Monday, 23 January 2012

Mishkin's, WC2

Photos throughout by Paul Winch-Furness
For anyone operating a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of a particular country or culture, being considered 'authentic' by experts and ex-pats can be both a blessing and a burden. While a reputation for the truest tapas, realest rendang or most verisimilitudinous Vietnamese usually results in a clamour for tables and healthy profits, get things wrong and your faux French or ersatz Asian will make you the object of every food snob's opprobrium.

Only a restaurateur with the supreme confidence and chutzpah of Russell Norman would dare to open a restaurant as wilfully, joyously inauthentic as Mishkin's, described on its website as
 'a kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails'. Even as I write this, I can't help but wonder if from conception to delivery Norman wasn't chuckling knowingly to himself at the froth some critics would work themselves up into at just how un-kosher the place is, not only in the sense of the food not adhering properly to kashrut  - there's a pork hotdog on the menu for G_d's sake - but also in the liberties it takes with Jewish culinary tradition.

I make no claims to any level of expertise in this area (hell, in any area) so I really can't tell you if the matzo balls are dense (or light) enough, if the salt beef has enough (or too much, or too little) fat, or if the oxtail cholent needs more or less seasoning. But to judge the food 
qua Jewish food is to completely miss the point of Mishkin's, the point made by that all-important 'kind-of': this isn't meant be an authentic Jewish deli, this is Norman's own playful take on one - and oy is it fun.

The interior at Mishkin's
Mishkin's - or 'E.Mishkin' as the sign on the mirror-finish black and chrome shopfront would suggest it more properly be known - stands on Catherine Street in Covent Garden, just round the corner from Norman and business partner Richard Beatty's last opening, da Polpo, on Maiden Lane.

Like all of Norman and Beatty's restaurants, Mishkin's interior is a Zeitgeisty marriage of old and new, salvaged and bespoke. One long wall is exposed brick, the other stripped tongue and groove, while the stairs down to the toilets and the loos themselves are papered in eye-popping 70s patterns. Everything else is pure Formica caff, from the melamine tables to the tin plates and plastic squeezy sauce bottles all bought, Russell delights in telling you, from a Soho pound shop.

Seating is available at the horseshoe-bar - another hallmark, at tables for two, booths accommodating up to six or in what must surely be one of the capital's smallest private dining rooms, an old radio sound booth complete with 'On Air' light and concealing a table for four. If the dining room feels a little tightly-packed, and at night dimly-lit, it all just adds to the carefully-cultivated feeling of intimacy which begins at the very front of the room with the net curtain across the window obscuring passers-by's view of the action within.

As to the food, the Jewish-ish menu is an appealing all-day affair divided into Sandwiches, Meatballs, All Day Brunch, All Day Supper, and Salads, Sides & Extras. Over the course of two visits I worked my way through a decent cross-section of dishes and loved every single one. Cod cheek popcorn, nuggets of sweet fish in a light batter, tossed with green chilli for bite, was superb. The Big Apple Hotdog, served 'dragged through the garden' - topped with sauerkraut and onions - was huge and filling, a meal in itself even without its doughy white bun; likewise duck hash, fried egg and liquor - gravy - which takes over from the truffled egg toast at Spuntino as my new favourite hangover dish.

Another cleverly conceived dish is the meatloaf; served in an individual baking tin, when cut into a whole soft-boiled egg is revealed, like a diner interpretation of a Gala pie. A dish of latkes - small potato rosti - served with smoked eel, apple sauce and sour cream was a delicious medley of textures and tastes, contrasting the salt of the fish with the tartness of apple and the hot crunch of the latkes with cold, smooth cream.

Desserts are limited but cover most bases from light apple and honey pancakes ('blintz') to an excellent chocolate chip cookie served warm with ice-cream. My favourite however - so much so that I ordered it on both visits - was the Bananas Foster,  a great big bowl of bananas, caramel sauce laced with rum and vanilla ice-cream.

A limited, and slightly pricy, selection of wines is available, including a very drinkable red Grenache, but the real fun is to be had with the classic gin-based cocktails. Don't be fooled into thinking that the dainty crystal glasses mean dainty measures as they pack a serious punch - the cucumber Martini, made with Hendrick's gin, is light, refreshing and dangerously moreish. Other spirits are available for non-gin-drinkers; a perfectly prepared Old Fashioned finished off visit 1 very nicely.

Pricing is reasonable both for quality and portion size and for the area; rather than the small plates familiar from other restaurants in the group, all dishes at Mishkin's could serve comfortably as a substantial snack or as a main course with the addition of a side order from a list which includes, joy of joys, fried green tomatoes. Ample food for two with a bottle of wine or a couple of cocktails and service came to about £45
 a head, but a typical bill for a pit-stop brunch or quick supper won't be more than about £25. Service - from a team ably led by Polpo-group cutie Carmen McIlveen is a just-right blend of laid-back and sassy.

Mishkin's manager Carmen McIlveen
Many people will, I think, not 'get' Mishkin's, expecting it be 'authentic' despite it not making any claim whatsoever to be. I don't care, and nor should you, whether Mishkin's is a good Jewish restaurant, just whether it's a good restaurant full stop. And it is. It really, really is.

Mazel tov, Russell and Richard. Mazel tov!

E. Mishkin, 25 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JS Tel: 020 7240 2078

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon

Square Meal


  1. Ooh, Hugh, so many reviews of this place abound, this is definitely one of the best written! Enjoyed the read.

    PS Tickled by my word verification which is woromoo

  2. Thanks Kavey! I thought I'd turned word verification off but glad you at least got an amusing one ;-)

  3. Great post. I'm going to take my father there this week, but I think he'll be one who doesn't "get it"...

    1. Thanks Leila! Be sure to let me know how you get with father...

  4. Completely agree about the duck hash. Christ the Reuben sandwich is sexy.

    1. Both worth having a hangover for just as an excuse to order one - as if with our famously prodigious appetites we *need* an excuse eh?

  5. Beautifully written review, Hugh. Duck hash remains my favourite dish after a few visits, though I've heard good things about the fish finger sandwich too ... visit #4 due soon.

    1. Very kind Ed. My favourite dish is a toss-up between the cod cheek popcorn and the eel latkes so far - yet to try the fish finger sandwich so thanks for the tip!

  6. I still have to go here... Quite a few negative reviews put me off but maybe they were just being pedantic. To be a pedant herself, Stasie doesn't think you can use kashrut as an adjective (that would be kosher) - maybe "the sense of the food not adhering properly to the laws of kashrut". Anyway...


    1. *Sigh* there's always one. But I'm glad you've pointed out what a little extra research shows to indeed be my mistake - thank you! Now corrected, although that of course means that your comment now looks doesn't make sense...


  7. Where is the meat?

    Two wafer-thin slices of meat – and you're calling this a Reuben.
    It's more sauerkraut than meat. And it's more bread than anything else.
    If I wanted a loaf of bread, I would have gone to a bakery.
    Are you joking?
    Marks and Spencer makes pre-packed Ham sandwiches with more meat than this thing!
    I've never seen such a stingy sandwich, let alone a Reuben.
    A place like this would be laughed out of existence in New York, New Jersey – or any state in America for that matter.

    What a let down... I will never return again.

    1. I'm wondering Joey if you were the guy seated next to me on one visit who said almost verbatim what you've said there, but to the waitress. I'm no expert on sandwiches so you may well be right, I just know that I enjoyed it for what it was!


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