The Fresser

A zest for meat - fressing at the new(ish) meaty restaurant at JW3

There are now two reasons to go and eat at the Jewish community centre. I checked out the newest eaterie there.

July 04, 2018 11:24

The formerly milky restaurant at the still-shiny Jewish community centre on the Finchley Road has been reinvented by clever front of house manager, Joshua Owens-Baigler. The café remains milky but the restaurant has been reborn with a meaty menu.

I popped in to suss it out. Open a few weeks now, it's already already going down a storm with locals, who were out in full force. A large event in the main hall helped, but even with those early diners already in their seats, it was surprisingly buzzy for a Wednesday.

My dining partner, South African émigré school mum (SaffaMum) was happy to come along for the ride. Her sights were low, as her  experience back home was of kosher restaurants being sorry, sad and best avoided.  

The room had a bit of a tart up during its milk to meat conversion. Outside has come indoors in this leafy interior, complete with a huge, potted olive tree and plentiful plants. One wall is filled with an over-sized image of a 1950’s Tel Aviv café. It’s the same room, but with new life breathed into it. Tables, chairs, crockery and cutlery have all been replaced, for kashrut as well as cosmetic reasons. It feels good.

The food is funky and modern, with a menu designed by head chef at Zest’s Bevis Marks outpost, Robin Beparry.  There are a few smaller dishes (designed to be shared or as a starter) plus some main course-sized plates. You always expect a kosher premium, but the prices for the smaller plates shouldn't make your toes curl — even for some of the meat dishes — but then these are smaller portion sizes. It still seemed reasonable value for kosher.   

At the suggestion of Owens-Baigler, SaffaMum and I shared a pot of crunchy, spicy frickles (deep fried pickles) that I suspect will not be top of the ‘must-order’ list for most of the local female population. Kubane (a still-warm, crunchy crusted, soft centred brioche) came with dipping pots of lamb fat (also unlikely to be on the ladies' must-eat list list) plus a pot of deliciously punchy zhoug  —a green, salsa-style Middle Eastern sauce. It’s the antithesis to clean eating — indulgent grub for proper foodies food lovers with a nod to the Levant.

Lamb koftas with a smooth, peanut salsa were perfectly pink in the centre and mouth-melting. Tender chicken coated in date molasses, sprinkled with toasted, flaked almonds and under a rolled piece of char-grilled laffa was a hands down winner. We could have eaten it again.

Aubergine dumplings were deep-fried, cigar-shaped fritters on a pile of Israeli salad. Our only main course-sized plate pick was bream chraime with sea vegetables and challah. The bream (perfectly cooked – crisp skin and shiny flesh) sat on a thick tomato and pepper stew (more shakshuka than chraime but very tasty) topped with a pile of bright, green samphire.

Refreshing watermelon and peach sorbet with a pile of summer fruit salad and a coconut malabi were perfectly in-theme. Non-dairy malabi can be a bit ‘chewy’ but SaffaMum noshed it up. The sorbet was the winner.

The sizeable wine list was impressive and cocktail names showed someone with a sense of humour — White Wine Schvitzer making us smile. House white and rose were better than most house wines you’ll find in non-kosher restaurants, and at only £4.60 for a small glass, not overpriced.

Zest's meaty menu is good news for kosher eaters and it's a great addition to the improving roster of North West London eateries. Another coup for Owens-Baigler — who has already has done great things at JW3.


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July 04, 2018 11:24

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