REUBEN'S: A FREILEKHN GEBORTSTOG! NICK
You may not know this, but Bengalis are often referred to as the Jewish people of India. We have a lot in common not least the fact that the idea of someone coming away from our dining table at anything less than an ungainly waddle being the most shameful of things.
So, it is little surprise that my chum, Nick and I get on so well and spend nearly all of our time together talking across a dining table.
I didn’t realize that it was his birthday today until he sat down opposite me at lunchtime and told me so.
However, it was entirely appropriate that we had booked a table at Reuben’s, a Jewish restaurant of some forty years standing on Baker St. The perfect place for Nick to instruct me in the ways of Jewish cooking.
Normally happy for me to lead the way, the moment it came time to order, he was a changed man. Barking out what he wanted “Eggs & onions, any good?” he probed. “ What about the chicken soup? Can we have it mixed with lokshen and kneidlach?” he demanded. “If we are still hungry after that, we’ll have some salt beef” The waiter, recognizing he was up against a force of Jewish nature, nodded meekly.
While it was good for someone else to take charge, I was ever so slightly concerned that he seemed to have ordered most of the menu and, when the starters arrived, it transpired that he had.
Eggs & Onions were declared “too creamy” but I rather liked them and spooned plentiful amounts onto my matzo.
Chicken “pate” was found to be “too smooth” but I liked that too and spooned great blobs of it from plate to mouth without aid of a cracker. Likewise, a scoop of chopped ox liver with grated egg on top was enjoyed by me, but not so much by Nick.
Boiled gefilte fish was, well, quite frankly, rather odd. Can anyone explain the attraction? It struck me more as something you would use to threaten a naughty child with than something you would actually eat yourself.
After plowing our way through these dishes, we dived head long into a slightly scary looking bowl of chicken soup. The broth itself was very tasty and the kneidlach (dumplings) were light and fresh although Nick said he thought they could use a drop of almond oil which was a new one on me. The lockshen, however, had some artificial colouring in which turned the whole soup a weird orange. Most disconcerting.
Were we done? Were we heckers like. It became a war of attrition as Nick and I tried to see who would blink first. Next up, a mix of Salt beef and tongue with a plate of phallic pickles. The hammascher(sp?) pickle was sharp and strong, the “new green” fresh and zingy. In fact, they were better than the meat which had looked so good when I walked into the restaurant but was a little dry by the time it reached us and lacked the requisite layer of fat.
With it, a some most excellent chips. As good as any I have tried in a long time and, with it, something called a latke which could be used as a deterrent in cases of political crisis. This is one of the nastiest things I have ever eaten and I think we should mail one to Iran as a threat. Is this just a bad example or is a latke really nothing more than a badly made rosti?
Anyway, I was stuffed to the gunwhales by now, but they plied us with a free pudding for the birthday boy which came in the form of a strudel. This we both agreed on as the best thing of the whole meal. Surprisingly light with a stuffing of raisins, clove, lemon zest and cinnamon, it was all but demolished in seconds.
But, by now, we were both truly defeated and I got the bill which came to about £60 for two including a couple of Maccabee beers from Israel.
We waddled out into the afternoon sunlight and staggered down Baker St like two slightly over full water balloons. Filling stuff this Jewish food.
But, next year I am going to have to cook Nick some proper Bengali food, then he will know what being full is really like.