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
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
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
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?