A Jewish deli with pork sausages?
It’s not difficult to see why Mishkin’s has some diners a tad confused and others irritated: This restaurant in London’s Covent Garden isn’t what it seems and certainly isn’t kosher.
It’s a homage to a New York style of venue rather than to the dietary laws of kashrut. The man behind it, Russell Norman, specializes in this sort of thing with Lower East Side-type London establishments Polpo, Polpetto, Da Polpo and Spuntino.
The cuisines vary yet much of the rest is constant: low prices, high customer turnover, staffers picked for enthusiasm and cool looks rather than experience, and obsessive attention to detail manifested everywhere from the coat hooks through the wobbly furniture to the tumblers in which wine is served.
For Norman and his business partner Richard Beatty, Mishkin’s is the fifth such restaurant in just over two years. That’s a fast pace and somewhere along the line -- with Da Polpo, to be precise -- I wondered if the virtue of consistency wasn’t flirting too much with the vice of repetition.
Norman, 46, has spent his life in hospitality -- starting as a waiter at Joe Allen’s and progressing to operations director at Caprice Holdings Ltd. -- and the ideas keep flowing. So now we have Mishkin’s, where the menu features Jewish-influenced dishes such as latkes, smoked eel, apple sauce & sour cream; and Whitefish & spinach knish with parsley liquor.
The basic look is similar to the other outlets, yet with nice individual touches such as the polished steel bar and London’s smallest private dining room: It’s a table housed within a former sound booth from the British Broadcasting Corp., with an “On Air” light you can switch on for service. It’s like an airline call button. Maybe the waitresses should wear uniforms.
The chopped chicken liver (with schmaltzed radish) that made its excellent debut at Polpo is there, along with new options such as Brick Lane Salt beef with Colman’s mustard & pickles, served with or without fat. (I was force-fed corned beef at school and can’t bear the stuff.)
The all-pork Big Apple hot dog was devoured by a guest of mine who enjoys such things. The meatballs come in three varieties -- lamb & pistachio; ground beef & peppercorns; chickpea, spinach & ricotta -- and you can try them all for 6 pounds ($9.35). Norman’s excellent macaroni and cheese (from Spuntino) is there. The cod-cheek popcorn needs a sauce. The fries and the onion rings are good. The meat loaf comes with an egg concealed inside. It’s a surprise, unless you have read this. The malted milkshakes are alone worth a visit.
You may have gathered that the food is far from gourmet. So are the prices. No individual dish on the menu is more than 10 pounds and most of the desserts are 5 pounds. I’d like to see more choice of wines -- there’s little here I would opt to drink -- and in the democratic spirit of sharing, I wish the only Champagne weren’t Jacquesson at 60 pounds.
A warning for potential diners who are no longer teenagers: Mid-evening, they turn down the lights and turn up the volume. It’s disorienting: You can’t read the menu or hear yourself. It’s Guantanamo Bay hospitality.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 25 pounds a head plus drinks.
Sound level? Starts at 70 decibels and rises rapidly.
Inside tip? People think you can’t book: You can.
Special feature? The sound booth.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes, especially the private room.
Mishkin’s, 25 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5JS. Information: +44-20-7240-2078 or http://www.mishkins.co.uk/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)