Navigate to News section

London Gorges at Gefiltefest

Ottolenghi protégés dazzle as the city’s Jewish food scene continues to bloom

Joan Nathan
June 26, 2014
Chef Silvia Nacamulli leads a Gefiltefest session at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. (Gefiltefest)
Chef Silvia Nacamulli leads a Gefiltefest session at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. (Gefiltefest)

Jewish London was jumping last week as the city celebrated its fifth annual Gefiltefest food fair.

The popular festival, started by the energetic and charming Michael Leventhal, was held at the sprawling Ivy House in Golders Green. Kosher food was being made—and discussed—in every corner: teenagers on how to raise free-range eggs at home, a challah-baking workshop with Challah for Hunger, Claudia Roden and Chef Silvia Nacamulli on Italian-Jewish cuisine, a local rabbi on the kosher status of the giraffe. (Last year, the same fellow, Rabbi Dr. Harvey Belovski, discussed the kashrut of locusts—with samples.)

Two days before the festival, Nacamulli delighted the fair’s three American authors—Kim Kushner, Poopa Dweck, and myself—with a Roman Jewish Shabbat dinner featuring eggplant dishes, and, as a special treat, carciofi alla giudia, with artichokes she’d brought from Italy, and then fried.

After the festival, which featured the launch of The Gefiltefest Cookbook, I visited Honey & Co., a tiny restaurant advertising “food from the Middle East.” For breakfast there I had coffee and an Armenian lahmajun topped with spinach, mint, dill, and parsley with Israeli chef owner Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, who with worked famed Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi for seven years. One night I dined at Zest, whose chef, Eran Tibi, also worked at Ottolenghi’s, the chef’s eponymous restaurant.

This innovative kosher fish restaurant features dishes like sweet potato tahini with garlic oil and crisp onion, and butterflied sea bream with brik papillote, chilli, and bay glaze with a harissa coconut sauce. The chef told us that the coconut milk was a happy mistake. He’d wanted to use heavy cream, but it was so expensive they switched.

Downtown in Soho, the chef-owners of Machne Yehuda in Jerusalem have joined forces with an English couple to open Palomar, on Rupert Street, once considered an unsavory part of London with a bad reputation. Here, I was able to share a table with Israeli writer Gil Hovav and taste the dishes I’d tasted in Jerusalem, and then some.

But it was with Yotam Ottolenghi at his restaurant Nopi that I understood where all this excitement was coming from. At lunch we tasted new dishes for his menu. As we ate, Ottolenghi and his business partner Sami Tamini, who co-authored the cookbook Jerusalem, came by to taste and talk. With dishes and unexpected flavors like sea bass, lovage, and watercress sauce; borage and roasted cherry tomatoes; and what they call a M.E. Mess—a deceptively simple-seeming pomegranate trifle with mascarpone cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, pomegranates, and crumbled meringue, among other flavors.

While critiquing the dishes back and forth, I understood the standard they set, flowing from two sons of Jerusalem to our global world of food. Fortunately for the British, they landed in London.

Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.