Let's Eat

Breaking bread in Borough Market

Meet the team bringing Jewish bakes to Southwark for the first time


Until last week you’d struggle to buy a challah, bulka or rugelach in the entire borough of Southwark. “There are 250,000 people living here and not a single Jewish bakery” says Andrew Lester, whose family have now filled that gourmet gap with their new stall at Borough Market — Moishe’s Bagelry and Bakery.

This is not the first haimish food venture for the Lester family, who now have a handful of (non-kosher) Jewish food stalls dotted across East London and are something of a deli dynasty.

“My father, Ivan has been working in food for years. He trained at a London hotel — he was one of those chefs in a tall white hat. He also had a café back in the day and over the years drifted between different street foods. Not that they were called street foods then. He had a stall at Broadway Market when it was tiny and sold fish balls, latkes, falafel and goujons etc. He and my mum, Sandra, ran it together. My brother Howard runs it now.”

Howard has also recently opened a food stall called the Jewish Kitchen at Hackney Bridge — a street food market on what was the Olympic park; and the Lesters have also been serving up salt beef, bagels and falafel at Borough Market under their Nana Fanny’s brand for the last ten years.

“Nana Fanny was my great grandmother, Fanny, who lived in the East End and used to pickle (and sell) her own beef at her stables on Brick Lane in the late 1800’s. My Grandma Sadie also brined her salt beef — Dad learned from her.”

The new bread stall, which opened last week, came about when Borough Market’s management became concerned at a lack of diversity in the stalls. “It is over 1,000 years old and one of the finest food markets in the world. David Matchett (their head of food policy development) had noticed that there was no kosher nor halal anywhere, so we discussed bringing the whole deli experience. It was a golden opportunity for us.”

The Lesters veered away from the full deli range to just our favourite bakes as they were concerned that some of our favourite foods may not have been quite so immediate to non-Jewish customers.

“We [Jewish people] love our food but it may not be universally appreciated. I had a Chinese friend who had Friday night dinner with us, and he was shocked that we ate ‘spaghetti’ in our chicken soup and in our dessert (in lokshen pudding) and even as a side dish (kugel).”

So they plumped for bakes and pastries. “Who doesn’t love bread? We identified the bagel as our hero product by calling it a ‘bagelry’ and bakery — really honing in on those challahs and those bagels, bulkas and all our traditional breads. We’ll also have traditional pastries — kichels, twists and Danish. Trying to make something that might be quite normal to us, attractive to the eye for people walking past. So we’re starting with those beautiful products. When you start talking about chopped and fried and herring and it’s a bit different.”

The name Moishe was not given for a bread baking ancestor — although there were some Moishes in their lineage. It actually felt appropriate as, Andrew explains, the name Moishe means ‘taken from the water’, which they felt lined up nicely with the process by which bagels are produced.

Also part of the team is Lawrence Samuels whose Gants Hill-based Shalom Bakery will produce the range, that also includes various flavours of hand-rolled bagels and flavoured breads. “Some of their staff are third generation bakers.”

“We’ll be selling a traditional rye with caraway seeds in it, an amazing black bread and a marbled rye which has caraway seeds and swirls of black bread. Some products have been labelled to appeal to their new audience. Our onion pletzels are called ‘pletzels with kibbled onion’ — which is just another way of saying dried onion” says Andrew.

There is a long line of Lester foodies. “Food always played a significant part in our lives. We always had the best cholents and chicken soups.” Andrew remembers his grandma Sadie baking her own bread. “For her a proper challah was always plaited — never round!”

His perfect version has enough egg to keep it soft and the right amount of sweetness.

“The key to it is in the bake — even two minutes too long in the oven can take it from perfect to too dry. I like it when you get that lovely chewy bit in the middle.”

It was important to them to staff the stall with Jewish people who’d knew the history and heritage of the breads. “I advertised for staff on the Essex K [a Jewish Facebook page] and have several students who will be with us over the summer.”

Borough Market had been keen for them to sell kosher breads, but Andrew felt that working under a licence may have been difficult as they share some resources with other stalls. “If we’d washed up a bowl in a shared sink, for example, that could have been an issue.”

The pastry twists, florentines and buns will be sold ‘pick n mix’ style, with customers able to combine various flavours in bags sold by weight; and rugelach and babkas (which are family recipes) will be part of their main range.

Moishe’s bagelry and bakery will be in the main part of the market and open Thursday to Saturday. For weekend shoppers who are shomer Shabbat, there will be a chance to sample the breads on a Sunday, as, Andrew says, from the end of June the Borough Market will, for the first time in its history, open on each Sunday — a trial arrangement which will become permanent if it proves popular.

Instagram: moisheslondon


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