For anyone operating a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of a particular country or culture, being considered ‘authentic’ by experts and ex-pats can be both a blessing and a burden. While a reputation for the truest tapas, realest rendang or mostverisimilitudinous Vietnamese usually results in a clamour for tables and healthy profits, get things wrong and your faux French or ersatz Asian will make you the object of every food snob’s opprobrium.
Only a restaurateur with the supreme confidence and chutzpah of Russell Norman would dare to open a restaurant as wilfully, joyously inauthentic as Mishkin’s, described on its website as ‘a kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails’. Even as I write this, I can’t help but wonder if from conception to delivery Norman wasn’t chuckling knowingly to himself at the froth some critics would work themselves up into at just how un-kosher the place is, not only in the sense of the food not adhering properly to kashrut – there’s a pork hotdog on the menu for G_d’s sake – but also in the liberties it takes with Jewish culinary tradition.
I make no claims to any level of expertise in this area (hell, in any area) so I really can’t tell you if the matzo balls are dense (or light) enough, if the salt beef has enough (or too much, or too little) fat, or if the oxtail cholent needs more or less seasoning. But to judge the food qua Jewish food is to completely miss the point of Mishkin’s, the point made by that all-important ‘kind-of’: this isn’t meant be an authentic Jewish deli, this is Norman’s own playful take on one – and oy is it fun…
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