What a Balagan! Meet the three non-Jews who’ve launched a kosher restaurant

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What a Balagan! Meet the three non-Jews who’ve launched a kosher restaurant

Brigit Grant speaks to the three owners of Borehamwood’s newest kosher eatery and discovers a melting pot of cultures!

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

The team at Balagan, which means ‘utter chaos’ in Hebrew
The team at Balagan, which means ‘utter chaos’ in Hebrew

There is nothing unusual about a kosher restaurant opening in Borehamwood – as  a new one seemingly appears every day. 

Balagan, however, is a unique arrival because its owners hail from India, Italy and Romania – and none of them are Jewish.          

Marius Cezar Cretu, a Romanian with an Italian moniker, was a dish washer at Pizaza when he first arrived in London, and Naples-born Julio Matter, a master pizza maker, was a waiter, then manager, at Soyo. His pizza skills aren’t required at the Middle Eastern eaterie. 

And then there’s the third partner, Abdul Mohammed Hannan, who also has a share in Sababa and ChikChak Noodles on the Hertfordshire high street, and ran Pizoyo until the boss offered to help support his
own business.

As Hannan is a Muslim, he is the most obvious to ask about their incongruous decision to go kosher. “He is very well known in Golders Green, but then we all are,” says Marius by way of explanation. For Hannan, the leap from halal to heimishe was not that big. “I watched everything and learnt a lot about all the preparation and what is allowed,” he says – and he can now set up a kosher kitchen with his eyes closed. 

In fact, this non-Jewish triumvirate has such passion for parev and knowledge of fleishig, they could outsmart any shomer, but the one at Balagan has become a friend. 

They also have other friends who come to the restaurant – “Non-Jews who are happy to eat kosher,” says Julio, who is the only one to have visited Israel, where they were convinced he was of the faith. 

“I have lots of friends there who thought I looked Jewish when we first met,” he says, but that didn’t stop his family from being baffled by his decision to open a kosher diner. 

“All our families were very surprised. Really, very!” admits Marius. “But now they are delighted with my decision and like all the food.” 

Opening Balagan in August under Covid conditions might have felt like a fool’s errand to other restaurateurs, but all three knew the time was right. 

“It was a risk obviously, but I just had this feeling,” said Marius – and the frequency of diners and take-away has proved him right. 

But it was also a tragic time, for as they worked towards the big opening, Hannan’s father passed away in India from Covid. 

“He could not go there for the funeral,” informs Marius sadly, when his partner took a call. “He was also due to be married and we were all going. We were very excited.” 

Their friendship formed on Golders Green Road between new émigrés who discovered kashrut is quite the tale, and hiring an Israeli executive chef, Shaka from Ashdod, is another surprise. 

The Moroccan cigars stuffed with beef and tahini were Shaka’s idea among others, but all three are capable of cooking every dish on the menu, be it the chicken pargiot or the Balagan burger. 

Choosing the Hebrew word for “utter chaos” as the name of the restaurant was an odd choice but, as Julio says, “I kept hearing it in the community and in Israel” and it suited the fusion of their mixed backgrounds coming together in Borehamwood. 

“When we got our kashrut licence from the Beth Din, it was the best day ever,” says Hannan. “And I’ve got the photo,” adds Julio. 

That their respective families have the shot framed on their homes in India, Italy and Romania is balagan at its best.

Balagan, 47 Shenley Road, Borehamwood, 020 7112 9253, or order online at www.just-eat.co.uk


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