Laws of our fathers, tastes of our sons

A new kosher restaurant tries to satisfy both ancient rules and 21st-century palates. No mean feat, as Karina Mantavia discovers
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Indy Lifestyle Online

SIX-13, 19 Wigmore Street, London W1, tel: 020 7629 6133

SIX-13, 19 Wigmore Street, London W1, tel: 020 7629 6133

So many of the world's eating habits revolve around the idea of purity. Once prompted by availability, local circumstance and the avoidance of disease, the concept of "clean" food is a central component of most religions.

Sundry acronym scares - GM, BSE, CJD et al - along with an increase in food allergies, have ensured that the secular world is now frantically buying into the idea. Ten years ago, ethical eating meant taking a moral stance on animal or Third-World welfare; today, it takes a moral stance on the food itself. It seems the luxury of having fresh food of almost every kind available gives us the privilege of being able to turn up our noses at it.

Six-13 wants to feed devotees of both spiritual and physical purity. It aims to do it by serving what they call "kosher fusion food". While the mere thought of this is enough to send your Yiddish momma into an agitation of kvetching - "Now I've seen everything!" - gentile health faddists will doubtless be drawn by their own version of guiltless fare: dairy-free food.

Modernising Jewish cuisine isn't such a bad idea, if only for the faithful, who have lived by the 613 rules for 6,000 years, and are only too aware that the road to paradise rarely detours via the Pacific rim. However, this is an odd way to go about it. After all, kosher fusion marries the concept of purity with one based on bastardisation.

Still, they've got at least part of it right. I took my Hebraic other half, who was surprised to be, for once, the least Jewish person in the room. Just 48 hours after opening, the restaurant was brimming with skullcaps, Hasidic elders, young businessmen and a sextet of glossy princesses at varying stages of weight gain. It felt very much like the inaugural week. Waiters came together in huddles hissing, "No, no, THAT table, quick!" in stage whispers, before spinning off to different ends of the room in synchronised disorder. Meanwhile, a black-clothed matriarch with a slow, deliberate walk crossed the room, scaring all the men.

An introductory menu offering three courses for £15 per person - roughly half the price of the forthcoming à la carte - contained as many hits as misses. Kosher ingredients are prepared by Steve Collins, latterly the non-kosher chef of Circus and Quaglino's, with dishes made under the supervision of London's Beth Din.

A starter of beef broth with butter beans and pearl barley was very good: thick and aromatic, a lovely, rich dirt colour with intense, meaty flavour and generous hunks of beef. Smoked salmon on rye, the Jewish combo extraordinaire, was far from it - pedestrian, and without the requisite lemon and pepper accessories. The dryness of the bread was the only memorable thing about it.

A very "fusion" main course of sea bream with hummus and coriander pesto had the anticipated but nevertheless annoying identity crisis: the prettily prepared, delicate fish effectively in a brave stand-off against the far heavier hummus. Salt beef with horseradish dumplings fared much better - slabs of serious-quality beef, teamed with proper squishy dumplings scented with herbs, was so good you wanted to eat it twice.

A flashy dessert of poached peaches in white wine with sabayon and toasted almonds was another dish bearing the lost look of fusion confusion; its individual parts better than their sum. The chocolate brownie, meanwhile, was basically a slab of dense fudge.

The bill, with water, service and a kosher glass of buttery Teal Lake Chardonnay, came to just under £54 for two. Asking for it seemed to cause an international incident. They just didn't see it coming. A good 10 minutes was passed in shock. Melodrama aside, service was friendly, if occasionally dyslexic: one waiter couldn't get his head around the idea of a big bottle of water and brought many small ones, dramatically slapping his head in realisation each time. Other staff spent their time ferrying the only salt and pepper grinders in the restaurant from one table to another.

With comfortable green velvet seats, the restaurant would look mildly elegant if only they dimmed the lights a touch. As it is, the harsh visibility coupled with the repeated strains of "Could I have the salt and pepper?" is as atmospheric as being in someone's front room. Which, of course, is fine if you want the home-from-home experience. Not so good for the rest of us.

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