Old Jaffa lamb kebabs with tahini, sehug, and chermula (whatever that is); or beef dafina with ox cheek, mushrooms, wheat and radish salad? Ox cheek, noch – not exactly vienna, egg and chips is it?
It’s a pricey affair, but again, if you don’t eat treif meat and you want something smarter than a take-away pizza, you know where you stand.
The staff were smart, intelligent and attentive – our British-Israeli assistant Tom could not have been more helpful and was, bar none, the best waiter I have ever encountered in a kosher restaurant in this country.
Ok, it’s a hell of a noisy place and some of the tables looked a little too crammed for comfort, but what do you expect when you shove four dozen Jews – most of them Sephardi bear in mind – into a small diner?
All in all, it was an absolute pleasure, and there are few Jewish experiences in North West London these days that could be described as such, let’s be honest.
And let me tell you something else – if your main argument is that London is short of decent kosher places, you don’t know you’re born.
The once great Jewish cities of Britain are almost entirely barren. Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, and Birmingham, all of which still boast large and functioning Jewish communities, can barely scrape a non-home-made main course together between them.
Manchester has a few passable impressions for decent kosher restaurants, but none would pass the Frazer/Pollard “upmarket” test.
Variety and new options are always welcome, but let’s not overlook the improvements in kosher dining that have already been made in the capital.