25 Catherine Street
Tel: 020 7240 2078
Mon – Sat 11am – Midnight
Sun 12 noon – 11pm
I reckon Egon Ronay and Ezra Mishkin would have got on rather well. Ronay, a Hungarian Jew born in 1915 and Mishkin, a Ukrainian Jew who came to London in 1931 both made a career in food. I can picture them seated in a booth at Russell Norman’s latest gaff, a kinda Jewish deli on Catherine Street in Covent Garden, tucking into a plate of pickled herring and some hot salt beef. They would be talking away for hours about family, history, Jewish persecution and restaurants until at the end of the meal when Ronay would insist on picking up the tab. This man who taught Britain how to eat, was a master of our time who knew everyone but remained an outsider and never in his illustrious career ever failed to pay for a meal.
A friend of mine has just published a collection of essays on Egon Ronay, charting his life from when he escaped from communist Hungary to Britain in 1946 and all through his illustrious career. Ronay’s father was a restaurateur and used his connections to hook Ronay up with his first job managing Princes restaurant in Piccadilly. This is where Ronay had his first insight into just how bad British food and the restaurant industry was. He realised Londoner’s had no taste for food and the restaurateur had no audience to play for. To this day, Jeremy King still refers to his restaurant as a theatre and each night is a live performance. Ronay went on to open Marquee, a tea room in the shadow of Harrod’s on Hans Place, which is where Fifties Britain was first introduced to classic French dishes. He later went on to be food critic for The Daily Telegraph.
Admiring Mishkin’s from the other side of Catherine Street the other night, the warm glow of light from inside and the outline of people sat at the bar, I knew without even stepping foot inside that Russell Norman and his business partner Richard Beatty had done it again.
Although a slightly irregular shape, the room is easy on the eye and the layout works. Black and white floor tiles have replaced the aged wooden floorboards that have been painstakingly rehoused on the wall on the right hand side of the restaurant. What could be Farrow & Ball duck egg blue is the choice on patches of the wall and compliments the red leather banquettes. Think hipster Brooklyn American diner. Spuntino’s less intimidating sibling.
The food is a mixture of Jewish deli and East End caff. The menu is homage to the deep fryer. On our first visit we started with fried green tomatoes to pick at while choosing what else to eat. Upon my next visit these had been replaced with pickled fried sprouts, an ideal solution to get your kids to finish their veg. Unlike the rest of the Polpo family, Mishkin’s is not as much about sharing but don’t let that stop you. Duck hash with fried egg and liquor, can only be described as the ultimate hangover brunch. Cod cheek popcorn is exactly that. The perfect fish snack. I bet Captain Birdseye wishes he came up with that one.
The pickled herring with beet tartar is the perfect accompaniment to cut through the heavier plates of food. Everyone who has been to New York and have been to one of the thousands of deli’s that are on every block along Manhattan island, knows that the sandwich is king.
Brick Lane salt beef is just as good as anything you can get in East London and the Reuben on rye with pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese means we no longer have to travel across the pond to get a taste of NY’s delis. The standout dish, and what is likely to become the signature dish, is the meatloaf. Think of everything you know about meatloaf and now clear it from your mind. This meatloaf is a moist little nugget of protein wedged into a small bread tin. Digging into it you hit the food equivalent of gold, a runny boiled egg oozing its yolk into the meat.
The wine list is French and is pleasing to both the palette and the wallet. However, the real drinking can be found on the gin list with twenty-five gins including a bottle from the local Tesco Express in Covent Garden. Tom George is in charge of the room and the young, cool staff manage to maintain that relaxed attitude but still delivering good service.
Mishkin’s has two identities. During the day, it is the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch, an ideal place to come on Sunday to gorge and read the papers. In the evening, its mischievous side is revealed. The lights are dimmed low, the music is turned up and the blinds are drawn so no one can see in. And this is exactly what restaurants should be all about; fun and an experience.
We need to thank Egon Ronay for his influential role in food and restaurants in Britain for over half a decade. He encouraged people to get an interest in what they eat and where they eat. Many say he was the man who helped put London on the food map with his passion for harnessing a self-belief in British chefs as well as launching his eponymous food guide. His goal was to make people respect food and to improve the standard of British cuisine; he succeeded. Ezra Mishkin dreamt of one day having his own restaurant in London; he too succeeded.
‘Egon Ronay: a memoir of the man who taught Britain how to eat’ published by Newbaz Ltd is priced at £25.
Photographs are provided by the Mario Testino of the food world, Paul Winch-Furness. http://www.paulwf.co.uk