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Food: Mothers’ pride

17 September 2011

12:00 AM

17 September 2011

12:00 AM

Oslo Court is the Jewish mother birthday party venue, or lunch if the Jewish mother must be home in time to be medicated — a convention, a summit, a trough for Jewish mothers. And so, when you telephone for a reservation, they will ask you, having as yet no idea who you are — do you need a cake? You should always say yes. Because who doesn’t need a cake?

It inhabits the ground floor of an expensive but ugly apartment block in St John’s Wood. But that just adds to its lustre in Jewish mother circles. It is a restaurant that has been disguised as the home of your cousin. Weave past Jaguars — also called Jew Canoes — and you are in. It is decorated in snarling pink; they say that Dame Barbara Cartland came here once, and disappeared into the décor. It has pink walls, pink tablecloths, pink customers, pink napkins, pink food. It is like being in a Jewish mother’s bedroom; no, without wishing to be vulgar, it is like being inside a Jewish mother. If Jewish mothers had a national flag, this restaurant would fly it.  Everyone has big hair, even the men.

It’s not Jewish food. Jewish food is horrible, and who knows that better than Jews? Jews have given plenty of wonderful things to the world — monotheism, communism, psychiatry — but cuisine is not one of them. Why the early church fathers left this off the list of our crimes, I know not. Deicide, well-poisoning, trying to make people eat mashed herring? The last time I made matzo balls my boyfriend said, ‘Is that why the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto held out so long, baby? They threw matzo balls at the Wehrmacht?’

It is, instead, historical re-enactment cuisine, from May 1976 — steak, liver, veal, fish and anything that butter will stick to. It does seafood too, which the Jewish mothers don’t mind, because it feels edgy to have a lobster in the kitchen. And it is the only way they know they are not at home.

The staff are all male and in black tie. They are well versed in Jewish mother needs. They love indiscriminately and unconditionally. Their response to irrationality, or even violence, is more love. This makes me wonder if they meditate. They bring steak diane (for mother), weiner schnitzel (for me) and calves’ liver for my boyfriend. It is all fat and warm, and it expands inside you, to begin that other Jewish mother hobby, which is developing heart disease. Jewish mothers, like anacondas, expand to fit the food available. I watch a tiny woman at the next table swallow a Dover sole that is bigger than she is.

Pudding is a West End show. (Not The Sound of Music. That is a musical about the Anschluss.) The pudding waiter, who is a star in front-of-house circles, has been waving at me all evening, with the promise of crème brûlée and other depravities. I would like to say that Oslo Court has wrought the tablets of the Ten Commandments in sponge, or rebuilt the Second Temple in lemon drizzle cake, but it has not. (They would, though, if you ordered in advance, and said it was an 80th birthday). But his trolley is from a fairy tale.

He tells us what we are going to eat. ‘I love you,’ he says to Mother and, to prove it, he brings a chocolate sauce for her ice cream that is almost all hard alcohol. My boyfriend is not told he is loved (he is not Jewish) but he does get a piece of cheesecake. I get pastry, oozing cream and, as I eat it, I watch Mother get blind drunk on dessert. ‘You must give Oslo Court,’ she says, ‘a thousand stars.’

Oslo Court, Prince Albert Road, London NW8 7EN, tel: 020 7722 8795.

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