Wed, 12th Dec 2018
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CODE Special
A classic revisited

 

 

 

In New York, a deli is more than just a restaurant. It has an iconic cultural status that makes it representative of so many aspects of the metropolis. It represents not just the city’s important Jewish community, but stands for the whole immigrant experience. In a city with a fetish for speed and efficiency and with little regard for genteel behaviour, the deli dispensed fast food before there were fast food restaurants and did so with a minimum of fuss and protocol: the rudeness of deli waiters was legendary.

 

The deli’s pride
in serving sandwiches and platters that were intentionally too big
to finish symbolised the over abundance and prosperity of America. The Stage, The Carnegie, Katz’s, The Second Avenue Deli were well known and important to New Yorkers in the way that three star Michelin restaurants make a Parisian’s heart beat faster.

 

In spite of London’s
long established and
prominent Jewish
population, the London
deli never quite managed
to insinuate itself into
the mainstream of British eating
out. Excursions to Beigel Bake in Brick Lane seemed to be more of
an anthropological adventure than
a part of everyday dining. But new iterations of the deli theme are on the rise: the highly praised Monty’s is just about to open a second branch and pickles and salt beef feature in many a fashionable street food market.

 

Harry Morgan, the granddaddy of London delis, celebrates its 70th birthday this year - impressive longevity for any type of London restaurant. And it does the whole
deli shtick very well. Delis need to be brash and unsubtle, which is probably a restaurant. It has an iconic cultural status that makes it representative of so many aspects of the metropolis. It represents not just the city’s important Jewish community, but stands for the whole immigrant experience. In a city with a fetish for speed and efficiency and with little regard for genteel behaviour, the deli dispensed fast food before there were fast food restaurants and did so with a minimum of fuss and protocol: the rudeness of deli waiters was legendary.

 

The deli’s pride
in serving sandwiches and platters that were intentionally too big
to finish symbolised the over abundance and prosperity of America. The Stage, The Carnegie, Katz’s, The Second Avenue Deli were well known and important to New Yorkers in the way that three star Michelin restaurants make a Parisian’s heart beat faster.

In spite of London’s
long established and
prominent Jewish
population, the London
deli never quite managed
to insinuate itself into
the mainstream of British eating
out. Excursions to Beigel Bake in Brick Lane seemed to be more of
an anthropological adventure than
a part of everyday dining. But new iterations of the deli theme are on the rise: the highly praised Monty’s is just about to open a second branch and pickles and salt beef feature in many a fashionable street food market.

 

Harry Morgan, the granddaddy of London delis, celebrates its 70th birthday this year - impressive longevity for any type of London restaurant. And it does the whole
deli shtick very well. Delis need to be brash and unsubtle, which is probably part of their rediscovered appeal in our age which perhaps has made the whole business of eating out too refined and serious.

 

Deli flavours – salty, vinegary or sweet – are uncomplicated, in your face and without a hint of orthorexia. Authentic deli menu prose must be high pressure and hyperbolic. So for example the menu promotes ‘Harry’s Famous Sandwiches and Bagels’, ‘Harry’s Famous Goulash’ and tells you to ‘Make sure you leave room for one of our famous desserts.’ Famous is a big word on deli menus. Following in the footsteps of Katz’s injunction to “Send a Salami to your boy in the Army’, Harry’s menu is full of jokey sloganeering: “Food without Taste is a Waste’, “Eat First Diet Later” and the overarching message ‘Come Home to Harry’s’.

 

In the restaurant, you settle comfortably into claret leatherette banquettes and dine off of Formica topped tables. Service is swift and informal from a squad of t-shirted waiters and waitresses who may not have emerged from the shtetl, but certainly have Eastern Europe in their CVs.

 

The food is good, sometimes very good. Unlike New York where your chopped liver or egg
and onion first courses are dispensed from ice cream scoops, Harry’s have been shaped in ring moulds... probably the kitchen’s only cursory nod to MasterChef. The salt beef is excellent as is the pastrami and the ox tongue. The pickles are good, the rather generic coleslaw a letdown. There is a short wine list with a punchy Malbec that stands up well to deli food. Helpings while not of New York portions are nonetheless generous. Alas there was no room for one of the ‘famous’ desserts.

 

Harry Morgan’s location, St John’s Wood, is real old-school neighbourhood and for a long time it’s more or less had a monopoly, but later this year Corbin and King will open
their own place, which Jeremy King describes as “Colbert meets Fischer’s”, so the 70-year-old classic will have a new neighbour of its own.

 

Harry Morgan,
 29-31 St John’s Wood High St, London NW8 7NH

harryms.co.uk

 

This article was first published in Issue 16 of CODE Quarterly

 

Our print magazine - a must-read for anyone in hospitality - is published four times a year and can now be delivered directly to your front door. To find out more, email editor@codehospitality.co.uk




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