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
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
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker