Damn it, he’s done it again.
(He being the elusive blurryman with the fire red scarf, and thick brown rim specs, aka Mr Cool.)
And here I thought that Da Polpo was the last cherry atop this tiny empire. They are back, this time around, Norman, Beatty and Oldroyd give us a glimpse of something a little Jewish. It’s deja vu because Mishkin’s is like that other off-shoot hobbyist lightbulb moment which Russell Norman had brought to life. Remember that ..the truffle egg toast, the ground beef sliders, the speak-easy-esque ambiance?
You know how much I love Spuntino, I was so excited with this project, I decided to book a table on the first official day of service. 50% off for the previews.
As usual, Russell is on scene for day one service (yeah… I’m pretty sure I was there for first day service at DaP and Spun as well) to greet us. So new, the paint is still drying, but this time around, things sure look much tidier.
The decor possess the now classic Norman touches : there’s the rectangular bar, the Victorian ceilings, dangling lamps, the brick walls. It’s like an American diner but all grown up, bringing some Madmen slickness to the indie feel. Its Spuntino in a red blazer with beige docker trousers and polished brogues. Floors are decked out with black and white tiles, the naked brick walls are paired with cream lime green panels and there are now diner booths kitted out in flame red leather. Toward the back, there’s a small crack of a skylight a la Da Polpo (but sans view of a church) , and there’s a reconstructed vintage BBC sound booth, complete with a rewired ‘on-air’ switch which makes a very intimate private room for two. Seriously cool.
The quirky little details in his restaurants are an integral part of Russell’s restaurants. This is his smartest restaurant yet, this one has the shiniest steel bar table top. It’s the Russell Norman show in full technicolor, and I think I may like the ambiance here the best.
The food here is the most varied yet. Styled like a vintage diner menu (typewriter fonts and laminated to protect against greasy fingers) it includes some classics from the sister restaurants like meatballs, mac & cheese, baby gem salad, but its the sleuth of Jewish-esque dishes which pique interest. Brick Lane Salt Beef, chopped liver with schamltzed radish, pickled herring beets tartar, whitefish & spinach knish …and meatloaf!
Obviously, I couldn’t try everything, so you might read about this again. I skipped breakfast and took Mark – a like-minded voracious eater – and started out with half sours; Pickled cucumber but in half the time, so mellower and sweeter.
Cod Cheek Popcorn, 7.
Wow. What is that fragrance? Lime I think, and something spicy, was it jalopeno perhaps? There’s some unidentified green zest on the cheeks. The crispy light batter was uplifting stuff, cheeky tender soft balls of cod flavoured..popcorn. Say bye-bye to deep fried calamari rings – Cod cheek popcorn is the future.
Chicken Matzo Ball Soup, 5.
Aka Matzah balls which are eaten during Passover, but more significantly, it’s Jewish chicken soup. Obviously, Jewish cuisine is undiscovered territory to me, and unfortunately I’ve not been lucky enough to be invited to try a Jewish home cooked recipe either. but for what it’s worth, I liked this cloudy chicken broth. Hearty, rich flavours of chicken stock, bits of celery and carrot. As for the giant matzo ball the size of a child’s fist: fluffy rather than leaden, and not unlike a sponge that’s soaked up all the liquid, making it juicy to bite into.
So first impressions for the matzo ball virgin : Soul charging chicken soup apt for lunch or a light supper for the wintry days ahead.
Reuben on Rye with Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Russian Dressing & Swiss Cheese, 9.
Ladies and gents. Introducing your next favourite sandwich. Before you skip my rambles below, I’ll summarise : it’s a fucking great sandwich. No gimmicks here, just a fucking great sandwich.
Yes, the asking price seems a little dear at £9, but you get your money’s worth – the sandwich is so wide, you have to hold it with both hands. That’s right babe, two handfuls.
So the Rueben’s sandwich. There are supposed to be a few variations to this classic sandwich invented either in Omaha in the 20’s by Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuania-born grocer, or by Arnold Reuben at his New York deli, Reuben’s, around 1914. Here in London, the only time I’ve come across mention of this sandwich is at Reuben’s in Baker Street. Unsurprisingly, that place also does Jewish food.
Now this is all very new to me, I’ve never had a Reubens sandwich before, so I can’t really hold a meaningful debate about authenticity or variation.
For this particular version, it’s stuffed to the brim with gently pickled sauerkraut and thinly feathered pastrami, glued together with melted swiss cheese and sandwiched between rye that’s crispy on the outside, and doughy on the inside.
I loved the egg truffle toast, but I took a one bite out of this, and it turned the memory of the truffle toast into a distant and queasy haze. The pastrami was akin to a boiled ham, like parma ham which had be through a bamboo steamer. I liked that nothing was too sharp, too sour or too salty, and that bread …fucking hell, it was fucking good. I don’t know if I’ve written this in a review or if it was a tweet, but I’ve always loved the Polpo grilled ciabattas. Doughy centre and crispy exterior (when toasted). This rye was along the same lines.
An enormously hearty and enormous sandwich. It’s really a great sandwich, it’s simple pleasures, anyone can appreciate a great sandwich, this is a great sandwich and I could easily have this for lunch everyday.
Oxtail Cholent with Barley, Beer & Beans, 9.
