In my experience, the words “gourmet” and “Kosher” are not ones that many would naturally place together, writes Francine Wolfisz.
And while the capital has its fill of Michelin-starred restaurants, you won’t find one that adheres to the Kashrut laws.
But there is one establishment certainly giving that solemn fact a run for its money.
Restaurant 1701, which opened last month within the grounds of Bevis Marks Synagogue, is a tasty arrival on London’s Kosher food scene. It serves breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday and dinner Tuesday to Thursday.
Launched by Adafina, the gourmet Kosher food brand which runs a delicatessen in St John’s Wood and a concession in Selfridges, Restaurant 1701 takes its name from the year in which Britain’s oldest synagogue was built.
The location may seem familiar- it is in fact the same space formerly occupied by The Bevis Marks Restaurant, which moved out to larger premises in nearby Middlesex Street last year.
Husband-and-wife Natalie Salama-Levy and Lionel Salama have described their restaurant, which is under the Sephardi Kashrut Authority, as geared towards Jewish clientele, but they are also hoping to attract non-Jewish diners.
In that sense it’s a fine dining restaurant that just happens to be Kosher, rather than a restaurant too overly focused on providing Kosher cuisine.
From the moment I arrived with my husband, the emphasis on customer attention was clear. The staff rallied around as they greeted us, took our coats and showed the way to a discreet table towards the back.
Within seconds another waiter had arrived and asked if we would like a glass of champagne to whet our appetites. As we clinked our glasses of Louis de Sacy Grand cru NV (£15 per glass, £82.50 a bottle), I had a good look around the 43-cover establishment, which was beginning to fill up –not bad for a Tuesday night.
The décor is tasteful – corporate, which should suit the many City types who will no doubt venture here for a business lunch or dinner – and yet also warm and welcoming.
The hues of brown, black and white work well together and give the place a modern feel, while at the same time are sympathetic to these historic surroundings.
In fact, when you stand up after your sumptuous meal, you can even take a peek through the lead glass windows and see the beautiful main synagogue, which is now more than 300 years old.
While mulling over the menu, we were treated to a selection of deliciously sweet walnut raisin bread with olive oil and complimentary red cabbage mustard foam. It sounds unusual, but this light combination of bitter and sweet was perfect for getting our taste buds ready for the main event!
As I read through all the dishes on offer, I notice an array of starters and mains with exotic-sounding names – and as one would expect, there is an emphasis on Sephardi cuisine.
But the Ashkenazi staples have not been neglected. Chopped Liver, made from chicken livers, gingerbread, grapes and foie gras foam (£12.50) and Jewish Penicillin (£9.50), a consommé with chicken tortellini, are both included on the menu.
The selection is a nice mix of old world and modern and shows off the best of Jewish cuisine from around the world.
With a menu devised by Israeli head chef Oren Goldfeld, who most recently worked at Nopi restaurant in Soho and assistant head chef James Allan, who trained at El Bulli and The Fat Duck, I’m expecting good things from the night ahead.
I’m not disappointed. My starter of Pastilla (£10.95), a braised lamb neck in phyllo pastry with spiced nuts is simply delicious and complemented perfectly by the sweet parsnip puree, tangy capers and golden raisin jus.
But as gratifying as this is, I can’t help but feel envious when my husband is presented with his Gefilte Fish (£10.95). The plate is a work of art between the wild sea bass mousseline in petite slices, whole baby carrots and dots of beetroot, horseradish, ginger, carrot jelly and aspic.
Moving onto our mains, Alister chose the Palau Kabuli (£28.95), a traditional Afghan dish of pan-fried duck breast, confit duck leg, nettle risotto and puffed wild rice. The meat was cooked to perfection and the risotto was a nice side attraction, but my personal favourite was the puffed wild rice.
Pan-fried, it tasted a little like popcorn and added an element of fun to the dish. Meanwhile, I opted for the Friday Night Dinner (£21.50). The chicken breasts were moist, the sweet potato was slightly tangy and worked well with the shallots, while the fennel was a nice alternative to more commonplace vegetables.
Our main meals were rounded off nicely by a glass of Koenig Pinot Blanc (£6.50 per glass, £30 per bottle), while my husband chose the Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc (£9.50 per glass, £45 per bottle).
Our delectable meals were enough to sate our appetites, but as they say – there’s always room for dessert!
My husband, always a fan of apple-based dishes, went for the Apfelschalet (£8.95), a crisp almond phyllo enveloping roast apple, served with a cassis sorbet, pistachio crumble, raisin puree and fresh mint.
The pretty-looking dish is topped with a blackberry sphere, which is succulent but also incredibly juicy – my husband’s white shirt was fortunately spared!
Ever the chocoholic, I opted for the Sachertorte (£8.95) and I have to be honest – I was a little disappointed. The chocolate and apricot cake was too dry, while the salted caramel gel brought an unwelcome saltiness to my palette. The mahlab ice cream was however one redeeming feature.
That said, I would happily return for special occasions and eat here again. The food was generally top notch (around £80pp including wine) and the staff, under the careful management of Stephane Penkhoss (most recently at Sketch), were certainly attentive.
Gourmet and Kosher might just be coming together after all.
Restaurant 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue, Bevis Marks, London EC3, 020 7621 1701, www.restaurant1701.co.uk