Trendy but unintimidating, Russell Norman’s new 'diner’ looks set – like the similarly US-inpired local classic Joe Allen’s – to become a long-term Theatreland fixture.
s this a classic New York Jewish diner? And if so, why – with pork dishes clearly on the menu – is it so obviously not kosher? And do they do a Reuben on rye like you’d find at Katz’s?
Pass. 'Authenticity' is generally a pointless prop for a restaurant review, and it’s particularly so at this latest outpost of the group usually associated in the public mind with Russell Norman (but in which Richard Beatty is also a partner). This group is usually said to be unified not so much by any particular culinary leaning, but rather by its 'look and feel' – Mr Norman is a self-confessed Big Apple junkie, and his inspiration can usually be summarised in a single word: Downtown.
But we’re beginning to wonder if, even on this front, the concept of ‘authenticity’ isn’t something of a snare. Surely, your classic Lower East Side diner, Jewish or otherwise, would be much bigger, brighter and brasher than this rather well-mannered spot in Covent Garden? And it surely wouldn’t make a feature of gin-based drinks?
No, it’s time to stop trying to analyse Mr Norman’s restaurants by reference to Old Gotham. It is time to start talking in terms of ‘style Russell’ – a style with inspirations elsewhere, but true ultimately only to itself. (You could call it Norman Style, but that might lead to confusion.)
Fortunately, we’ve always liked style Russell – as seen in its various Polpo manifestations – and we liked it, if anything, more in the relatively comfortable setting here. We had a basic lunch, quite consciously eschewing all those dishes about which debates of authenticity could swirl, and concluded that the food here, reasonably-priced as it is, is thoroughly nice without in any way being worth going out of your way for.
But Mr Norman really sells atmosphere more than food, and – on that front – we reckon Mishkin’s is set to be yet another triumph. For how long, we wonder, can he keep this up?