The Fresser

Marching on - how kosher is already crushing it in 2023

Why this month has been utterly delicious


Where has the last month gone?

March is almost done and dusted — my clematis is blooming and daffodils are providing a welcome pop of yellow everywhere you look.

With pandemic days becoming a distant memory, I’ve been out and about testing, tasting and getting up close and personal with some of my favourite kosher foodies.

Here a few of my March highlights:

Island life

Lunch with Tony Page at his Island Grill was a joy. I was early, so took the chance of a sunny stroll in Hyde Park’s gorgeous Italian gardens, opposite the restaurant which is on the park side of the Royal Lancaster Hotel.

TP is charming. After more than half a century in catering, he has an unmatched eye for detail. Our meal was punctuated by him signalling to his staff to tend to someone or jumping up and greet a guest.

Tables are covered in thick white cloths and luxurious linen square napkins. The menu (KLBD supervised) is full of classics and old favourites with no territorial boundaries. It takes you from French-influenced steak tartare, haimish chicken soup and London smoked salmon starters to main courses including a very English rib of beef, Indian lamb curry and Asian-influenced miso marinated black cod plus a range of salads and vegetarian/vegan options. All bases are covered.

My seabass ceviche blinged up with bright pink pomegranate arils was full of zesty flavours. Had I not been in polite company I’d have poured the extra dressing straight in my mouth and licked the slick off my plate. TP went for mushroom soup — topped with sauteed mushroom dice which, he he told me, he’d asked the chef to use instead of ubiquitous micro herbs. (Devil's in the detail.)

My Niçoise salad was a wholly authentic (albeit upmarket) joy — all the usual players, including cubes of perfectly seared tuna, jammy egg quarters and umami-packed anchovies all coated with piquant vinaigrette. Roasted cod was perfectly presented on a strip of black olive ‘soil’ with a colourful burst of green beans and tomatoes.

I’m on a pre-Pesach cut — as my teenager would term. People of a certain age without teenage translators may need to guess/look up this term. It meant that — with abnormal resolve — I declined dessert. But who could refuse a mouthful (or two) of lemon meringue pie, Tony’s mother’s recipe? And everyone knows the calories don’t count if you didn’t order it yourself.

Of course it was delicious and arrived with petits fours — which I did manage to resist.

It’s a lovely setting and the only choice in London if you’re looking for a fine dining kosher experience without sniffy service and faff. Plus they’re open over Pesach.

On fire

Challenging my resolve even further, the wonderful Andrew Krauz of Blue Smoke invited me and other guests to an evening in his new SKA licensed mini restaurant, The Fire Place, behind his Hendon home.

Entry via the side gate is like walking into a magical secret garden — uplit trees, a grounded mini aeroplane and lights leading you down to the venue itself. It sits in front of Andrew’s smokehouse, where he produces his smoked meat and fish Blue Smoke menu. Behind this he also grows a few herbs and veg in the small garden behind.

The Fire Place is small — maybe 20 covers on the ground floor and a similar number at a long table in the basement. The lower ground room — at the foot of a spiral staircase — is a wow in itself. I won’t ruin the surprise.

After a short speech thanking his guests for all their support during the build of this project — which has taken several years — Andrew served huge boards of smoked and cured white fish and salmon, perfectly cooked eggs and his homemade senneppsaus — a tart, traditional Scandinavian sauce served with cured fish. Alongside were bags of crunchy, sourdough crackers supplied by Charlotte’s sourdough — another artisan business certified by the SKA.

Next up were more boards — this time meat-based. Whole heads of garlic roasted to soft sweetness; ‘burnt ends’ which are best described as the crunchy, intensely flavoured shards of meat left in the pan that you sneak off the kitchen to eat; crisp lacon — his lamb ‘bacon’ that’s another addictively salty treat; tender slices of smoked chicken and slivers of smoked duck.

Out of the smoking oven came steaming racks of meat. The huge bones sliding out easily for full-on cave man vibes. The entire room watched, like a hungry spaniels as he deftly sliced it into huge hunks for us to dive into. To balance out the meat, the lovely Rachel, Andrew’s wife, had produced a huge leaf salad studded with refreshing mango and creamy avo. All delicious.

Andrew’s aim is to take kosher to new heights and he’s definitely doing that. He will be coking up banquets for small crowds in The Fire Place from time to time. They’ll be spaced out as this is not a full-time restaurant, but if you keep kosher and want to see just how good it can be – keep your eye on his Facebook group for the dates.

Head space

Another exciting outing was to check out the official launch of the new, super-sized Head Room Café in Golders Green.

I’ve long been a fan of the innovative space which brought mental health help to the high street together with delicious food and coffee. The pandemic brought things to a brief close but also brought the opportunity to take on the premises next door.

The result is a fabulous space which is large enough to hold small simchas in and can be broken in sections for private hire. The food is — I'm informed — equally delicious. I'll be going back to eat there post-Pesach but did get to try a spread of salads; falafel; salmon skewers and Middle Eastern salads. Jami's Chief Executive, Laurie Rackind told us all about the project and the Mayor of Barnet cut a ribbon officially opening the fabulous facility.

Whether you go for support, to join one of their talking (and walking) groups or just to eat or drink coffee, it's an amazing asset to NW11 and I hope they get to open many more facilities in future.

I'll be returning to Head Room in April as part of a kosher brunch series — watch this space.

Roll on April.

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