It goes like this. The Web site says, "Everyone welcome." The first phone call confirms it: "Yes, you can have a table at 6.30 p.m." The second phone call (the following morning) states, "Um, actually this is a private club." The conversation then? Them: "Do you know any members?" Me: "Ooh, ah, er, I know Mr. Phil Cohen." Them: "Which Mr. Phil Cohen?" Me: "Er, how many are there?" Let's just cut a long story short and say we're here.
Myself and Mr. Phil Cohen. Well, one of them anyway. In L'Chaim's kosher restaurant. And we're looking for schmaltz. Now, if you're thinking sickly sweet, fake sentiment you're not up on your Yiddish, mate. Schmaltz is of course skimmed chicken fat, a substitute for butter and sometimes an ingredient in chopped liver. See how we're in strangely familiar territory with these words here? Chopped liver? Far greater than the sum of its parts, which are, of course, chopped liver, chopped boiled eggs, onion and sometimes schmaltz.
Don't think pâté. Think surprisingly better and served with a side of chopped hard-boiled eggs, onion and a spectacular matzah – unleavened bread about the size and thickness of a large greeting card, the consistency of a water biscuit and very, very good.
Keeping up? Thought not. Okay, let's recap. And I should be fair at this point to the Chabad-Lubavich run L'Chaim's, Scotland's only – and very welcome and long overdue – kosher restaurant. This is a small operation, in a house (I think it's a house) beside the synagogue; not long opened, restaurant name stenciled on the windows, candles on the (small) tables.
Open for Business
It's surprisingly warm and pleasant in here. Busy too. Some young women beside us, a group of men at the next table, a family sitting over there, waitresses buzzing about, chopped liver being carried to and fro. The menu? Short, but apparently the real deal. As my friend Mr. Cohen (also on his first visit) pointed out, the chopped liver was flawless. We've had kosher wine, kosher margarine; in fact everything is kosher and correct, which is really rather irrelevant to me, because it's also rather good.
Now, the salt beef with latkes, pickled cucumber and coleslaw has arrived. And this is what we came for. Think New York deli, think thick red slices of tender beef (brisket), think seasoned rather than salty, think delicious. The latke? A Chanukah specialty containing potatoes, eggs, salt, made into pancakes (big fat ones) and fried till crisp and brown and crunchy on the outside. Good.
Slight disappointment with the lamb chops though. They're tender, braised, but just a little bit fatty.
For dessert? No milk served after the meal, as Mr. Cohen has just informed me, so the ice-cream does not contain it. Hmm. I hadn't noticed. Probably because it has melted into the fresh fruit salad and done that cool refreshing thing that fruit salads and ice-cream do.
Okay, a couple of minor points. The price. It comes in at £18.95 for three courses. Expensive? Possibly, but hard to gauge as kosher food is far more expensive to source.
The menu. Limited? Yes – how about some more traditional dishes? Where's the chicken soup? How about some chopped fried fish with matzo meal? Knishes?
The slight problem with access. Or, to be more precise, will you get in? Actually, yes. Fast forward to some further phone conversations (days after the meal) and it emerges L'Chaim's was just a bit nervous about letting strange people, i.e. me, breeze in. They were just a bit surprised that anybody they didn't know would suddenly express an interest in eating in a low-key restaurant that is well hidden – tucked away even – and normally just frequented by the Jewish community. Security was mentioned.
The result of these conversations? It is about to open its doors to everybody. Just call and book. And you don't even need to know Mr. Cohen.