Tricia de Courcy Ling
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Fri Dec 9 2011
By now Londoners know what to expect from proprietors Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the dynamic duo behind many of London’s hippest restaurants Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and Da Polpo – all critically well received and hugely popular. All serve ‘small plates’ menus and pulsate with an edgy coolness that keeps the crowds queuing to get in. All share an aesthetic that’s studiedly NYC Lower East Side: bare brick, pressed tin ceiling tiles, exposed-filament light bulbs, and good-looking, clued-up staff.
Each in this group has its schtick. Polpo and siblings were loosely based on a Venetian-style bacaro; Spuntino reinterpreted Italian-American food. At Mishkin’s it’s a take on the Jewish-American ‘New York deli’. The Polpo DNA is evident straightaway, from the crush at the door to the zinc-topped bar inhabited by people who look more Shoreditch than Slough.
On first impression, the attention to design detail is excellent. The salt- and pepper-shakers are just like the ones you see in every US diner, as are the plastic water jugs placed on each table. The Formica tabletops and banquette seating look very Stateside too. The menu, divided into sandwiches, meatballs, all-day brunch, all-day supper; and salads, sides and extras is on-cue, and all the Jewish deli standbys that a homesick New Yorker could crave are here: chopped liver, lox and bagels, latkes with soured cream, and salt beef with mustard and pickles.
A Reuben sandwich is a big, overstuffed beast with layers of (usually) corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese topped with tangy Russian dressing, wrapped between two supple pieces of seeded, chewy-crusted rye bread. The best can move the toughest New York cabbie to tears. The Mishkin’s version uses pastrami (which is smoked) rather than corned beef (unsmoked); the meat was on the lean side, but flavourful enough, but I couldn’t taste the dressing. The bread wasn’t the caraway-studded bread that perfectly offsets this sandwich’s flavours, and it was over-toasted, panini-style, which detracted from the texture. Good, but not great.
There are as many recipes and definitions of the knish as there are cooks, but it’s a kind of savoury pie (although there are sweet versions too). At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two main types: square and round. Square knishes, with thin dough that’s often stuffed with mashed potato and onion, are usually deep-fried. The version at Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side (if you’ve seen ‘When Harry Met Sally’, you’ll recognise it as the setting of the famous fake-orgasm, “I’ll-have-what-she’s-having” scene) do a version that many New Yorkers think of as definitive. Round knishes are usually baked and can be stuffed with all sorts of meat, fish or veg. The Mishkin’s baked knish was a more Uptown affair – a cute, dough-wrapped pie with the potato, fish and spinach stuffing poking out of the top, and served with a parsley sauce (which tasted more of uncooked flour than parsley). I wasn’t quite as keen to have what my friend was having.
We were on better footing with the desserts. A blintz is a kind of thin pancake, and the Mishkin’s version - stuffed with apples and raisins and topped with a billow of lightly whipped cream - was satisfyingly tart and sweet. Bananas Foster, a 1970s dinner party fave in the US, tasted the part. Buttery fried bananas are laced with rum and toffee sauce, served hot, with a melting blob of vanilla ice cream on top. Presentation-wise, it wasn’t up to my mum’s standard (admittedly her version may have been a bit OTT – she insisted on flambéing hers before serving) but it tasted good.
I half-expected our waitress to ask “yeah, whaddaya want?” as she clutched her notepad and pulled a pencil from behind her ear; the service in New York delis can be brusque, but is usually efficient. At Mishkin’s we experienced lost and forgotten orders, and bill mishaps – forgiveable if delivered with a smile or an apology, or the sense of caring for customers that we’d noted in the Polpo siblings, but on this oocasion notably absent. Halfway through the evening, the lights were suddenly turned down and we were plunged into such Stygian darkness that we could barely see our plates; the music was so loud that we had to shout into each others’ ears.
The atmosphere and attitude at Mishkin’s left us feeling processed, rather than nourished - as you often do in chain restaurants. We felt as though the staff wanted us in and out as quickly as possible, to make way for the next bums on seats. Could Mishkin’s be the one that marks the shift from ‘restaurant group’ to ‘restaurant chain’? We hope not. This is a fun place to pop in for a cocktail and nibble, but if you're looking for an enjoyable, relaxed dining experience, eat elsewhere.
Mishkin's 25 Catherine Street