Delicatessen is one of North West London’s newest and most popular Kosher restaurants. Supervised by the Federation and centrally located at 51 Fairfax Avenue in Hampstead (just off Finchley Road), it occupies a rarely filled niche in the local Kosher culinary scene: Middle Eastern food that doesn’t style itself as being distinctly Israeli. While head chef and owner Or Golan grew up in Israel, Delicatessen’s food is a fusion of Levantine and Berber (his parents are Moroccan and Lebanese), finished with what is best described as an Ottolenghiesque flourish.
More so than with other Kosher restaurants in the UK, Golan brings a profoundly deep and philosophical approach to his food. For him, opening Delicatessen was an opportunity to “cook homesickness…[and] a home away from home”. Southern Mediterranean social convention – from Morocco across to the Levant – places great emphasis on the shared experience of dining: a fact strongly reflected by Delicatessen’s menu, where all the dishes are intended to be shared.
The food itself did not disappoint. Between the four of us, we shared a very ample mix of starters (kubaneh, “tanned aubergine with tahini, figs & mixed nuts”, fried cauliflower, lamb fat-infused hummus) and mains (“vegan freakeh broth with burnt vegetables, tahini & harissa”, spring chicken served on a bed of pita, rare seared duck breast, and lamb kebabs). And, while we didn’t go for the the biggest shnitzels served in London, I would hope to try (some of) one on a future visit. The lamb, duck, and chicken were all well-seasoned, but the spices never masked the meats’ base flavours. And, while meat-eaters would seldom chose vegetable-based dishes in such a restaurant, the freakeh broth with burnt vegetables was excellent. By charring unpeeled baby vegetables, Golan preserves their base flavours, but adds a delicious smokiness and sweet caramelisation other chefs would do well to mimic. The only real side dish on offer as the “hand pulled chips with loads of herbs & garlic”. Nothing like a conventional chip and something like a sauteed potato slice, they’re quite hard to describe accurately. Much better to just try them.
Delicatessen’s desert menu may be small (with three dishes, at the time of writing), but don’t let that fool you. We finished our meal with basbusa (Egyptian semolina cake), techina ice-cream, and malabi (a set-“milk” dessert flavoured with rosewater). All that needs to be said on that front is that none of us could believe they were dairy-free, and the house’s own-recipe techina ice-cream easily gives Ben and Jerry’s a run for their money. Aside from the usual selection of herbal teas, guests can also order Turkish coffee to end their meals with, should they desire.
Combining some of the best Middle Eastern food in London with excellent service and decor, I highly recommend Delicatessen, and hope to return. For such good Kosher meaty food, it is very reasonably priced (a three-course lunch for four, with drinks came to about £150, not include service charge). Having said that, though, evening bookings are currently being taken two to three weeks in advance. Going at lunchtime, as we did, may be a better option for more leisurely dining experience. Delicatessen is best enjoyed slowly, and it would be a shame to rush a meal there.