London and New York: two global food capitals, where you can find any food at any time of the day. Over the past century New York has become the symbolic home of the Jewish deli, typified by the iconic Katz Delicatessen. But the East End, where tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews found a home, once had an equally vibrant Jewish food scene.
Remnants of Jewish food culture remain in Brick Lane’s 24-hour bagel shops, but Monty’s Deli is leading the charge to repopularise classics like chicken soup, potato latkes, salt beef and pastrami. Having acquired a large following at Maltby Street Market, co-owners Mark Ogus and Owen Barratt have moved to a permanent location in Hoxton, where similar foods were once common.
The restaurant has maintained a relaxed atmosphere, with New York-style booths, and stools along the bar. Meat hangers from the original 19th-century butcher add a rustic feel. I’m a sucker for salt beef bagels, the ultimate sandwich, and have been eagerly awaiting the chance to come to Monty’s.
For starters we ordered chicken soup. Sadly it was bland, more like chicken essence. But it was the only hiccup. Our sandwiches arrived promptly and the meshuggener, a mouthwatering blend of chopped liver, made using Ogus’s grandmother’s recipe, salt beef, pastrami and coleslaw, was the highlight. Servings are certainly generous, and my bagel (which I requested instead of rye bread after learning they are made on site) failed to hold everything in. After some DIY, I was able to enjoy one of the best salt beef sandwiches in London.
The Reuben, a New York classic, was also superb. Layer upon layer of salt beef was topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing inside toasted rye bread. Sides of tangy sauerkraut and a fresh fennel, caper and parsley salad helped justify the meat overload. We finished with cheese blintzes, light pancakes filled with ricotta and topped with cooked grapes, which were excellent.
The staff, aside from a grumpy waitress, were polite and attentive. We were lucky to bag stools by the chefs, and Barratt was unfailingly polite, handing us samples, offering top-ups and answering questions. By our count they went through 10 slabs of salt beef and pastrami in an hour. If they keep it up, there is certainly potential for a new classic Jewish Deli in the old East End.