The Real Chinatown
“Is there such a thing as Israeli cuisine?” Ruthie Rousso asked in the inaugural issue of the Televivian Journal three years ago. “The international response settles the issues for us all: Israeli food is quickly becoming among the most popular in the world. Israeli restaurants bloom and boom in London and New York, Israeli cookbooks win international prizes, and Israel in general has become a place of pilgrimage due to its restaurants and not only because of the Old City and the Dead Sea.”
The Chef continues to muse, “Food is a reflection. Plates have narratives. They tell different stories. These stories have a very personal connection to the traditions and habits that pass from generation to generation. But there is also a much broader dimension related to issues of culture, history, conflicts, wars, international relations, and even GDP. The complex Israeli identity is contained on every plate. In every tiny heirloom Palestinian bamya with preserved lemon and brown butter served in haBasta, and in every steaming pitta stuffed with roasted cauliflower, crème fraîche and local hot pepper … Israeli cuisine, like Israeli identity, is a fragile and frail tissue of crossings and stitching, fraught with youth on the one hand, and with hindering history on the other, full of adventurous urges, creativity and courage. Yes, and some chutzpah as well.”
Shabbat shalom! Kapara is chutzpah in a pistachio nutshell. But first, it’s oh so quiet (to channel Björk). Seems like a no show. Then, predicting a riot (channelling Kaiser Chiefs) it’s suddenly oh so Soho. Sababa! Soon the Galilee Dry White Givon Chardonnay is flowing as the lights get dimmer, the music booms louder, and the imaginary patterns appear in the wall tiles. Or are they imaginary? Everything seems rather naughty but terribly nice. Mezze is: Roasted Plums and Feta (soft herbs). Brunch Plate is: Baby Aubergine Shakshuka (spicy tomato sauce, stewed aubergine, eggs, tahini, pickled chillies, chive). Sweet Ending is: Gramp’s Cigar (brick pastry, pistachio, rose, coco, passionfruit curd, chocolate soil, smoked tuile). From smoky to smoking to smoking hot. And in an even sweeter ending, the cocktails are: The Glory Mole (El Rayo Tequila, hibiscus, cardamom, ginger, lime, soda) and Space Cowboy (Konik’s Tail Vodka, port, pimento, caraway, strawberry, hop, soda).
Kapara is tucked away in a redrawn block stretching from the retained 17th century Portland House (stuccoed up in the mid 19th century) on Greek Street to the replacement Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Architectural practices Matt and Soda combined their pizzazz to bring the best piece of urban design to hit London this decade. Nine storeys above ground (some occupying the air space where the Wedgwood china factory once stood) and four underground. A glazed sliced cone nose diving into the earth lights the subterranean office floors. If this is Soho Estates cleaning up their act what’s not to like? One sixth of the site is dedicated to new public realm. The restaurant spills onto part of this realm: an elusive and exclusive courtyard. Terracotta stained GRC (Glass Reinforced Concrete), glazed bricks and scoop and scallop patterned tiles all add to the Mediterranean ambience. A four metre high stainless steel head sculpture by Cuban artist Rafael Miranda San Juan gazes across the courtyard.
Owner Chef Eran Tibi’s earliest memories involved food. “I helped my father, a Tunisian born baker, in our family bakery and I spent time with my mother trimming okra tips. Family and food became intertwined, inseparable, from a young age. Food was a means to an end for my family – it meant more, it was a way of life. My grandfather was a great lover of life and all its indulgences. He owned a bar, a restaurant and a club. He instilled in me the importance of living for the moment, of being present in the now.” Aged 30, Eran decided to formally train at Le Cordon Blue School in London. His first restaurant in the English capital is the wildly successful Bala Baya in London Bridge. Eran’s mission to bring localised Middle Eastern food to southeastern England proves there really is such a thing as Israeli cuisine.