Let's Eat

Tony Page pops up in Hampstead

Guest Fresser Jessica Weinstein experiences the luxury of black tie event, as a mid-week dinner


When I think of Tony Page I think weddings. Big weddings with good food and lots of it. I don’t think of a sit down dinner, restaurant style. Or at least I didn’t, until last night.

This week Tony Page set up a pop up restaurant for two nights only in Jack Straw’s Castle in Hampstead. Tickets were £95 per person and you got a set menu with eight courses. A tasting menu the likes of which kosher North West London had never seen before.

Sea trout with campari pearls, foie gras, confit chicken. This wasn’t your average Thursday night dinner.

The setting was intimate. There were maybe 20 tables of varying sizes, and service was staggered. This meant that when I arrived it was quite quiet – the ambience wasn’t great but it was easier to hear the crooning tones of Otis Reading, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin creating their own atmosphere on the sound system – but by the time I left, nearly three hours later, the room was buzzing. (Yes, that was nearly three hours of eating later).

Light and airy, the room was decorated with crisp white linen and pots of thyme on the tables. This design was down to Judith Fine, Tony Page’s creative director. She created the menu along with Tony and his team and designed the space. "When people think of Tony they think it’s quite formal,” she told me. “At simchahs they go for the rack of lamb, keep it safe. But tonight was to show that you can be more creative. For example with the foie gras." This was presented as cherries, with the fois gras itself encased in morello cherry jelly to look like a cherry. Very Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Judith said she wanted to showcase different elements of the menu, show that Tony Page can be creative as well as traditional. So this was like Tony Page 2.0 – not your cousin’s barmitzvah.

The food came out in style. We had smoke appearing from under glass cloches. A rose granite amuse bouche was infused with a rose smoke so the room filled with the scent of roses (a bit too much like eating perfume for me, but my companion enjoyed it). Steak cooked on an open flame in the courtyard of Jack Straw’s Castle.

For dessert the Eton mess was a dome of meringue that cracked open to revel the ‘mess’ inside. Imaginative and modern. But the piece de résistance for me was the dish named, simply, tongue and cheek. Melt in the mouth beef cheek, with a rich sauce and a single crisp framing a slice of mushroom. Most people I saw around me had chosen the steak for their main course but, as my companion (who had the steak) said, Tony Page and his team should have made more fuss about the tongue and cheek – letting people know what they were missing and not to play it safe with a cut of beef they already knew.

There were drinks too of course, cocktails on arrival and wine with the meal.

As delicious as this all was, I did wonder why someone as established in the catering world as Tony Page would need – or want – to throw a pop up event. According to the man himself – who was very present at the dinner, talking to guests and accompanying his head and executive chefs around the floor as they presented and explained their dishes – he didn’t really.

“My friend owns the building, the last tenant just left and it’s empty for the summer. He said: ‘Tony, you should open a restaurant here’. I didn’t want to – I don’t want to run a restaurant – but my team were keen, so I said if you can wow me with a five-course menu we’ll do it - for two days only.”

They wowed him and the pop up was born.  “A menu like this isn’t scalable to a big catered event,” he said, but as Judith pointed out, it could certainly serve as inspiration to anyone who has a simchah coming up.

After two and half hours of eating, I was sad as I approached the end of the menu. However, you might have heard rumours of other kosher caterers – namely Food Story and Ben Tenenblat – holding pop up restaurants next month. So maybe this is the start of a new trend, a way to get your kosher gourmet fix without having to wait for a black tie event?

Do you have a simchah coming up? Check out our simchah guide with the latest listings you need for your event.



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