Andrew Krausz is an unlikely restaurateur. Aviation partner at law firm Weightmans by day and by night (once a month) a self-taught chef taking kosher gourmets on a most unlikely journey.
In the garden behind his detached suburban home in Hendon, the founder of Blue Smoke cooks seven-course gourmet pop-up dinners (under SKA licence) for a crowd of 20 diners, each paying £180 (plus drinks) for the experience. Yes, you read that correctly — £180 per head, for dinner. In a back garden in NW4. But bear with me — he’s worth it.
The entrance has the feel of a speakeasy — guests are buzzed in down a side alley via a heavy black metal gate. Your senses are immediately assailed by a 20-foot bright yellow aircraft fuselage. A souvenir from the end of a litigation.
At the foot of a landscaped path sits The Fire Place — a single-storey brick building, with bi-fold doors onto a terrace. Two potted olive trees stand, sentry-like, at either end. Atop the building is a beehive and beyond, a small vegetable garden and our host’s flock of (very vocal) ducks, geese and hens.
Krausz describes his garden restaurant as “a passion project gone rogue”. The building replaced a summerhouse built over a Second World War bomb shelter. “The structure wasn’t safe, after a neighbour’s tree fell on it, so it all had to go.”
He has micro-managed the project with obsessive attention to detail. One minute you’re in suburban Hendon, the next you’re inside a pop-up restaurant with design details in keeping with a five-star country house hotel.
“I think many food projects are one-dimensional, maybe two- dimensional,” Krausz says. “But if you really want to capture people you should really tickle all their senses. Sight, smell, feel, ambience, and sound — they should all come together in harmony and then you can elevate people.”
Every part of the building — from the 20,000 reclaimed imperial bricks, picked for their history, colour and quality, to the Belgian blue limestone floor tiles (filled with tiny fossils) and European oak beams —has been designed with precision.
Everything has been chosen by Krausz with care Photo: Ruth Bloch
Diners sit at tables made from antique reclaimed oak, on chairs made in Serbia to a French design and, on the back wall, at a pew bench reclaimed from a French church. In the wine-tasting room, a long table — seating 20 — is constructed from 17th-century floorboards reclaimed from a Devon flour mill. The table surrounded by wine racks bearing 2,500 bottles of wine — many his own label, made specially for him by award-winning Israeli wine maker, Ya’acov Oryah — together with world-class whiskies, and other alcoholic gems.
Krausz explains the building is also packed with symbolism — in the wine cellar, cabinets display ancient wine vessels bought from a Jerusalem antiquities dealer. He’s self-aware enough to realise this level of detail will be lost on many of his guests but is OK with that: “My driver was to do the very best that I could with the means I had. If you put your energy and effort into something, [people] may not visually see it but will certainly feel it.”
When I’d told my husband we were being cooked for by the man who smokes meat, he’d envisaged our chef tending a barbecue in his garden. This is next level. “It shouldn’t be there, but it is. It’s like an out-of -body experience” was Mr P’s reaction.
After cocktails in the subterranean wine cellar, fresh-faced and super-friendly teenage waiting staff, smart in white shirts with taupe aprons branded with a Fire Place logo, usher us to our tables.
We kick off with sea trout pastrami on handmade plates dotted with a Scandinavian Sennepssaus (a traditional mustardy sauce) a thick slice of Charlotte’s organic, kosher sourdough bread and pickled beetroot.
Next up — mandarin-cured gilthead sea bream so fresh that (our chef tells us) it was swimming a couple of days earlier. (To get it to the table in time post-Shabbat, Krausz had it transported to him by taxi.) Firm, meaty chunks of fish — buttery in flavour with a hint of citrus sit on a schmear of punchy apple and ginger compote.
Last of the fish is a small fillet of meaty-textured hake cooked in pistachio crumbs resting on a small handmade bowl of tomatoey chickpea tagine with slight chilli heat, and bursting with Middle Eastern spices. Rich ruby-coloured, chilled Morello cherry soup (the very essence of cherries) draws a line under the fish courses.
The first meat course consists of cute mini pies packed with Jerusalem artichoke, beef cheek — cooked for hours to melting tenderness — and caramelised onions. The last savoury dish is a Flintstones-style smoked beef rib, perched on a pareve waffle with a jammy goose egg. The finale — perfectly baked carrot cake plus scoop of blackcurrant sorbet and ping-pong ball-sized meringue topped with homemade passion-fruit ice cream.
The project is a huge investment of time for a father of two with a full-time job — even with a supportive family — who also have their roles.
Our fellow diners marvelled among themselves about where he finds the time. “This is my downtime — my idea of a break is doing something I enjoy doing. But it’s not about me and my ego. I love doing it but there’s a serious side to the kosher scene worldwide. People have been focused on the economics of the restaurant rather than doing the best that can be done. And there’s been a view that there’s no market for it.”
“I’m trying to catalyse people to create a bit of imagination and see the possibility. My hope is that people decide kosher fine dining can and should be achieved.”
This level of luxury isn’t cheap but that doesn’t deter his hungry fans. Seats — bookable via email once a month on a first-come, first-served basis — don’t hang around. “We were fully booked within two minutes this month,” he tells me. The majority of those seats were booked by paid-up members of his Blue Smoke gourmet club, but some were kept open to non-members.
Post banquet, stepping back into a Hendon side street is like emerging from a dream — one filled with Michelin Star-quality kosher food. Who would have imagined such a hairbrained scheme? The kosher food world needs more eccentrics like Krausz. Passionate enough to imagine the impossible, but with the energy and style to make it work.
Next dinner date: June 18
Booking info: Facebook: Blue Smoke Instagram: bluesmokemeatltd