Let's Eat

Licking the plate: a year in food, 2015

The year in which Gefiltefest moved home and Israeli-influenced food ruled


This year has been yet another exciting one for JC Food: continuing the trend that has seen Jewish food move from geek in the corner to sexy supermodel.

Jerusalem joined Tel Aviv as a foodie hotspot while diaspora Israeli chefs continued to wow diners worldwide with their melting pot of cooking styles.

Already boasting a clutch of Israeli-influenced eateries, London welcomed still more, including former Zest chef, Josh Katz's Dalton diner, Berber and Q. Katz and crew have attracted plaudits from critics and diners, lapping up the Middle Eastern/North African-influenced nosh.

Also part of the East End Jewish food renaissance, two more openings have pulled in the crowds: in Shoreditch, at Jago, Louis Solley's menu is dotted with Ashkenazi dishes; further north, Stoke Newington newcomer, The Good Egg, is dishing up a Sephardi mix of dishes including whole roast cauliflower with tahini and pomegranate; labneh with pistachio and sumac; and a range of Israeli influenced breakfast favourites like sabiche and the increasingly ubiquitous shakshuka.

Closer to north west London, Israeli-run Cafe Loren launched in Camden's Stables Market, with not just one but an entire menu of shakshuka variations plus coffees and teas, sandwiches and pastries.

In the summer - Karma Bread - brought Tami Isaacs-Pearce's delicious breads to London's South End Green alongside a menu of coffees and bread-based dishes.

In June, Zest at JW3 kicked off a tasting menu concept with a visit from top Jerusalem chef, Moshe Basson, who cooked up a six-course banquet with then resident head chef, Eran Tibi. A second evening, earlier this month, saw chefs from trendy Peckham Italian restaurant, Artusi, marrying flavours from the Med and the Zest's Middle Eastern palette.

The Palomar will have needed a new mantlepiece for all the awards it stole from competitors: Best restaurant from Observer Food Monthly, Tatler and the GQ Food and Drink Awards plus a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

On the kosher market, this year saw the sad demise of 1701 and of Golders Green's King Georgie and Caffeine. Delice and Let's Meat also closed their doors, but a few new interesting kosher restaurants opened shop. From the Hendon Bagel Bakery stable came Burger Bar in Temple Fortune, and another burger outlet - Flipside - opened in Borehamwood, which also welcomed a new Mr Baker. In Hendon, Ayelet's moved into the old Delice site.

A slew of cookery books landed on my desk this year - many of them kosher. In spring, it was Jeff and Jodie Morgan's Californian take on Jewish fare, The Covenant Kitchen. What was interesting about this book was the couple's wine pairing suggestions for each dish.

Leah Koenig's Modern Jewish Cooking was just that - many old favourites styled for the 21st century kitchen.

Other US-written books have also been welcome additions to my bookshelf: Amelia Saltsman's The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen is packed with recipes blending fashionable ingredients like smoked paprika and freekeh with ancient traditions and festivals. Not only gorgeous to look at, all the recipes I've tried so far have been winners.

Carol Ungar's Jewish Soul Food brought us food for thought as well as the body. Ungar explains the spiritual meaning and mystical connotations of many of our traditional foods, as well as providing recipes for the more unusual dishes, like teiglach - the old-fashioned Ashkenazi Rosh Hashanah cake made up of hundreds of tiny balls of honey-soaked dough - or an Indian Jewish Rosh Hashanah apple confit.

Each festival's foodie traditions are explained - why we've been stuffing cabbages for Purim for centuries; and how to make Haman's Fleas (psires tou Amman) - a Sephardi Purim sweet using sesame seeds, honey, cinnamon and almonds.

From this side of the pond, Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI: The Cookbook was, predictably, a treat; and two baking books have also delivered superior eye candy. Honey & Co's The Baking Book from Itamar Surlovich and Sarit Packer - a delicious collection of savoury and sweet bakes served in the couple's Fitzrovia café - has made it onto many mainstream food writers' top picks for this year.

One of my favourites - Anne Shooter's Sesame and Spice - gave many stalwarts of the Jewish baking world an interesting twist while introducing us to some bakes from around the world. Her Middle Eastern fridge cake - a chocolate biscuit cake packed with halva, Turkish Delight, pistachio nuts and cranberries had guests at her book launch swooning.

In television world, we proudly cheered Emma Spitzer on to a runner up spot on BBC television's MasterChef 2015. A worthy finalist, her spice-packed creations were a huge hit with judges John Torode and Greg Wallace.

Spitzer has been a busy bee ever since, teaching classes at the new Borough Kitchen shop in Hampstead and at Marble Arch synagogue; catering and demonstrating her dishes at the Foodie Festivals, Thame Food Festival and Gefiltefest.

Another foodie personality who started to make her name and face known in 2015 (having founded her free-from business in 2015) was Olivia Wollenberg, founder of Livia's Kitchen, which produces gluten and dairy-free crumbles so good that Selfridges stock them. Wollenberg has hit the market at the height of the healthy food wave, so I think we'll be hearing more from her in the coming year.

Gefiltefest welcomed us into its new home at JW3. The biggest yet, presenters including Claudia Roden, Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, Anne Shooter and Emma Spitzer enlightened visitors on a huge range of topics.

The festival's success has been replicated in Australia, and, interestingly in Germany, where the first German Gefiltefest took place in November in Dresden. The fact that such an event should take place shows the power of food and is a fitting finale to what has been another fantastic year.

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