I have a confession.
I’m afraid I fell in love with Mishkins , or the idea of, before I’d ever been, in fact my love affair started from the moment a new Twitter account popped up in the guise of Russell Norman’s latest and fifth member of his rapidly growing little London empire. As tantalising images filtered through their timeline, my excitement seemingly growing in direct proportion to the quantity of tweets alluding to copious quantities of gin, salt beef and meat loaf. The concept of ’a kind of Jewish deli with cocktails’ was really too exciting, and having already been wholeheartedly won over by his other restaurants I couldn’t see how this could possibly not work. Once again, I’m sorry.
My first visit is during the soft opening and awards me both a 50% discount on food and therefore the opportunity to sample 100% more of the menu. Drinks are full price, but that does nothing to diminish our thirst. After settling into our red leather booth, nestled into a cosy corner at the back of the room, the boy and I (mainly I) are quick to request the ‘gin list’ from the main menu, on doing so an extra menu arrives detailing a long list of gins on one side, and another of gin cocktails on the other, see; love! During the course of the evening we steadily and swiftily make our way through pink gin, both ‘in’ and ‘out’, sloe gin, a Diamond Fizz, Last Word, and finish with the sharing jug of fruity London Cup. So you’ll have to forgive me if my memory fails on some of the finer details of this first visit.
In this digital age it’s hard to go anywhere, even a brand spanking new restaurant such as this one, without having at least an inkling of what you’re going to order. As it happens, even on this second day of service, there’s been enough talk and pictures of such highlights and potentially ‘signature’ dishes as the reuben sandwich and meatloaf to already have me foaming at the mouth in a veritable food frenzy. So, when the menu arrives, I already have a growing list of must haves in my head, add to this a list groaning with just my sort of snacky food and the boy sensibly gives up quickly, leaving me to order. Choosing just enough to sate my curiousity whilst not to appear too greedy; I clearly fail miserably, as our helpful waitress returns from the pass with a caution from the chef that he thinks we may have over done it. We remain steadfast in our pigginess and sit back to wait for our iminent food combustion, ordering more cocktails for good measure.
As the small plates start to fill our small table, we get stuck in; the dim lighting and buzzy atmosphere adding frisson to the presentation. Peering at dishes through a swathe of gloom, we struggle somewhat to discern the vital components, pushing table candles around for their radiance, finally giving up and just tucking in. The almighty reuben sandwich is first to arrive and we dive in, crunching through toasted bread to get to the layers of pastrami, shredded cheese, sauerkraut and russian dressing. It’s just as much of a mouthful as it sounds; tangy, tasty & cheesy but slightly lacking in the meaty department, we felt ours had been slightly understuffed and a more generous portion of pastrami might not have been overshadowed by the other elements. I’m fully intending to go back and try this again though based on rave reports (and fully stuffed pictures) from others. The fig dish from the brunch section delights, and I tuck into the super sweet portion of spiced honey drenched figs, creamy goats curd and cashews with gustow. Meatloaf turns up in it’s own mini loaf tin, a kind of square scotch egg. Duck egg hash is an unctious pile of duck and little nuggets of potato, draped with a fried egg that would have benefitted from a gloriously runny yolk; sadly both this and the one in the meatloaf were overdone but this is during a soft opening after all. Sliders were simply meatballs in buns and I left those to the boy; the steamed beef patty however was all mine, pickles were a piquant aside, cutting through all that starch nicely.
Full but not defeated, we picked a couple of desserts; cookies and ice cream was just that, and I found slightly bizarre for it, a ball of ice cream atop a rather unexciting cookie (I’ll admit here though to not being the biggest biscuit fan). In contrast the banana fosters was, through a fuggy haze of alcohol, a pleasant lingering memory from the evening, and the dessert I felt compelled to repeat days later just to make sure it was as good as my alcohol sozzled brain remembered; it was. How can you go wrong with rum soaked chunks of caramelised banana swimming in a pool of caramel and melting ice cream? We stumbled out into the late November evening dazed, drunk and full but feeling more as though emerging from an illicit little drinking den than from a full, coherent restaurant meal.
A couple of days later, on a mission to get myself the best Birthday cake to take back into the office (yes, that would be a Konditor and Cook, Curly Wurly – and why do I have to buy my own cake?!) I treat myself to a late lunch back at Mishkins. Upon walking through that glossy exterior I found myself in what felt like a completely different restaurant. The edgy seediness from Saturday night making way for a far more wholesome American/Jewish diner; jauntily chequered floor bathed in sunlight from coyly netted windows. Taking a seat at what is to become my favourite spot at the bar, I’m quick to clock the specials board which becomes clearly innocuous in the broad light of day. Unable to resist the salt beef bagel, I order a negroni while I wait and am pleased to note it’s made in the same way as at Spuntino and still a bargainous £6. The Brick Lane sourced beigel when it arrives is a beauty; dense, chewy bread stuffed full of tender, flaky salt beef, swiss cheese is added without complaint at my cheeky request and there’s enough sharp mustard to prompt sneezes.
Another visit has me ordering burger and chips, and I find eating at the glossy mirrored bar a sheer delight. Of course this is not any old ‘burger and chips’ but what I think has become my favourite lunch in London at the moment. The dense miniature burger, is steamed with a pile of soft onions and served in a perfectly soft little bun, then topped with a generous portion of melted cheese. The barman, affectionately introduced to me as ‘Trog’, tells me they puncture the patty during steaming to enable the essence of the onions to permeate the whole slider. The result is a deeply satisfying snack that delivers a far bigger umami punch than it’s diminuative size might otherwise suggest, it also just happens to be one of my top London burgers. The only accompaniament (aside from the obligatory negroni of course)I require is the genius ‘half and half’; a small basket filled with half a portion of skin on chips and half a portion of delicious onion rings. Why on earth does no where else do this? As I said; genius. I love that they have proper yellow mustard on the tables and the ketchup is cheap, sweet and vinegary. Oh and if there’s mulled gin on the specials board, order it - wow.
As much as I enjoyed sharing a meal here, sat politely, with company at a table, it’s not something I would repeat in a hurry. Where Russell excells is in his attention to detail and creating an exciting and fun atmosphere, in fact he’s conspicuous in his regular presence, towel slung casually over one shoulder as he casts his expert eye, mucking in where necessary. As with his other places, in particular Spuntino, Mishkins is about far more than just the food. As great as this is, and I do love the comforting dishes, I’m drawn back time and time again for the whole package. Perfect for a regular solo diner like me, I like nothing better than sitting at the bar, gazing out into the restaurant, chatting to the bar staff whilst nibbling small plates and drinking gin cocktails. This is the perfect spot for a late lunch, or catch it as it metamorphasises into a gin drinking den for evening snacking; this is a truly great London cafe whose ambience is spot on in both of it’s slightly schizophrenic guises. Just do yourself a favour and make sure you grab a space at the bar where the real action is. Just don’t pinch my seat.