The Cholent is a Jewish stew, eaten on Sabbath and usually slowly cooked overnight. If you like oxtail, you’ll love this, the gelatinous bits were tenderly slipping off that tailbone.. and down my throat with minimum chewing. Mmm. This one had Tom O written all over it. Slow-cooked and stewed labour of love, not unlike his squid ink and ossobuco efforts.
So stewed beans (feel free to slap me for saying this, you purist) …this is like Jewish cassoulet right?!
All Pork Big Apple Dog… dragged through the garden, 8.
This is the first time I’m eating a big apple hot dog. I don’t know if Mishkin’s are the first restaurant they are supplying, but you lot love this stuff and so I’m going to have to agree, it’s a great sausage. I double checked, it did say all pork. Served in a baguette, and dragged through a garden of sauerkraut.
Also a pretty massive portion.
‘Supersized’ double 3oz Steamed Beef Pattie with Onions & Swiss Cheese, 8 (5 for the single 3oz).
Looks familiar right? It’s like the ground beef slider in Spuntino on the outside…
…but they’ve tinkered with the pattie on the inside. Quite a lot of tinkering.
They grill the pattie over a bed of onions (with the bun) and this allows the onion-infused steam to bubble upwards and seep into the meat. That is of course my idiot’s interpretation of pattie cooking. There’s a photo which the Mishkin’s kitchen tweeted a few weeks ago which show how they do it.
To the end customer, this translates to a sloppier and juicier experience. There’s less grease and more water content, dare I say it feels healthier, purer, concentrated and boy was it beefy. Boiled beef flavours. I think onions and melted swiss cheese contribute to the soft flavours, like the dishes before it, it’s not too sharp or sour.
Have I said it yet ? Fucking great pattie, especially with the soft, damp bun. It’s the evolution of the greasy Spuntino slider into a juice monster.
The meatwagon burger is great, so is the lucky chip burger and they are all steamed in some way – and I’m no burger expert of course – but my forecast is that this will join the burggerati top list. Let’s wait for Daniel Young and Ibzo to weight in their opinions first.
What’s next hey? Sloppy Joe’s perhaps? Too easy?
Bananas Foster, 5.
We ended the meal by sharing a caramelised bananas and vanilla ice cream. We also had two cocktails, I think I had a cucumber martini. The bill came to £75.44, but as there was a 50% discount for the preview (thanksgiving?) weekend, we only ended up paying £39.94. Don’t roll your eyeballs yet, I practice what I preach, you’ll hear about my subsequent visits to Mishkin’s again and I will pay full whack for it.
Between myself, Mark and our better halves, we’ve probably been to Spuntino two dozen times, a dozen times to Da Polpo, maybe another dozen to Polpo, but only once to Polpetto. We both love Spuntino to bits, we just think it’s a greatly executed idea. The ambiance is just great. I didn’t really think Norman could top that effort, but this one is so wildly evolved – food & ambiance – and such a well thought through that I actually believe Mishkin’s is their best iteration yet. So after five round, they are getting really good at this.
If Spuntino is leather jackets, beaten up and greasy John Travolta, then Mishkin’s is the slicked hair, pressed suits, top hats and kodak safety film vibrance of Donald Draper’s moddish Sixties American dream. This is fine tuning of the hobbyist projects they had with Spuntino. What was a genius idea is now a template for a new genre. Mishkin’s is an extrapolation of that template to bigger production values.
The way Norman’s team are launching restaurants are a little like the way Apple update generations of their products. They don’t actually generate new ideas, but they have the ability to spot something potential amazing and then tweak it, and mould it into something unashamedly appealing.
On the surface Russell’s restaurants adhere to the same overall vision, but there are little details, little ideas, minor tweaks which are ever so slightly improved from one diner to the next. It would appear their idea of what constitutes the perfect uber-cool haunt is well defined. New developments just go into massaging a better shape of its reality.
The recipes are almost always democratic reworkings of classics, prices are always competitive. There’s the ever-present dimmed soho ambiance, a vital sprinkle of cool powder and all these little details which make the holistic experience of eating out a lot of fun. We need these type of accesible restaurants which are easy going, trendy, sociable and welcoming. I can’t say I’m not a little inspired to be like him when I grow – he’s made a reality of an intelligent, fantasy restaurant.
Undoubtedly, Russell’s sensibilities have affected new openings – Ducksoup comes to mind – restaurants are embracing walk-ins, putting away the table cloths and making sure that their restaurants are buzzy places to eat in.
I went to Le Chateaubriand recently – arguably Paris’s coolest bistro – and I think Russell Norman is our Iñaki Aizpitarte. These octopus restaurants are timeless and nostalgic, complex yet indifferent, delicious genius but also bafflingly basic. They are living and breathing entities which many love for atmosphere as much as for nourishment, but those of you expecting some kind of religious experience will definitely be disappointed. These restaurants are not about worshipping provenance as you run your fingers across starched table cloths, they are about celebrating the everyman dinner. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, there’s a time and place for everything after all.
As a restaurant observer, I love this shit so much, I’m still foaming at the mouth after 2000 words. We are living in the age of a trend-setter, so hat tip to Russell the creative tornado and Chef Tom O – This one is the coolest yet. So now that they’ve conquered cocktails, small plates and the American diner, I wonder what they will reinvent next. The French bistro perhaps?
PS: More photos on my flickr page.
The Gist of It
Jewish. Kinda. £25pp
25 Catherine Street, Soho, WC2.
Tel: 020 7240 2078 < THEY TAKE BOOKINGS! Tube: Covent Garden