Let's Eat

A delicious decade

Victoria Prever looks back on 10 years as the JC's food editor


When I took on the role of JC food editor, our family of four was about to move to leafy Hertfordshire from Central London. I had my hands full with six-month-old Kitty and 17-month- old Barney and had never been responsible for my own newspaper section. Instinct told me to run a mile, but my wise husband reminded me I was a trained chef and experienced food writer. Not only did I have this, but it was an opportunity not to be missed.

So I hitched up the baby, plonked my son in front of Chuggington, took a deep breath and accepted this chance in a lifetime.

I honestly haven’t regretted that decision for a second. Well, every so often, when juggling children, domestic duties and deadlines seemed a step too far — this pandemic with its home schooling demands was a serious stretch.

Mostly though, I’ve been doing the dream job and living my best life.

This anniversary seemed a good moment to digest the decade. Our view of Jewish food has continued to change during my tenure.

My first feature was about Grande Dame of Jewish food, Claudia Roden. Interviewing her in her North West London kitchen was a highlight. Ever hospitable, she served me a plate of juicy sliced oranges, glossy with marmalade and sherry syrup.

I kicked off that feature waxing lyrical about Sephardi food, which has been a constant theme. We were already embracing the colour and punchy flavours of the Middle Eastern and North African menu.

The greige and brown colour scheme of Eastern European Ashkenazi chopped herring and gefilte fish paled in comparison to the abundant green herbs and pomegranate-studded salads starting to appear on Shabbat tables from Pinner to Prestwich.

Yotam Ottolenghi had kicked off the culinary revolution that has seen a stream of Israeli chefs set up kitchens in London and around the world. I’ve been lucky enough to sit down at their tables over the years — from The Palomar (a direct off shoot of Jerusalem’s Machneyuda) in Soho, to Eran Tibi’s Balabaya — and witness them claiming the hearts and stomachs of London’s foodies.

Those ingredients and flavours have also shown up increasingly on these pages. My fabulous team of recipe writers — some of whom have been with me for since my arrival — sharing the food of their own varied cultures or picking up on the latest food trends and fusing them with our traditional dishes.

Probably the biggest change though, has been in the kosher sector. Kosher caterers were already doing a pretty good job of keeping up with mainstream companies. If you were lucky enough to be at a big simcha (remember those?) you’d eat well. Kosher restaurants, however, were an embarrassment — seriously lagging behind London’s finest dining establishments.

It’s taken time, but they’ve more than caught up. We have a range of licensed restaurants in London that we can finally be proud of.

The now defunct Zest at JW3 was the first to reflect the Sephardi menu, and since then, in no particular order, I’ve delighted in seeing Delicatessen, One Ashbourne and Tish set up their smart dining rooms. More casual eateries like Hummus Bar, Soyo, Hot Cut and Pizaza and Pita plus shawarma joints like NW11’s Balady and Borehamwood’s Balagan have brought up standards for salads and street food.

It’s been sad to see how much they’ve been challenged this year, but they’ve reacted with speed and ingenuity to the changing trading conditions.

Similarly, kosher caterers, who almost literally had the dance floors pulled from under their feet this time last year, have wowed us all with their lightning quick changes to deliver kashrut compliant meals to our doors.

I’ve been proud to see the world recognising Israel not only as a foodie destination but as a serious producer of world class wine.

I took two trips to Tel Aviv (and beyond) and fell in love with the innovative, inspiring dishes being cooked up all over the country. Produce is bountiful and ambitious chefs make the most of it. You only have to look at the rise and rise of cauliflowers, aubergines and pomegranates to see how influential chefs like Eyal Shani have been.

I wrote in 2012 about how UK supermarkets were visiting Israel for inspiration. Now hummus lines the shelves and tahini is almost a store cupboard staple.

We still can’t get a decent challah in any UK supermarket but small independent bakers have worked their magic on our Friday night favourite loaf and turned it into something even more special.

Babka has been rebranded as the most fashionable of breads — joining the rainbow bagel on the Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off.

Others who’ve impressed me over the years with their passion have been Michael Leventhal, whose Gefiltefest brought foodies from afar and David Josephs who turned St John’s Wood institution Panzer’s into a glitzy food hall. Solicitor Andrew Krauz, turned his love of food and wine into (part-time) business Blue Smoke — producing seriously delicious, smoked kosher meats. His banquets prior to Kedem’s Food and Wine events are the stuff of legend — course upon course of beautifully plated, perfectly flavoured foods served to a crowd of more than 20 in his own home.

The Kedem events themselves, and trips to wineries in Bordeaux (on the memorable trip when I flew out on my husband’s passport); and to Israel, have made me a kosher wine evangelist.

The Herzog family deserve a toast for their role in that particular renaissance. It’s only the ignorant who still believe kosher wine sub-standard.

One of my favourites has been Dalton’s Anna dessert wine — a delicious and beautifully packaged tribute to owner Alex Harani’s mother.

My best meal of the decade? Possibly one I ate at tiny vegetarian restaurant, Bubala — every flavour immaculate.

A recent takeaway feast from kosher bar and grill Kasa in Hampstead Garden Suburb was superb. I ate a memorable schnitzel at Tish, and One Ashbourne’s new sushi menu is seriously good. Shakshuka at Sunnyhill Park is always a treat and I make an annual pilgrimage to visit lovely Celia Clyne for lunch in Manchester , which is always worth every train mile.

Over the decade, my single page multiplied to two and the food-centric blog The Fresser on the JC website was born.

My children have grown up and enjoyed helping me review restaurants, meal kits and products.

Now ten years old, Kitty has become a competent baker and cooks alongside me on my live demonstrations and lessons on Facebook and Zoom. She’s not the unfussy omnivore I was at her age, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

I love being your food editor and am looking forward to celebrating freedom from lockdown with our amazing chefs, caterers, bakers and winemakers — and fressing for another 10 years or more.

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