Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mr Coffee: Good for the Jews?

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Stamford Hill is notorious for its lack of kosher eateries and has probably the fewest kosher restaurants or coffee shops per capita anywhere in the Semitic world. The first complaint you hear from visitors from abroad is that there is nowhere to sit down and eat. Don't start naming some greasy spoons which serve up a fare compared to which conventional junk food looks like a gourmet feast . Never mind too the several decent and half-decent bakeries (Indigs in Oldhill Street being the king by far) which don't offer any seating. If you wish to rest your tired limbs round here you can, if you belong to the male species, pop into any number of shuls where free or vended coffee is available all day, but forget about a bite in pleasant surrounding, with pleasant food and, dare I say, pleasant waiting staff.

The reasons are manifold. We are a conservative community and the vast majority especially of the middle aged to older generation prefer nothing better than their wife's schnitzel and roast potatoes consumed at the head of the kitchen table. If they must eat out, a plate of tsholent and kugel at a reception or kiddush will do nicely. With the latest fad for serving tsholent and kugel to the dancing guests at weddings many of those invited for the dinner sneak off for the grub in the foyer rather than bother with the schnitzel/roast chicken which is so tricky to handle and especially in public.

A greater proportion of the younger generation do like their food and wine. Grapevine is popular and a new wine shop on the Hill has now joined the fray. Yet they will drive to North West to spend their dining pounds. There is a degree of snobbishness as sitting down in Stamford Hill means sitting down with our own which is ok if you must but not for a quiet evening out with the Mrs. There is a also a fair number of foreign emissaries (to put it politely) with whom one doesn't exactly cherish sharing a romantic evening with the better half.

And then there is the prowling wolf of Kedassia. A local eatery would have to carry a local hechsher with some bearded mashgiach sniffing you out before you've even considered the menu. Even that is jumping the gun and I'm not sure how glad Kedassia would be to grant a hechsher to a fashionable place where young couples turn out, he hatless and jacketless and she dressed to the nines with a hat perched precariously on the latest word in wigs. There is also the occupational hazard of being spotted in that company and jeopardising in the process a cherished place for your kids you know where.

So the local connoisseurs make off to NW where they can indulge themselves with any company and any hechsher so long that there are some Hebrew letters in the window. The North Westerners are happy to take our dough, the local hotheads are spared having to print anonymous bans and threats and the most recent local restaurant is an elegant Brazilian/Italian establishment next door to Tasti Pizza. Rumour has it that Grodzinsky will shortly be opening a coffee shop at the former gaming place on Clapton Common. In the meantime however halachic innovation and ingenuity have given us a new bread freshly baked on Shabbos with virtual supervision from Australia but as far as a decent meal is concerned round here by Kedassia bread alone must man liveth.

Which is where we come to Mr Coffee. Two doors away from Grodz on Clapton Common an enterprising Jewish chap has opened a tiny coffee bar just besides the bus stop selling sandwiches, steaming hot coffee for £1 a shot, a couple of attractive baristas and cakes brought in from Tesco. Yes, you read that correctly, non-kosher cakes and for all I know he may even be using that milk, Go- forbid. Because rather than wait for Kedassia to impose their conditions he went it alone. Drawing a pound of flesh in a milky establishment may also have posed a kashrus problem.

True you can't sit down there and he's unlikely to attract a Jewish clientele at so central a location but, still, it's a start and unfortunately the only way forward. If you can't beat 'em, trash 'em seems to be the message and we at Tickle wish him much hatzloche. They even managed to sneak in some publicity for Mr Coffee in the most holiest of ad-only publications which carries not chas vecholilo a single opinion. Watch this space however because probably as I write a notice is being drafted beginning 'It has come to our attention…' or something to that effect informing the world that the establishment is not kosher. As if anyone ever asked.

In the meantime, Thank You Kedassia for yet another service, in addition to the eiruv, to the community.

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