The return of the Jewish delicatessen

Hoxton-based Monty’s Deli is expanding across London, riding a resurgent interest in classics like the salt-beef sandwich and matzo balls.

22 August 2018

What’s this I’m hearing about a delicatessen smashing its crowdfund push? Isn’t the deli everywhere?

Sure, there’s a deli counter in pretty much every major supermarket, but we’re talking about a traditional, Jewish-style delicatessen straight out of New York in the mid-1900s.

Monty’s Deli is set to expand across London after smashing its £150,000 crowdfund target with 17 days to go, marking a second wildly successful push. The first led to the opening of the first store last year in Hoxton.

Two new outlets are already on the slate, one in Victoria and one in Oxford Circus.

And what do they serve?

Jewish soul food. Pickled herrings, tureens of matzo ball soup, house-baked challah rolls and chopped liver.

Monty’s does a traditional Shabbat dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, but it’s famous for award-winning sandwiches: huge, stuffed affairs chock full of salt beef, pastrami, pickles and mustard. The bagels are made in-house, too.  

Sounds like a breadwinner. What’s a matzo ball?

A matzo ball is a boiled sphere of wheat flour, egg, water and schmaltz (chicken fat). It’s a Jewish staple traditionally served in soup or broth and is sometimes referred to as a “sinker” or “floater.”

Monty’s serves them in a chicken broth with carrots, dill and hand-cut lokshen (egg noodles).

I haven’t seen many of these places around, why is that?

When compared with its heyday, it’s quite astonishing how little we see the traditional delicatessen these days.

Popularized in New York in the mid-1800s to cater for German-Jewish immigrants, there were an estimated 1,500 in the mid-1900s, but that’s since shrunk to around 15-20 left in the Big Apple today.

The decline can be partly attributed to the word ‘deli’ becoming a more widely applied term. The rise of the convenience store, fast-food outlets and even major supermarkets all helped make the traditional delicatessen more of a niche concept.

However, the Jewish-style deli is slowly starting to re-emerge across the pond, with more spots appearing in Philadelphia, Seattle, Denver and Austin – as well as, of course, New York.

Are there any other NYC/Jewish-style delis making waves in London?

It’s not exclusively a London thing, considering the popularity of Aron's Jewish Delicatessen in Bristol, but the capital is where it’s currently happening.  

The Good Egg in Stoke Newington has been going since 2013 and, like Monty’s, started on the London street food circuit. It also specialises in classic Jewish delicatessen fare, as well as street food eats influenced by Tel Aviv and the Middle East.

Beigel Bake down Brick Lane in Shoreditch, which is open 24 hours, has long been considered one of the best bagel joints in the country and has been known to churn out up to 7,000 bagels a day, featuring a plethora of classic Jewish fillings.

You also have Zobler’s Delicatessen (opened last year), which operates out of an old city bank, and Harry Morgan’s in St John’s Wood.

Smoking, curing, pickling and brining are all part of Jewish cooking, and those methods are very in season. We reported earlier this month that Borough Market is to get its first-ever Nordic restaurant, with the aforementioned techniques to be seen throughout, while the likes of Ollie Dabbous and James Lowe are also at it in their acclaimed restaurants.

Well, there’s clearly a lot of money being put behind it.

In the case of Monty’s Deli, making over £200,000 over just two years of crowdfunding is no small feat. Mazel tov!

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