It is a truism that there is never enough schnitzel (‘slice’, German); or, rather, schnitzel does not get the attention it deserves. Restaurants do serve it, of course. Fischer’s does a fine Wiener schnitzel, as part of its riotous pre-war Vienna tribute act, and elderly people, I am told, queue for it while wearing slankets. Brasseries sell it often: the perhaps unconscious desire to re-enact the meals of the Weimar Republic is one of the stranger things of the age. The Coffee Cup in Hampstead serves it with a jaunty side order of spaghetti pomodoro. But the (chicken) schnitzel has never had the stardust of the less interesting but more widely beloved hamburger; perhaps it is because cows are bigger. There are specialist hamburger restaurants and specialist steak restaurants and even a specialist lasagne restaurant — a ‘lasagneria’ — called Mister Lasagne. (‘Best lasagne in London!’ I would hope so. If not, what is it for?) But I have not found a specialist schnitzel restaurant until now, and that is not for want of seeking.
It is called Schnitzel Forever, which is a prayer not a name — perhaps it is a political party — and sounds better than Escalope Forever. It has no exclamation mark, which it should, so it would sound like a Broadway show. Even so, it exudes the same monomania as Katz’s Deli in New York City and its deified salami; the same self-worship and self-belief. It is in Stoke Newington, a gentrified north London suburb in which everyone looks like they work for a liberal broadsheet newspaper.
It is small as if for emphasis: a bright new shack with monochrome tiled floors and awnings. It is spot-lit, as if the schnitzel must be posed to best effect in its surroundings: Playboy magazine for people who like schnitzel. There is a vast wall of plants: schnitzel in the jungle.
We sit outside because Virgil Dog is with us, and he will beg for schnitzel. ‘The next big thing,’ says the PR blurb. Rather, the next big thing is the menu. It offers 16 different types of schnitzel from common to insane.
The Classics — chicken, veal, and pork — also include seabass, halloumi and portobello mushroom schnitzel. I would dispute these are classics, but perhaps there wasn’t room on the Specials for what should be the Specials. These are: surf & turf (veal, pork, chicken, prawns); Stokey’s (the same, no prawns); the Weiner (veal); Napolitana (veal, ham, tomato); Jager (pork, mushroom, potato salad); Cordon Bleu (chicken, mashed potato); El Granjero (chicken, avocado, pickles); Saganaki (halloumi and mozzarella); Katsu (chicken, curry); Aegean (seabass again). There are also hot sauces, classic sauces, relishes and chutneys; salads (potato, Greek, cucumber) and potato dishes (mashed, chipped, patatas bravas).
I ask the owner-waiter why he opened a schnitzel restaurant. ‘There wasn’t enough schnitzel,’ he says, and I can see the child who loved schnitzel and who grew into a man. He says the response has been happy, and they are opening another branch.
The next big thing after the idea and the menu is the schnitzel. It is flesh, smashed to the dimensions of an A4 piece of paper, though rounded, breaded, and fried into gold. We eat, on tiny chairs in the street in winter, vast, salty schnitzels (chicken, of course, with mashed potatoes) and, though we feel as if we are clinging to a cliff, the food is delivered swiftly, and with obsession. If Schnitzel Forever thinks it serves the best schnitzel in London, it probably does. To everything its time.
Schnitzel Forever, 119 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UD, tel: 020 7419 0022.