Restaurant 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue, London

 

Well, this is awkward. I've arranged to meet David Baddiel at Restaurant 1701, a smart new kosher restaurant in the grounds of Britain's oldest synagogue, but I'm having trouble finding it. David has phoned me to say he has arrived, and "it's much more Jewish than I was expecting".

I finally find the place, beyond the Bevis Marks synagogue, in a security-gated courtyard. And it's completely empty. I call David. He's a few streets away, in another kosher restaurant – also called Bevis Marks – where he's ordered a drink, eaten a piece of bread and counted at least three women wearing sheitels.

When David eventually joins me, in a kosher-salted sweat, he announces "I am now officially the wandering Jew". The staff handle our farce with cordial politesse, but the silent, formal room, in which we remain the only diners, makes David nostalgic for his abandoned lunch spot. It may not have offered the ambitious, genre-bending menu of 1701, but at least it had customers.

Then the food starts coming, and we realise why we're here. Restaurant 1701, which is backed by the kosher food group Adafina, belongs to what might be called the Ottolenghi diaspora, if that didn't seem an inappropriately frivolous usage in this context. Head chef Oren Goldfeld comes from Israel by way of Yotam Ottolenghi's Nopi. His cooking here may be restricted by the laws of kashrut, but it is remarkably adventurous, drawing on the Middle Eastern and Iberian influences of the Sephardi tradition, as well as the pot-sticking Ashkenazi comfort food of Eastern Europe.

There are familiar-sounding dishes on the menu, of the chopped liver, chicken soup and gefilte fish persuasion, but they are a world away from the lumpen versions in most Jewish restaurants. Chopped liver arrives as an airy-textured mousse holding crisp shards of chicken skin, and fancily accessorised with a foie gras foam, peeled grapes and a rubble of crumbled gingerbread.

Another starter, pastilla, a miniature version of the sweetened meat and fruit pie from Morocco, is simply one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted; crisp filo pastry enfolding a dark braise of spiced lamb neck, and a just-sweet-enough syrup of spiced fruit and nuts. And that chicken soup is so good, we can almost forgive its billing as 'Jewish Penicillin'. Clarified to an amber purity, its flavour concentrated and refined, it holds firm meat-filled tortellini in place of matzo balls. "It's almost too nice," David says. "Where's the schmaltz?"

His unhappy memories of the kosher food he endured at school – the dairy-free custard coloured bright blue to make it more appealing – are definitively banished by a main course of flanken, traditionally boiled beef ribs served with horseradish. Here the short ribs have been smoked in hay, then cooked low and slow, to leave the meat glossy and almost black, the smoky-sweet flavour brilliantly underscored by celeriac purée and a sticky pomegranate jus (non-wandering).

There's a certain fine-dining flourish to the presentation – all those dots and dashes, foams and rubbles – which won't be to everyone's taste; as David says, "I don't associate this kind of daintiness with Jewish cooking. It's all about eating huge portions of starchy food, then going back into hiding". But it's done with such assurance and care, and the flavours, if not the portions, are reassuringly huge.

Under kosher rules, meat and dairy can't be prepared or eaten together, but I don't register the absence of dairy until David quizzes our waiter about coffee and is offered a soya cappuccino. Puddings arguably suffer; a sturdy orange-blossom-soaked semolina cake, tishpishti, comes with on-trend trimmings – carrot sorbet and a dehydrated black olive 'soil' – when what it really needs is a nice bit of cream. And a Frucht Zup, a posh fruit salad anointed with a strawberry and black pepper consommé, reminds David of the gimmickry of his feared blue custard.

Service is informed and unobtrusive (harder than it sounds, with only two customers) and the kosher discipline is lightly worn; you could eat in this sleek grey room and not realise it was a Jewish restaurant. Prices, though, are high, presumably reflecting the extra care that goes into sourcing and preparation. Mains range from £17-£30, and we paid about £80 a head, including service and a glass of Barkan Pinotage (kosher, of course).

It's unexpected, but rather delightful, to find ancient dietary laws producing not limitation, but open-minded, adventurous cuisine. Traditionalists looking for faithful reproductions of heritage dishes might be disappointed. But Restaurant 1701 deserves to be sought out by the foodish, as well as the Jewish. Just check the address first.

Food ****
Ambience **
Service ****

Restaurant 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue, Bevis Marks, London EC3 (020-7621 1701). About £160 for two with a glass of wine

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week