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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little