| Everyday Restaurants

Jew-ish Food at Jago

When I first heard Jago, a restaurant with a focus on Ashkenazi dishes was opening, I was intrigued. My heritage is Ashkenazi Jewish, which means my roots can be traced back to Central and Eastern Europe as opposed to Sephardi Jews, who mostly originate in Spain and Portugal, among other places. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews mainly subscribe to the same religious ideas but some varying interpretations lead to a slight difference in culture and practices. One instance is Passover, as my uncle is a Sephardi he has some different traditions for example he eats rice, whereas Ashkenzi Jews avoid it.

What exactly made this restaurant specifically Ashkenazi as opposed to Jewish?

To be honest, the restaurant was rather confusing, when I turned up at Jago, I thought I’d come to the wrong place. It was actually located in Second Home, which appeared to be some sort of shared work space. From the outside, it looked like a big orange space ship…

And it was pretty weirdly futuristic from the inside. What was this place? Office, canteen or space ship? Looking at the menu was even more confusing…it was Jewish but not as we know it, I mean there was pork on the menu…could this be the most confusing place I’d ever visited?
Soon my dining companions turned up and we started attempting to shed some light on things. Joining me were Liesel, super-duper wedding planner from Zouche and Lamare, and Karen Cinnamon from the fabulous Jewish wedding blog Smashing the Glass.

We ordered some bread and oil to start with, the bread was perfectly fluffy with a crisp crust and the oil was light and fruity.

As well as Ashkenazi influences, the menu includes Southern European and Middle Eastern food with choices of bar food, an a la carte menu or a ‘workers lunch.’ The head chef is Louis Solley, who previously worked as head chef at Ottolenghi in Notting Hill. Probably the most famous Israeli chef in the UK, Ottolenghi explodes traditions by combining the food from his native Israel with different flavours and concepts from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia. Chef Solley is doing something similar here, it’s not a menu that’s totally straightforward.

My rather simple starter was sardines on toast. Now Israel isn’t necessarily somewhere that you think of as a culinary epicentre but I love the food there! Mr S and I have been to Tel Aviv a few times as our brother-in-law is from there originally. What I love about the food is the very simple ingredients that are used but the freshness of the flavours and the strong Mediterranean influences. In Tel Aviv, some of the best food I’ve had is a simple fish dish served on the beach with a good whack of chilli and garlic served with oil and hunks of fresh bread. My starter reminded me of those simple fresh flavours and I absolutely loved it.

Karen and Liesel both started with grilled manouri with cherry tomatoes and sweet herbs. The ladies loved how the salty flavour of the Greek cheese combined with the beautifully fresh tomatoes. Plus it just looked like sunshine on a plate!

Actually the concept of exploding Jewish tradition, is one that Karen’s blog also espouses. On Smashing the Glass, she gives ideas of how to shatter the Jewish ‘wedding by numbers’ norm that so many couples follow. In the small Jewish community there are often very set ideas of how a wedding should be but Karen provides creative ideas and concepts so that a Jewish bride can make her wedding stand out from the crowd!

My main course was hake with broccoli and anchovy dressing. The fish was beautifully cooked and when I first started biting into the vegetables, I loved the salty tang of the dressing. However, there was rather a lot of the dressing and it was bit too much for me. In fact, don’t go to Jago if you’re not a big salt lover, most of the food that we tried was very naturally salty.

Karen chose a tasty celeriac, beetroot and swede gratin for her main course. Root vegetables are staples for Ashkenazi cooking, as the heavy food sticks to the ribs in the cold Eastern European winters. Having said that the previous dishes were lighter and more Mediterranean…I told you the concept was confusing and not really Ashkenazi cooking as I know it. But Jago isn’t about sticking to rules, it’s about being innovative, going out of the box and creating flavour explosions.

Finally Liesel went for the ‘Workers lunch’ which is a daily changing array of salads and meats, a great option for something quick and good value for money.

Though initially I found the location and food concept a little confusing, the three of us very much enjoyed the food at Jago, the relaxed atmosphere plus it’s excellent value for money. I’d definitely recommend it but remember it’s more Jew-ish than Jewish!

Jago Restaurant
68 – 80 Hanbury Street
E1 5JL

020 3818 3241

Jago on Urbanspoon