Friday, 11 January 2013

Mishkins: new deli?

Good food, better place

The tagline for Mishkins is "A kind of Jewish deli". To me, this was confusing. As I looked at the pictures I wondered: where are the glass counters? Where are the glass jars with red gingham lids? WHERE IS THE OVERPRICED CHEESE?!

After a bit of research I came to the conclusion that a deli can pretty much be what it wants to be, whether it's selling sandwiches, artisan cheese or bhan mi. Wikipedia even tried to claim delis could sell deep fried chicken. For it's part, Mishkin's wants to be a restaurant, but does everything in its power to prove it isn't one – like Nick Clegg claiming he's not a toff.

But you haven't fooled me E Mishkin. I've been to restaurants before, and they mostly look a lot like this. Not all as good as this, but a whole lot like it. Mishkins is beautiful on the inside, with stainless steel bar straight out of a Brent Lynch painting,shiny black and white lino floor and tiny tables lit by T-lights. It even has a wooden tardis-like confession box at the back with a private table, as if the rest of the restaurant wasn't cosy and unique enough.

I say private, but that's a slight exaggeration because, even in the closet at the back, the tables are so close together you sometimes find yourself listening to other people's conversations rather than your own. That's fine though; most strangers I meet are more interesting than me. The waiters were also an interesting bunch: truly lovely people who genuinely seemed to care if you were having a good night and, despite there being a queue for tables, allowed us an extra beer after we had finished eating.

And so to the food. Being about as decisive as the wind, I read the menu at lunchtime so I was prepared for dinner. The prices were astonishing. For such a talked about, trendy place in central London, £11 for a main is a revelation. Probably even cheaper than the very average Cote nearby. Never has the sight of a number made me hungry before. I'd been hankering for my half Reuben with coleslaw and "East End" chips for about six hours by the time I got to eat it. Thankfully (and rightly, because it's a sandwich) it had only taken 10 minutes to arrive. Reubens are a brilliant mix of salt beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and seemingly whatever dressing takes the chef's fancy, but traditionally thousand island. This one must have been good, because to my horror I'd polished it off before I even thought to take a picture (hence this picture, which won't exactly have David Loftus quivering in his boots). Despite the fact that the beef was a little too chewy (a real sin in salt beef) and the sauerkraut no more sauer than the coleslaw, it was a damned fine sandwich. However, it dawned on me as I chewed that I had just paid £8 for half a sandwich. To be fair it was toasted, but it wasn't like it was slow-toasted overnight. Almost a tenner for a slice of bread? This is no deli.

My friend's mac&cheese with salt beef felt a little more like a restaurant dish, but sadly the sauce was rather thin and the pasta overcooked, which meant it bore too much resemblance in texture to the milkshake he'd had at the bar while waiting for me (why am I always late?!). Still, we polished it all of, plus chips, in about 10 minutes.

It occurs to me that you're not really paying for the food at Mishkins, but the concept; the exciting thought that you went out for dinner and ended up, not in a restaurant, but a deli. So people who know little about food can go "Darrrling, forget Pizza Express, I know this charming little place opposite the theatre where they're showing Shrek". How unusual, how experiential! I can't tell whether I'm being sarcastic, because I really enjoyed my meal at Mishkins, and the Maple Old Fashioned I drank was really, really excellent.

In the end, I think it was partly the fact that it was so obviously a London restaurant that endeared it to me. Built off buzz on the blogosphere, founded in an unusual place, funded by one entrepreneur and, even with the words "Jewish deli" in the tagline, still serving burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.

It's no deli, or even new deli, but I love it all the same. I'll be back darrrling.

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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