The Jew And The Carrot

Mishkin's Brings a Taste of Deli to London

By Sarah Kessler

  • Print
  • Share Share
Paul Winch-Furness

New York made “Seinfeld”; London got the reruns on late night cable TV. It’s a generalization worth risking that, outside of the Golders Green and Stamford Hill epicenters, Judaism on this side of the ocean doesn’t stake its cultural and culinary claim loudly. So it’s fun to sit down in Mishkin’s, Russel Norman’s “kind of Jewish deli with cocktails” spot which opened last December in Covent Garden, and feel the familiar so earnestly and stylishly played with: a little kitsch, without the shtick.

“To me, Jewish food is comfort food,” Norman told The Jewish Chronicle soon after the restaurant opened. “It was eating in some of the New York delis which weren’t obviously branded Jewish that made me think you could take that as a starting point but still have fun with it.”

Norman grew up in Hounslow, southwest London. He isn’t Jewish, but spent more than a decade taking notes in New York and Venice, and Mishkin’s is a paean to a New York deli crossed with a classic Formica London café. Except it’s so much…crisper.

The emphasis is on style rather than kosher. Slip in to a red banquet booth below a white pressed tin ceiling; lean your arm casually against the bright green tiles, while the louchely handsome wait staff drawl “service!” at orders up; roll an eye over the menu set out in classic typewriter font (sandwiches/meatballs/all day brunch/all day supper) and order a ‘refreshment’ from the cocktail list: namely gin, gin and more gin. Those comfort classics are all there - bagels with the “house schmear,” chicken matzo ball soup, pickled herring, chopped chicken liver, a pleasingly Seussian nod to tradition with the whitefish (and spinach) knish and even a cholent boldly far from home. Last weekend they kept a table of older Jewish gents lunching for several hours, (according to our waitress) in defiance of their wives (according to the gents).

That being said, “Mishkin’s is not a kosher restaurant.” The website prepares you, and Norman’s publicist reiterated this in worried tones over the phone. Items like duck hash and fried egg served with a mini boat of “liquor” (gravy, in the old east London pie ‘n’ mash vernacular) or lamb and pistachio meatballs are well-executed and extremely filling, but more gourmet flair than grandma’s. The Reuben sandwich may be a classic (77 sold between 11am and 4pm on January 18th, according to Twitter but it’s not a kosher one. And the ‘All pork Big Apple dog,’ fifth item down on the menu, is unabashed.

“‘It’s terrible,’ the Jewish diners tell us,” said our waitress, herself the only Jewish member of staff, as she brought a jug of tap water to the table unasked (very New York diner, very un-English). “How can you have that on the menu?” But do they order it?


Norman has said that his starting point is a gap in the market — “I’m looking for somewhere to eat and socialize that doesn’t exist in London, so perhaps I need to be the one that creates it.”

With historian Simon Schama recently waxing loxical about Cohen’s, “that temple of smoked salmon and pickled cucumbers” and other “relics of the lost innocence of half a century ago” and the 2010 closure of Bloom’s, an iconic kosher establishment it does seem like good timing.

In fact, the first time my brother and I tried to eat at Mishkin’s, I didn’t make a reservation and we couldn’t get a seat. But here I go, doing exactly what I was worried I’d do, that thing which apparently every other diner does when they eat there: making it all about me.

“Oh yes — that’s not how my mother does it,” said another waitress, in a pretty floral dress and gentle tattoos along her arm and down to her fingers, parroting the clientele with a smile. “I say, you get your mother down here, we’ll put her in the kitchen.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mishkins, London Deli

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.