E. Mishkin – E is for Effortful, Ersatz, and Enough Already

Hmmm.  I’d heard mixed reports.  Time Out gave Mishkin’s 2 out of 5, and my chef friend said the same.  Still, you’ve got to see for yourself, right?

After Spuntino’s exhaustive try-hardness, and Da Polpo’s very good pizzas, I thought it could go either way.  But Mishkin’s is basically quite nice food, hiding behind some faux ‘old-fashioned and Jewish’ shtick.

It has the usual surface charm of the Polpo chain – nice, young, good looking staff, nice lights:

Fashionably stocked bar…Sipsmiths anyone?

 And a toilet with willfully awkward taps and retro wallpaper:

The whole concept claims to be ‘a kind of Jewish deli’ – and the menu does have lots of nods to Jewish food (chopped liver, bagels, latkes, matzo ball soup).    However the entire experience is so-so, because Mishkin’s lacks what real delis (Jewish or otherwise)  have in spades: heart and soul.

We had meatballs (good flavour, texture too firm), onion rings and fries (not quite crisp enough.)

We had a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel which came with a soft boiled egg.

This was the closest we came to good.   The fish was delicious – Severn & Wye salmon – and the egg was perfectly cooked, but the bagel was a 6 out of 10 bagel: not fresh enough, no crisp exterior to give bite, no soft yet chewy innards – just flavourless, too firm dough.

Come on guys.   It is not that hard to source a decent bagel in London in the 21st century.  You’ve spent so much time making sure your decor and fonts are cool, why not spend twenty minutes talking to someone who knows a bit about bread?  Try Carmelli’s, or Panzer’s.

As we left, the waitress handed us a brown envelope, inside which was a copy of Ezra Mishkin’s story.  Ezra – who ‘dreamed of owning his own restaurant‘ and established Mishkin’s in 1931.  (25 Catherine Street, site of this spanking new restaurant, was previously Taste of India curryhouse. ) The powers of the internet provide no evidence of a real Ezra Mishkin.  The internet does of course tell us that Mishkin’s is owned by the same two guys who run 4 other themed restaurants in central London, all established in the last 3 years….go figure…  I have little choice but to cynically assume E. Mishkin is a marketeer’s fictive creation.  Which is fine.  My sources tell me that Ronald McDonald isn’t real either. 

Except that the legend of Ezra Mishkin goes on to describe Ezra, shivering over a bowl of soup and pondering desperately his flight from the Ukraine, to escape being murdered – as his parents had been.  Class: chuck in some murdered 19th Century Jews to give your restaurant some personality.  Now that’s  cool.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is not bad taste on a Clarkson scale – though really who takes Jeremy Clarkson seriously anyway?  (He’s a paunchy middle-aged attention seeking bloke who says provocative things to help his career – just ignore him if he bothers you.)  However it is, to me, proof that the food doesn’t stand up on its own, and needs the whole ‘back story’ thing built around it – which is a shame.  More attention to bread, less attention to cutesy, pretentious wank, please.

If you are the type of punter who loves a trendy contrived narrative to go with your trendy contrived menu, then, as they actually do say at Katz’s deli, ‘enjoy…’

On the other hand, if you are in Covent Garden and crave decent old-fashioned European kind of Jewish food, your money would be better spent at The Delaunay – the newly opened restaurant by the folk who brought you The Wolseley.

The Delaunay is gorgeous, grand and elegant – though not quite as buzzy or pretty as The Wolseley.  I didn’t take photos as it’s really not that sort of place (Gordon Ramsay, Janet Street Porter, and possibly Shelley Von Strunkel were all there on the night we were.)

The food is good enough.   We ordered a cheese-stuffed weiner, and a cheese-stuffed bacon wrapped weiner, purely so we could engage in a lengthy conversation about weiners with our poor waiter.  The weiners were delicious – proper well done trash food, served with amazing waxy potatoes in a grainy mustard dressing.  The side dishes (sprouts with chestnuts, carrots with ginger) lacked seasoning.  The puddings were disappointing (pear and blackcurrant millefeuille thin and slightly soggy –  not a patch on Pierre’s millefeuille).  The two sittings next to us both ordered the Salzburg Souffle for 2 which looked absolutely spectacular – a giant, golden puffed up colossus, with a soft middle – resembling a cross between a Baked Alaska and a souffle.

I probably wouldn’t hurry back – not because it’s not good, but because it’s Wolseley light, or actually Wolsey dark – darker room, less lively.  Next time I’m in Covent Garden, I’m going to Benito’s Hat for a burrito: my cash isn’t paying for the interior design, and I know the food’s going to taste delicious.

Call me old fashioned and Jewish, but isn’t that the point?

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