While the majority of Mortimer House might be devoted to a private club, owner Guy Ivesha sees the public restaurant as the heart of the building.
As he prepares to invest in future sites, the Israeli entrepreneur has embarked on a series of actions to revitalise the food offering in the restaurant, bringing on Lello Favuzzi (formerly of Italian fine dining spot L’Anima) as head chef in March.
Together, Favuzzi and Ivesha have attempted to create a dialogue between their two native cuisines, combining one of the Mediterranean’s most popular eating-out choices – in the UK, Italian chains remain dominant in the branded restaurant market, according to recent CGA and AlixPartners research – with the emerging experimentation around Israeli flavours.
“Defining Israeli cuisine is almost impossible,” says Ivesha. “It’s a young country that was built on immigration, it’s only 70 years old, and all these different cultures and nationalities from everywhere – the Middle East, Western Europe, Eastern Europe – they all melted in Israel to create something that is not really defined.”
Instead of being about dishes, he says it’s more about certain ingredients, attitudes and presentations.
Those ingredients include pomegranate, harissa and za’atar, which sit alongside Italian staples like smoked ricotta and Grana Padano cheese, as well as the less common fennel pollen.
Sesame-derived condiment tahini makes multiple appearances on the Mortimer House Kitchen menu, spread on house-baked bread and as an accompaniment to 'burnt' carrots cooked over charcoal.
“I think in Israel the vegetable is elevated, unlike many other places where the vegetable is sometimes a garnish,” says Ivesha, pointing out that the whole-roasted cauliflower head – which has inspired chefs worldwide – is said to have originated in the kitchens of Israeli chef Eyal Shani.
Favuzzi estimates that the menu is 60% vegetarian at the moment, inspired by the passion for produce he saw while visiting Israel for research. One of the most notable outcomes of that trip was the new Cheese-less ‘Cheesecake,’ a vegan take on the popular dessert made with almonds, dates, carrots and orange.
“Halva is something that I’m going to bring soon to the menu somehow, probably on the dessert side,” he adds, noting that there are many different kinds of the tahini-based confection available in Israel.
One area that Favuzzi and Ivesha intend to explore further is pita pockets: hand-held munches stuffed with a variety of fillings that make for great all-day on-the-go options.
“Pita in Israel is very specific and very different actually to most Middle Eastern countries or East Mediterranean countries – in the texture it almost has a sponge effect to it,” explains Ivesha. “In Israel you normally eat pita filled with something, so it’s designed so it actually doesn’t break and it absorbs all the juices.”
Finding a UK supplier that could provide the right pita consistency proved so difficult that eventually it was decided to source the product directly from Tel Aviv. Favuzzi has also paid close attention to supplying a suitable gluten-free option, noting that the restaurant’s kale and parsnip breads sell with gusto.
Israeli-inspired breakfast is another topic of interest for the chef. While the menu already boasts shakshuka (an egg-based dish with Middle Eastern spices), he’s looking into the possibility of introducing Israeli cheese, from goat and sheep varieties to versions of cottage cheese like Tsfatit (Ivesha says the closest thing to it in texture is feta, though it is softer than the Greek foodstuff).
Beyond the regular menu, Mortimer House announced the first instalment of its guest chef series last week. Elizabeth Haigh of Kaizen House will be taking up an eight-week residency in the Living Room & Den space, cooking up food that draws upon her British and Singaporean heritage.
Dishes will include a bun filled with ox cheek rendang (meat traditionally stewed with coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal root and other spices), served alongside fermented sambal (a spicy South-East Asian condiment); udon vongole with pickled wild garlic; and miso and kaya ‘toast’ caramel ice cream.
According to Ivesha, initiatives like this will be carried over into future establishments if they are successful.
“[Mortimer House] was always intended to be the first of many. The idea wasn’t to do one and then we’re done!” he says. “I’m now looking to acquire additional properties in London and actually outside of the UK as well.
“To me, the restaurant is the heart of the entire concept. And we also like being democratic, allowing people to come to the restaurant even if they’re not members, so that’s a model that we would like to continue with.”
In each one of his buildings, Ivesha hopes to create a fresh restaurant concept that will be different each time, concluding emphatically: “I don’t like the copy paste approach to restaurants at all.”