This year’s glance in the rear-view mirror at a year in JC food, can’t just be the usual jolly recount of the highlights of the last year’s new openings, cookbooks and favourite food finds.
The year is divided into pre and post October 7 — the date everything changed. From attacks that left us mourning, not only the huge losses, but also of life before.
As with every Jewish life event, food was impacted — as overnight, we flew from chagim feasting to comfort food via total lack of appetite for anything beyond essential fuel.
In Israel, catering closed with a lockdown-like shut down. Restaurateurs at all levels, from industry titans like Eyal Shani through small caterers and cafes and even home cooks turned their efforts to feeding the displaced, the bereaved and IDF soldiers. The numbers conscripted almost overnight left army catering stretched and Israelis, keen to do their bit, picking up their pans and channeling their emotions into actions.
JC Food spoke to many of the cooks, including food writer Ruth Nieman, who’d been at her second home in Israel, celebrating with friends and family and almost immediately transitioned to unofficial army caterer. In Tel Aviv, at Israel’s food museum, Asif, kitchens were converted to provide hundreds of meals daily. Fundraising commenced to keep this food coming with food celebs in New York coming together to raise funds for their efforts.
As the parts of the country further from the war zones started to return to some form of normality, many restaurateurs returned to business. But the Asif Museum facilities are still being used to create meals for IDF soldiers.
Closer to home, Israeli-owned restaurants and cafes were reporting a war of their own. Against the backlash from Pro-Palestinian groups, calling for boycotts. Several London operators reported number of diners dropping year on year despite efforts by Jewish customers (myself included) to eat Israeli whenever eating out. Kosher restaurants also saw an immediate impact with regulars too shocked and perhaps afraid to dine out but have gradually seen numbers increase.
Food was also closely connected to our reactions to the news. A recipe for the chocolate chip cookies served by Jewish mother Rachel Edery to the Hamas terrorists who had invaded her home, went viral. And many of us rushed to communal challah bakes as well as baking up Star of David-shaped loaves for Friday nights when we lit extra blue candles for the hostages.
Prior to the war, it had been a busy year for JC Food, with many exciting new kosher and Israeli openings.
One of my new favourite spots is Beit Café in Golders Green — delicious sabra-style plates with the comforting sound of Ivrit being spoken around me. It’s also the home of milky Matok Patisserie, where Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef, Talia Mainemer crafts elegant KLBD-heschered cakes, tarts and buns as well as daily breads and Friday challah.
Her Chanukah doughnuts were works of art tasting as good as they looked.
Aviation lawyer Andrew Krausz launched his Blue Smoke occasional pop-up restaurant, serving up seven-course (SKA-supervised) gourmet meals to diners happy to shell out £180 per head. The fabulous food cooked from an open kitchen/dining area after cocktails in a subterranean cellar — the whole building built with loving care and huge attention to detail during the long lockdown months.
Another kosher gem — Mazal opened in Camden’s Hawley Wharf. The shawarma bar/restaurant’s co-owners, Neta Nel Segev and (chef) Aviv Baum, both have top notch hospitality pedigrees, elevating the standard of food served in this casual eatery beyond simple street food and making it worth a visit even if you’re not a lover of Camden’s market vibe.
It was a good year for the kashrut compliant outside of London too, with new openings in Dublin (Deli 613) and in Brighton — with Novellino’s south coast debut at the new Brighton and Hove Jewish Community complex.
Deli 613 is serving up deli favourites including salt beef sandwiches and chicken soup to a mixed crowd including Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and Novellino offering a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean menu. I haven’t made it to either yet but watch this space for a full review of both in 2024.
The last year has also seen several (non-kosher) Israeli/Jewish-connected openings. In north west London, on the lower slopes of Hampstead, residents have been rushing to the latest branch of growing chain, Ottolenghi while in Camden, JC food writers, Shiri Krauz and Amir Batito opened their second US/Israeli fusion-style eatery – Epicurus.
A short trot away, in Primrose Hill, Dan Martensen’s It’s Bagels saw lines around the block patiently waiting to snag a bag of the New York style bagels — essentially larger, chewier and more savoury than its English cousin.
The new style of bagels – which I personally am totally converted to — started to appear during lockdown when Martensen and another entrepreneur Francesca Goldhill both worked relentlessly to develop a bagel that they’d not been able to taste for too long.
Goldhill’s version of the deli favourite, with her bagel and schmear brand (of bagels and flavoured cream cheeses) has also been a huge hit at her Radlett bakery and has also not been taken up by Royal warranted grocer Fortnum and Mason.
There were several cookbooks worth adding to your collection, most notably Limor Chen’s ray of sunshine — Tel Aviv Table — and Leah Koenig’s Roman holiday, Portico focussing on the city’s centuries old Jewish cuisine. Georgia’s Cakes gave insight into making your own star bakers while US-based cookbook writer Chanie Apfelbaum served up a new kosher cookbook and Israeli based American expat Adeena Sussman brought us her collection of Shabbat-friendly dishes.
Hoping for better things for Israel and our Israeli chefs in the coming year.