Published 12 October 1997 - This article has subsequently been removed from the Sunday Times Archive Style Magazine 222nd article
It didn't go down too well when my location manager, Michael Harvey, asked for ice cream at Bloom's kosher restaurant at Golders Green Road. "In this place, not allowed anything with dairy," explained Leon, the waiter. "Don't mix ice cream with meat."
Leon's a Greek Cypriot who looks Jewish. "You even sound Jewish," I observed. "You've got to with the people here," said Leon. "After 32 years, I think I'm one of them." To demonstrate the international standing of the place, Leon pointed out a nearby waiter who was French and another who was Greek.
The restauarant itself is a marvellous time warp, reminiscent of New York delis and every bit as good. Over there, you have The Stage, the Little Carnegie (Woody Allen's favourite), the 2nd Avenue deli, Barnie Greengrass and Sammy's Rumanian, to name a few. In London, since the original Bloom's in Whitechapel closed following a furore because they were found serving non-kosher meat, not much is left of the deli world. "It was all a mistake," said Leon. "The man accidentally delivered meat he had for himself. It closed when business fell off as the Jewish community diminished."
At Bloom's, and their rival Harry Morgan's in St John's Wood High Street, business always seems pretty good. Not that I'm a regular. I hadn't been to Bloom's for about 10 years; then, I'd found the latkes rather greasy and the mixed chicken soup with lokshen, kneidlach and kreplach poor. This time they were outstanding and the salt beef superb. If they did a Jewish Michelin Guide this would get three stars.
Shortly after we sat down on the chrome anbd brown-leather chairs - "Vinyl", pointed out my production designer, Crispian Sallis - Leon said: "Three mixed soups and then we'll discuss business." Off he went without a care for the main course. He returned to put some amazingly good, large pickled cucumbers on the table. "Believe you me, it's the best," opined Leon. "They do them here: cucumber, nutmeg, whole pepper, plenty garlic, kosher salt, concentrated vinegar, leave them in cold water for 24 hours. Crinkly cucumbers are much better."
I was considering a somewhat primitive mural of Jewish family life when Leon returned. Crispian ordered liver and onions, Mr Harvey had a Bloomburger and onions. I opted for salt beef, latkes and tzimmes - a particularly wonderful way of doing carrots with little dough balls thrown in. "Liver and onion's off," said Leon, so Crispian had the same as me.
They were all very impressed with the mixed soup. "The flavour is divine," said Crispian, eyeing with some suspicion some matzos that had just been put on the table. Portions are so generous that we all left some soup, great as it was, and a fair amount of it slopped onto the table when Leon cleared the plates away. The cloths are not porous, so it sat there in blobs. Luckily, there was an enormous supply of paper napkins in a glass, so we set to work wiping it up.
"It's sort of melting," said Crispian of the salt beef, probably the best I've ever eaten. Leon gave Mr Harvey some salt beef with his Bloomburger. "I can't get through all this," said Crispian, looking at me. "I'm glad to see you can't, either."
We didn't actually want desserts, but Leon came with two enormous slices of lokshen pudding and two vast apple strudels. "Oh my God!" said Crispian, as Leon cut a third of both and gave them to Mr Harvey. The he returned with a mound of white sugar on a plate and poured it over everything with a dessert spoon. It was all terrific.
"This bit, I can wrap it up for you, take it home," said Leon of the leftover salt beef for three and much of Mr Harvey's Bloomburger. "Why should we waste this beautiful beef?" he added, as he returned with a blue plastic bag. "I give you half a loaf of bread, I put the cucumbers in there and everything." "I shall enjoy this tonight with my friends", said Mr Harvey.
"Now I give you, compliments of the house, three black coffees to wash this down," said Leon, expansively. I'm so glad he did. At last I had something to complain about. I know you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but the coffee was awful.
We are so pleased that Michael Winner doesn't like the Trattoria Sorrento in Teddington (Style, September 21). We love it and eat there frequently en famille . I'd hate our enjoyment to be spoilt by an encounter with him.
Jane Bowskill, Kingston-upon-Thames
My wife and I recently went to the Little Italy restaurant in Corfe Mullen, Dorset, to celebrate her birthday, leaving our young children with a baby-sitter for the first time. After ordering and sitting at our table, there was a phone call to say that our son was unwell and both children were screaming. We made our apologies. Not only was there no suggestion that we pay for our uneaten food, but the owner, Beppe, insisted that our pre-dinner drinks were on the house. This was on a Friday, when our table was clearly going to remain empty. Beppe's attitude might not make business sense, but he deserves to succeed.
Simon Tolson, Poole, Dorset
For a special treat, I went with five friends to the Oxo Tower restaurant. The view was fabulous, the starters tasty, the service mediocre, the main courses poor, and the attitude of the staff a mixture of the complacent, arrogant and inattentive. We didn't bother with a sweet. Is this typical, or were we just unlucky?
Helen Adams, Oxfordshire