Harry Morgan is a Jewish delicatessen and restaurant in the style of New York City on St John’s Wood High Street in north London. St John’s Wood is home to wealthy Muslims and Jews, who are attracted by a lone mosque, many synagogues and more cake shops than even the greediest hedge-funder could eat his swiftly receding feelings in. I am aware I sound like an estate agent. It is really a stage set for the inter-faith organisation the Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom, about which the joke is, although it isn’t very funny: the Jews pay for it all.
I am also aware that I am writing about being Jewish. I do this because I now believe that the enlightenment is gone, that parliamentary democracy is going and that we will soon be beating each other in the streets for chicken bones. It will be like The Day of the Triffids, which was actually set on Hampstead Heath, except we won’t need flesh-eating walking daffodils to destroy our civilisation: we can do it all by ourselves! It was all metaphor! I don’t mind if you giggle, reader, and call me a dear sweet thing, just a bit excitable, I really don’t. I see poverty blindness everywhere, which is like real blindness but less obvious, so I can only think that the future is going to be a bit of a shock to people who don’t know that unequal societies are unstable societies, and no amount of cheesecake — or bunting, or guns — will save you, or rather us, since I am informed on Twitter that I am a bourgeois counter-revolutionary who is helping the Tories with their evil plans, and not just by advising them on where to eat their cheesecake.
So I want everyone to know that I am Jewish, because pretending not to be will make no difference now, and Jews always think terrible things will happen and are quite often right, and this is pleasing, and I have a suggestion for your last meal, especially if you like cheesecake, which is Harry Morgan in St John’s Wood High Street, near Rigby & Peller, where the Queen of England buys her knickers, because everyone needs knickers except apparently my lodger.
Harry Morgan is bright and light and it has red booths, and the staff are often warm, and sometimes rude by mistake; that is, they are Jewish. It is informal and chaotic and I am happy here. I often dream of apocalypse restaurants, and where I would like to be, or eat, when the wave rolls on or the doves fall from the sky or, at the moment, when the people in charge get so stupid that the planet shuts up shop, goes elsewhere, maybe somewhere without Facebook.
This is one of those places: an antidote to all that limp decadence. The food is good, although it is not the point; the point is that Harry Morgan is alive and he is real. Or he was. The chicken soup is adequate, but it is not fierce as it should be; the schnitzel is the size of a satellite dish; the meatloaf is a brown lump on a plate, and I am afraid of it and I do not eat it.
But the salt beef, and here I type a comma for awe, is the best in London since the Selfridges salt beef bar has fallen off, as it should, because salt beef has no place in a department store. The cheesecake, likewise, is a thing of awe, and if you believe, as I do, that cheesecake — alongside Jacopo Tintoretto’s paintings and Hilary Mantel’s prose — is one of the few consolations in these wicked days, you should go to Harry Morgan and eat some. It isn’t fashionable, so there will be no wait for a table. You’ll be fine.
Harry Morgan, 29–31 St John’s Wood High Street, London NW8 7NH,
tel: 020 7722 1869.