Friday, 27 March 2009
Reubens, Baker Street
At a casual glance, Reubens appears to be a fairly standard café/delicatessen. There's a long glass counter displaying salads and soups, a fridge containing the usual array of canned drinks and fruit juices, and a basic if functional area towards the back where you take your meal on a little wooden tray after paying for it. It's the kind of sandwich shop scattered all over the City and West End to serve office workers and tourists - nothing remarkable, nothing wrong with that. But Reubens has a trick up its sleeve - it claims to be the only kosher restaurant in the West End, its specialities include home salted beef, house chicken soup and Lockshen pudding, and its clientele, judging by my visit yesterday lunchtime, are almost entirely sombrely-dressed Jewish men. For the first time not a very long time, I felt slightly out of place as I shambled in in my work jeans and hoodie, but fortunately I had kosher über-blogger Anthony Silverbrow to guide me through the ordering process and deflect the scorn of the belligerent staff - something else Reubens are justly famous for.
In true New York deli style, we began with a salt beef sandwich in rye bread. It was actually very good indeed. Anthony apologised for not asking for the fat to be left on, as this would have been even better, but even "lean" the meat was moist and tasty and the rye bread soft and fresh. It also came with two plates of superb pickles - a sweet and crunchy large sliced gherkin and a delicate lightly-pickled cucumber flavoured with I think bay leaf. All of it much better than it has any right to be, and accompanied by an artery-busting deep-fried potato latke with an addictive crispy crunch.
For dessert (what, you think a pound of salted beef and a deep-fried potato cake is enough for lunch?) we sampled the house specialty Lockshen pudding, a rather unusual creation made with noodles but which was nevertheless moist and sweet and delicious, flavoured with sultanas and cinnamon. A hot apple strudel was similarly satisfying, with a thick, moist pastry coating and containing a generous portion of spiced fruit.
It is a very pleasant surprise that after the best part of five years living in London there are still food cultures and traditions that go largely ignored by the rest of the city. Reubens is understandably popular with the Jewish diners of London but deserves to be on the list of anyone around these parts who want a tasty, hearty lunch for not much money. Of course, whether the diners of Reubens want their favourite local kosher joint to be inundated with curious Gentiles is another story.