The Book of Leviticus – the third book of the Hebrew bible – is very particular about what the followers of Yahweh may and may not eat. Making sense of the kosher food laws has led theologians and anthropologists a merry dance for more than two millennia, but the result in contemporary London is that many people of Jewish heritage still observe the most basic rules: no pork, and no mixing of dairy and meat at the same meals.
Temple Fortune, north of Golders Green station, is a centre for both the Orthodox Jewish minority and a wider liberal community. Joseph’s caters for the latter with both an excellent bookstore, and this new next-door restaurant. Both have a casual heimishe (homely) vibe, while the restaurant serves fish and dairy dishes of surprising sophistication.
Chef Ali Al-Sersy used to be chef-patron of Mims in Barnet. Before that, he trained under the Rouxs at Le Gavroche; Al-Sersy’s techniques and dish presentation are informed by French cooking from the 1890s to the 1980s.
Ingredients are simple, the skill considerable. Home-smoked mackerel is served as a timbale-like tower of fish topped with pea shoots, with a drizzle of horseradish cream and a smear of mackerel pâté. Drizzles, blobs and leaf garnishes decorated every dish, including a quinoa and mushroom ‘pudding’ topped with long roots of roasted salsify and a sauce of parsnip cream. Sometimes the artistry is taken a little too far: a dish of roasted cauliflower had a charred floret as the centrepiece, but the accompanying cauliflower kofte – like spherical canapes on cocktail sticks – made the dish.
Café Also’s cooking and welcome are pitched just right for the neighbourhood, but it’s worth the schlep even for goyim (non-Jewish people) up Finchley Road from the tube station.