It’s a funny thing to seek out a kosher restaurant when I’m not in the least bit kosher. But the truth is that the news of a fine dining kosher restaurant came to me via a sister-in-law I love to dine with. The restaurant 1701, included in this year’s Michelin Guide, had been brought to her attention and she couldn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t visit.
I wasn’t sold on the promise of exquisitely presented food as I’m not sure it’s my thing. But I was particularly curious to see how a restaurant could be housed within a synagogue. And not just any old synagogue either. Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in the UK, has seen more than 300 years of Jewish worship and many a marriage ceremony. This landmark of Jewish heritage is located in the City of London, so we drove east that night, enjoying every moment of uninterrupted conversation without the gaggle of cousins at our feet.
The 1701 restaurant is small and, despite being in the grounds of this breathtakingly stunning and spiritual building, feels a little too contemporary for my liking. I think I had imagined that we might be eating this fine food by candle light feeling a little holier than thou…
The menu celebrates chopped liver, chicken soup and a number of other traditional Jewish dishes in the most elegant way you could ever imagine. Our waiter approached us to help with the menu. He asked if we were kosher? And I was left wondering how he knew we were Jewish? Or maybe everyone there is? Either way, we ordered away.
I noticed that the food was being sent up into the dining room via a dumb waiter. And that was when I realised that it had been a long time since I had eaten in a restaurant where the kitchen was so hidden. So I asked to meet the chef (ex Nopi) but access was denied. And, together with a slightly stifled atmosphere, I felt that was unnerving. While the small restaurant felt slick and elegant, it is also feels pretty stiff.
Our food was artistically prepared and beautifully assembled. But it puzzled me because I know Jewish food to be without any pomp and ceremony whatsoever. It’s the flavours, tastes and servings of this particular cuisine which are usually life-threateningly enormous and therefore comfort food at its best. 1701, on the other hand, serves dainty, foamy, glossed plates of notable beauty. Our menu choices were interesting, different and – for the most part –delicious too.
I have since read that 1701 is the only kosher restaurant to appear in the UK Michelin Guide, making this eaterie and its delivery of fine Jewish nosh even MORE curious. I just hope that those who choose to eat like good Jews are prepared to travel to the City for dinner and aren’t looking for a kosher chinese, curry or Mexican once they get there.