Round where I come from, everyone is Jewish. But everyone. We have Jewish postmen and traffic wardens. The staff in McDonald's have side locks, and if you go into a police station in, say, Golders Green, you find shorter than average coppers shrugging a lot and swapping recipes for lokshen pudding. Occasionally, a north Londoner goes to live up west, but it always causes a broigus. "What does he know from Notting Hill?" We say, shaking our heads and tutting. "He wouldn't know a dreadlock from a dreidel."
Myself, I only venture south or west of Camden Town to find out how the natives eat. Up here, we eat mostly messes of potage. So when my friend Hugo, who lives in Ladbroke Grove, called to say he was going for dinner on the All Saints Road and did I want to come, I dreamed of pan- fried this and seared that, of wok-flashed bubble and squeak, and free- range organic yak with a kumquat jus.
"It's called Nosh Brothers," he said. "We'll be there from about nine." And he hung up. I had not had time to respond, but my gob was so truly smacked that I doubt very much I should have been able to.
Hugo was educated in Scotland and has a jaw like Desperate Dan. He has a relative in the army, it is said, and has frequently visited the countryside. Such people do not nosh. They tuck in. They push a forkful of eggs and bacon into the old muzzle.
I arrived at Nosh Brothers to find Hugo surrounded by tall people, blond people, people without glasses, people who could trace their family history back to before 1973. Had they really got into salt-beef and latkes? When it came to pickles, did Hugo have a preference for heimische over new green? And what about his beautifully British girlfriend, Emily? Was she now addicted to chicken soup? And, if so, was she a kreplach girl, or did she like to get her schnozzer into some nice big kneidlach?
Either way, she would have been disappointed. For Nosh Brothers is not a Jewish restaurant at all. It is very cool. It looks great. And the food is wonderful. So it couldn't be.
With the exception of an extravagant chandelier, the interior is understated, white and woody, elegant and almost stark. There is the pitter-patter of well-modulated voices exchanging clearly thought-out opinions, and the insistent, low, thudding noise of young men (Hugo in particular) nudging each other to indicate the passing of yet another by no means ugly waitress.
The food is, technically, Modern British, which these days means mainly European with only a bit of North Africa and Asia. Puy lentils and chorizo, for example, make an exotic bed for grilled Cornish mackerel, as do arrocina bean puree and pancetta for black pudding. The mackerel dish is one which elevates that prosaic little fish to something far above its normal expectations. Charring gives it a smoky taste which mackerel, naturally handles well, and it is firm and unfishy. Wild rabbit and foie gras terrine is very good and there might be scallops with a bean and leek puree for the girls - though the menu seems to change daily so you needn't bother remembering that.
Both times I went (for I could not help but return) I had the slow braised belly pork on bok choi. The pork is sensationally sweet with criminally crunchy crackling, and the oriental leaves are a healthy alternative to mounds of starch. Alternatively, think about ordering the excellent sea bass, which arrives on a lemon tabbouleh lit up with glistening pomegranate seeds.
The prices are no higher than those of a pukka gastropub, and the food is so much better that it almost hurts. If that weren't enough, there's the service. A woman called Sam seems blessed with the ability to remember people's first names even if she has only seen them once before in her life, getting off a bus, from behind. She is so solicitous, welcoming and keen to fill you with nosh that she could almost be... But she is fair, and Northern, and statuesque.
When I mentioned to Hugo that the place was less Jewish than I had expected he looked puzzled.
"You know, `nosh' being a Yiddish word and all."
"Is it? I thought it was English."
So I called him a schlemiel, which I imagine he'll manage to work out for himself.
WHAT'S ON THE WINE LIST
Richard Ehrlich's selection
Les freres Nosh have assembled a surprisingly swish list for what is essentially a neighbourhood restaurant. I hope their affluent clientele can afford Criots-Batard-Montrachet 1991 (Blain-Gagnard) at pounds 140, and don't mind the inferior vintage. For those who don't work in the City, however, there are a few good bottles around and below the pounds 20 mark. If only there were more...
Huia Chardonnay 1997, Marlborough, pounds 23
An excellent Chardonnay from one of the smaller wineries in New Zealand's most famous white-grape area.
Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 1998,
Marlborough, pounds 21
Same area, but a Sauvignon this time - and worthy of comparison with the much, much more expensive Cloudy Bay.
Cahors Clos de Coutale 1996, pounds 14
The newer, lighter style of Cahors is much more approachable than the old-fashioned inky style, and this is a good producer. Winter warmer.