Don’t knock British bubbes’ diner
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Don’t knock British bubbes’ diner

Elderly Jewish Londoner finds restaurant critic’s column about a ‘hidden Jewish treasure’ unappetizing

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Dinner time (photo credit: CC-BY-SA 3.0, by Kaldari, Wikimedia Commons)
Dinner time (photo credit: CC-BY-SA 3.0, by Kaldari, Wikimedia Commons)

They say all publicity is good publicity, but one regular customer of the Oslo Court restaurant in North West London doesn’t see it that way. The customer, unhappy with Jewish references made by Times of London critic Giles Coren in a column he wrote about Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha’s recent dinner date at the establishment, has reported him to the Press Complaints Commission.

Although Coren’s entire column is not readily accessible online, it’s not hard to tell from the one available excerpt that the outspoken Coren strongly questioned the Camerons’ taste in dining spots. “Oh God, no! Not Oslo Court! Dave, Dave, Dave. If you want… you only have to ask!” Because Oslo Court is the last place I would have suggested,” he wrote, addressing the prime minister directly.

The Jewish Chronicle printed some parts of the column the complainant, Peter Eden, found offensive. “Oslo Court, as you will almost certainly not know unless you are an elderly Jew from north London, is a restaurant in north London very popular with elderly Jews on account of its warm central heating, thick carpet and food that has not changed in 40 years,” wrote Coren, who is himself of Jewish background.

“In North London, we think of Oslo Court as a hidden treasure. And we tend to think, ‘Better, like poor Anne Frank, it should have stayed hidden,’” he caustically remarked with a bit of Holocaust humor. Eden, it should be noted, is a Holocaust survivor.

In his complaint, Eden charged that Coren “mentioned the Jewish religion 12 times — Oslo Court has never been a Jewish restaurant, nor are the residents or clientele predominantly Jewish.”

This assertion varies greatly with what just about everyone else says about the place—mainly that it is a hangout for Jewish pensioners. Eden appears to be unaware that it is precisely the Oslo Court’s retro vibe and geriatric Jewish scene that keeps customers coming back.

The Daily Mail reported on the Camerons’ dinner, emphasizing the frozen-in-time ambiance and menu that retired members of the tribe find so welcoming. “With its salmon-pink decor and retro puddings, critics say the French restaurant is like stepping back into the 1970s,” Amy Oliver wrote.

The dressed-down prime minister reported ate half a dozen oysters and a veal chop, as well as a slice of birthday cake for dessert. From this one can deduce that it was someone’s birthday, and that the Oslo Court is not a kosher establishment.

A restaurant review in the Guardian from 2002 also confirms the predominantly Jewish nature of its clientele. “It only takes a cursory glance at the surnames to recognize the greatest common denominator,” Jay Rayner wrote about his examination of restaurant’s reservation book.

“For me and my brother it was marvelous to find the Jewish community,” longtime Oslo Court owner Antonio Sanchez told Rayner. “In London in the seventies it seemed nobody liked to eat. They only want to drink. I’m not hungry, they say. Bring me a drink. Then we come here, the bar bills go down but they want the food. They love their food,” the Spanish-born Sanchez said of his stalwart Jewish customers.

Rayner mentioned that the menu, although clearly not kosher, catered to the Jewish clientele. “Latkes are on the menu,” he wrote. “There are no pork dishes as a main course and the fish soup is made without shellfish.” In any case, Sanchez told him, “Most people who come here know what they are going to have before they even arrive. They don’t want to look at the menu, even.”

Last December, Matthew Norman gave the Oslo Court a glowing review in The Telegraph. Declaring it a “pæan to peach” and “more than a curio, a dinosaur, a museum, or a temple to twee nostalgism,” he called it “a magnificent restaurant in its own right.” He reminded readers that “Harden’s guide ranks it London’s sixth best all-round restaurant.”

Norman, too, brings up the latkes. “Veg were flawless, though we avoided the latkes, the deep fried potato cakes which, according to my mother, ‘killed more Jews than the Germans,’” he reported.

Something about the Oslo Court seems to make writers go for the Holocaust jokes. Somehow, this one managed to slip by Eden. Perhaps he doesn’t read the Telegraph.

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