Set in the grounds of the UK’s oldest synagogue, Restaurant 1701 is London’s first fine dining experience which celebrates the diversity of Jewish cooking. It’s also the only kosher restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide and one of only three in the world.
Mr and me arrive in the midst of a rain storm and after our brush with ‘security’ we’re allowed into the courtyard and through the glass fronted restaurant door.
“Kosher” is the Hebrew word meaning fit or proper and refers to food that is fit for consumption for Jews according to Jewish law. There are three categories of kosher food and they include meat, dairy and parve (food without any meat or dairy ingredients).
In the Jewish home, the table is an altar, the kitchen is a domestic sanctuary and a Kosher restaurant is no different. Put to bed the myths of food being blessed by a Rabbi, if the food is Kosher it has met the rules written in the Torah. I’m writing a separate blog about what is Kosher, although it’s a complex subject. The various Kashrut (keeping Kosher) authorities in and around the capital offer products, goods and Kosher dining that are certified as being Kosher. Restaurant 1701 works with the Sephardi Kashrut Authority which operates under the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, which runs the SKA.
Obviously Restaurant 1701 is a wonderful place for those who observe Kosher and we watch the ritual of a couple hand-washing before sitting down to break bread. On the night we visit the diners were a mix of dating couples, businessmen and Jewish families.
At the reception our coats were taken and we were shown to our table by restaurant manager, Stephane Penhkoss. The service under his guidance is impeccable, not fussy but attentive.
The huge windows which line the wall, give the most amazing view into the historic synagogue and sitting next to a place of worship that’s three hundred years old, simply adds to the atmosphere.
The menu is as lovely as the food and the hand-drawn illustrations which go with each dish, along with a brief description explaining a little about their history, was fascinating. Until then, we’d not fully appreciated how Jews had taken inspiration and food from across Europe and North Africa and melded them into their own traditional way of cooking.
Head chef Oren Goldfeld is from Israel and joins the restaurant via a stint at Ottolenghi’s Nopi. James Allan is Assistant Head Chef who trained at El Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in Bray. The food draws on the several styles that exist within Jewish cooking including the Middle Eastern and Iberian influences of the Sephardi tradition, and the comfort food of Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe.
I began with the Pastilla, his take on the larger well-known Moroccan filo pastry encased sweet meat pie. Lamb neck is slow-cooked with spices and is studded with raisins and nuts, that is then rolled in the pastry to produce a parcel of taste sensations. Sweet, spicy, crunchy and soft, all of this exploded in my mouth and was served with the smoothest nursery blended parsnip which was sprinkled with a nutty crumble.
Mr had Gelfite fish, a beautiful plate of food, in fact something too lovely to eat and a far cry from the Gelfite fish I’ve come to know, love and make (fish balls made from ground fish, matzo meal, eggs, onions and salt). Wild sea bass nestled among delicate mounds of orange, ginger and carrot jelly, beetroot and horseradish and white aspic.
The Flanken dish is a take on the traditionally boiled beef ribs served with horseradish. An altogether different interpretation here where the ribs are smoked in hay, cooked slow and low leaving the meat with a smoked yet incredibly sweet taste. It falls away easily to be scooped up with the celeriac puree, pomegranate jus and a variety of nuts.
The Tempura of red mullet, almond tarator sauce, baby artichokes and samphire was Mr’s main. This is the way Sephardi Jews on the Iberian peninsula fry their fish and the method of frying fish in oil was brought to England by the Jews who arrived with Cromwell from Holland. Up until this time, the English fried in lard.
Mr’s fish was absolutely delicious and some of the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten. Dense chunks of white fish were moist and cooked to absolute perfection.
The portions are also a welcome change, no mammoth mounds or wish to overfill, the three courses we ate, left us comfortably full.
Puddings shunned dairy (under kosher rules, meat and dairy can’t be prepared or eaten together) but you’d never have guessed. There was a great choice of sweet things on offer.
My Tishpishti was billed as a semolina cake soaked in syrup but wasn’t anything like my semolina cakes and was a little on the dry side. This dish is originally from Turkey and usually bathed in syrup. Thankfully there was some moisture in the form of the carrot sorbet. The confit carrots, black olive soil and coriander cress were lost on me but the plate was very pretty. A great cake, which was moist from top to bottom, served with sorbet would have smashed it for me, but unfortunately it didn’t win me over as much as the first two courses.
Mr’s Sachertorte was a totally different plate, the chocolate and apricot sponge was moist and rich. The dish had bundles of different tastes and textures and included salted caramel, the tang and sweetness of an apricot jam smear and more chocolate than you could wish. The Mahlab ice cream was inspired and I don’t remember ever having tried the spice that’s made from extracting the seed from the stone of the St Lucie species of cherry.
The wine selection is Kosher and a little on the pricey side. The glass of Dalton oak-aged Merlot I chose was delicious and I made it last throughout the first and main courses, unusual, but with Mr on dry January, very easy.
We were both guests of Restaurant 1701 but I will definitely be back and have no hesitation in recommending this secluded gem to anyone.
Restaurant 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue, Bevis Marks, London EC3A 5DQ
Call for reservations 020 7621 1701 or book online
Nearest Underground stations – Liverpool Street and Aldgate