Zest, the new JW3 restaurant, which is run by Ottolenghi-trained chefs, promises a lot – and it delivers, says Sarah Rothberg
Having heard rave reviews from friends and family, I was eager for a chance to visit Zest, the new eatery at JW3 – and when our meal more than lived up to expectations, I realized this is exactly the kind of kosher restaurant London has been waiting for.
Chefs Josh Katz and Eran Tibi have put together a cool and contemporary menu with a Middle Eastern twang. The pair, responsible for Made in Camden at the Roundhouse, met while working for Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi, whose influence is certainly apparent.
The Finchley Road venue, billed as “the new postcode for Jewish life” seems to be just that, and even on a Monday evening was full of people roving the hallways seeking out screenings, activities, classes and events. Fortunately, Zest’s 15 metre-long bar is amply stocked while we awaited our table.
I ordered a Zestini, a marvelous mixture of Citron vodka blended with rosewater cordial and grapefruit juice (£7.50) and topped with a sprig of thyme, while my husband Simon chose a simple and classic mojito (£7) before being escorted through the restaurant to our table.
As we relaxed in to our surroundings we got a sense of the vibrancy of the restaurant. The décor is a mix of classy dining room with a rustic twist. There are brightly-coloured plates, cups, saucers, and bowls adorning the tables and stacked on shelves throughout the restaurant. An Israeli company, Adama, specifically produces all the pottery for Zest. Two sisters run the company, based in Petach Tikvah, and this is their first commercial shipment to the UK. Zest’s Israeli roots are further cemented by the choice of condiments on the table; salt, chili flakes and of course, za’atar – a tasty complement to Zest’s home-made bread.
Poring over the menu I noticed there seemed to be only a few dishes for each course – this sounds great – a few dishes done extremely well certainly beats a moderately good megillah of a menu!
For the starter, Simon and I decided to share the roasted beetroot, goat’s cheese and dukkah (£4.50). The creaminess of the cheese complemented the beetroot perfectly. The dukkah, a blend of herbs, spices and hazelnut, forms a spicy crust on the beetroot, which brought a different texture to the dish. We also ordered the hummus served with tomato and cardamom salsa, (£5). Zest’s version of the Middle Eastern classic hits the spot. Topped with a boiled egg and lovingly garnished with coriander, it’s as smooth and silky as any of its Israeli competitors. We soaked up our starters with an assortment of breads (£3) and some marinated, house-cured Syrian olives (£3).
For the main course, Simon selected the vine wrapped sardine chraimeh, (£16.50). The dish was beautifully crafted; the citrus flavours of the fennel salsa paired with the spicy tomato in the chraimeh sauce perfectly accompanied the fresh fish. I decided on the black-tahini glazed cod, (£21.50, an artfully crafted masterpiece of a dish. The combination of salty mushroom and truffle broth with the crispy brik noodles, teamed with the fiery flavor of the harissa lentils was mouthwatering. The cod was so utterly soft and the dish was a triumph.
We wash down our main courses with another round of cocktails. Simon’s non-alcoholic, yet amusingly named Kibbutz (£5.50) is a fresh and fruity fusion of kiwi, pineapple and lemon. Meanwhile, I sipped on a desert rose (£7.50), a fruity blend of lychees, galia melon, maple syrup and raspberries.
Our appetites were more than sated, but of course there’s always room for dessert! I decided upon the bread and butter rugelach (£8), a hearty and warming mix of crunchy, crushed pistachio, and sweet, succulent pieces of apple and cranberry, served with crème Anglaise. There was also a hint of rosewater in the dish, a nod towards Mediterranean flavours.
Knowing this is Simon’s favourite dessert, I assumed I had made the best choice…until his appeared. Simon opted for the sticky date pudding (£7.50), served with a rich fig compote. The cardamom infused cream cuts right through the dish – and it tasted delightful.
Licensed under the Sephardi Kashrut Authority, Zest has a style and flavour that is rarely seen in our city. The prices are reasonable too – at around just £30 a head for three courses – and the staff couldn’t have been more attentive or friendly.
When we think about Israeli-style cuisine, the cliché that so often springs to mind is grilled meat with chips and hummous – but Zest proves you can rustle up something just as tasty, delicious and Israeli – and still be meat-free. Bete Avon? We certainly did at JW3.
Zest: 020 7433 8955 or visit www.jw3.org.uk