Schnitzel Forever, 119 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UD (020 7419 0022). Starters £ 7 – £ 10, main courses £ 9.50 – £ 25, desserts £ 4.50 – £ 6.50, wines from £ 24
Schnitzel forever, a small restaurant in Stoke Newington, London, is the cornerstone of a growing chain of stores with many outposts across the country. He doesn’t quite know it yet. It’s not overwhelming with slight praise. We are, of course, bound to worship the independent rather than the mass-produced cookie cutter, and we do. Even the very word “chain” makes people tremble. I recently realized that I was substituting the word “group” to describe a restaurant chain with multiple outposts that I admire, so as not to smear it with the rancid stench of chain corporatism.
But, in truth, the eight-strong Dishoom, which I really like, is just a channel by another name. And the ever-delicious Hawksmoor steakmongers, now with 12 outlets, isn’t that a chain too? Over the years, brands like Piccolino (18 branches), Côte (over 80) and Nando’s (3,207,565) have served me well. Many channels are, of course, where the hope and the ingredients go to die. Oh Frankie & Benny’s, how do I hate you? Let me count the ways. And while I do, please wipe down your overly long dropdowns. But some can be a reassuring presence on a devastated and destroyed main street.
The point is, I could well imagine these good guys being joined by a deployed version of Schnitzel Forever, whose name tells you most of what you need to know. Right now it’s a small stand-alone restaurant serving flattened things, which have been breaded and fried. Crispy, browned and fried foods are, as we all know, the right foods. Schnitzel Forever is total crowd pleaser, only without the crowds.
I should declare moderate interest here or maybe, more precisely, ridiculous and exaggerated obsession. In 2007, I published an infinitely brilliant novel titled The headquarters of the Oyster House, about a hostage-taking in a restaurant kitchen on the night of the 1983 general election. Schnitzel provides a key plot point. In this case, it is a wiener holstein, a wiener schnitzel with the addition of a fried egg, anchovies and veal jus. The yolk and the sauce lubricate the crispy fried veal; anchovies add extra poke. I would hesitate to call it the pinnacle of Mitteleuropean culinary success, but not for very long.
In my novel, The Hostage Taker, knowing that he has to make demands of the police negotiators, panics and reads a list of ingredients on a piece of paper stuck to the wall. A policeman, who is also a passionate cook, notices that he has forgotten the anchovies, adds them to the order and so a dialogue begins. I’m not sure why this book hasn’t been made into a big movie yet, possibly starring Christopher Walken as the cutlet. The film rights remain available.
Pretty much the only iteration of the dish missing from the menu at Schnitzel Forever is, in this case, the Wiener Holstein. I’ll let it go because it’s my obsession, not theirs (Fischer in London, Marylebone makes a really good one.) What matters is that they managed the basics of taking various ingredients – chicken, pork, veal, etc. – beating them flat, breading them and then frying them. They’re tan and crisp and £ 10-13 for the basic, which completely covers the plate, at a great price. There is also a halloumi cutlet, a portobello mushroom cutlet and something involving sea bass. All plans are covered.
In the “specials” section, priced only for teenagers, the plate cover becomes a raft for additional ingredients. The classic Viennese schnitzel, made as it should be with veal, is served with a seriously vinegared potato salad, accompanied by a pitcher of rich and sticky demi-glace. The cordon bleu contains emmental cheese, ham and mashed potatoes. With “el granjero”, it’s mashed avocado, jalapeño pickles, lime and more demi-glace. Or you can decorate your own by applying some punchy sauces and relish. I especially liked the Bloody Mary ketchup and the apple and cider brandy chutney. The availability of a curry sauce allows them to include a menu item called a katsu schnitzel, which will lead some of my friends to thoughts of violence. In this case, I’m just the reporter. Quite naturally, breaded fried things like to be stuffed into a brioche bun and called a burger. For £ 12.50 you can have a Tower schnitzel burger with a triple layer of veal, pork and chicken.
The point here is that a unique and compelling idea has been saddled up and pushed as far as possible until sunset. There is a really good coleslaw with white cabbage for £ 5, although I would like to stop the kitchen from adding sour cream to the cucumber salad. This makes what should be a shiny, crispy foil for fried products, strangely cloying. Hilariously, the commitment to breading and frying things extends to the entrees, where squid and tiger shrimp get the same treatment. In keeping with their desire to be ubiquitous on Main Street, the underwhelming desserts are usually overly sweet spongy products – a double chocolate brownie, a sticky caramel pudding – most of which are bought elsewhere. Apparently they make their own apple strudel, but it’s not the night we’re there.
Like birthday cakes and ambitions, a full cutlet should never be small and being so, few of the ones we see ordered tonight are finished. No matter. They started by doing the delivery during the various lockouts and as a result they have pizza style boxes to wrap the leftovers with. It is clear that the delivery business remains strong; Throughout the evening there is a constant stream of horse riders who come to bring the joy of schnitzel to the sofas in North London. How much I have to admit that it is not unique. The sophisticated folks of Middlesbrough have a long tradition of take-out parmo: essentially a chicken or pork cutlet, topped with a cheese bechamel sauce. All greet the mighty parmo.
I love Schnitzel Forever. It’s a good idea, well priced and well executed. This extends to the design of the restaurant. We tend to only notice such things when we have spent a lot of money. Here, a modest space has been cleverly laid out, with sleek black and white tiling, cream banquettes, and the clever use of cloudy plexiglass panels behind which hide tropical fronds of easy-care pure plastic to make the room larger. Like the menu, everything works. If you soon see a queue at the door, assume that these are hospitality industry investors. Or people who really like cutlets.
I have long been a huge fan of Riley’s Fish Shack, on Tynemouth Beach east of Newcastle, but have always feared for them whenever winter storms come. Now they have Riley’s Fish Shop, a brick and mortar restaurant (and retail operation). The ever-changing chalkboard menu features whole sea bass and turbot, and various fillets alongside lobster and oyster platters from Lindisfarne as well as game dishes. TO rileysfishshop.com.
The results of the annual London restaurant scene survey conducted by participatory restaurant guide Harden’s are available. Along with the unsurprising news of a slew of closures due to the pandemic, comes glaring accounts of price inflation in the upper part of the capital. In the 2020 guide there was only one place, sushi restaurant Araki, with an average spend of £ 200 per head. Now there are seven. The number of restaurants with an average value of £ 150 per capita has increased from nine to 24. Visit durcit.com
And another look at the challenges facing the hospitality industry: the end of the holiday regime and the moratorium on liquidation requests that had prevented creditors from taking action to recover the money they were owed, combined with the need to repay government loans, all now have a serious impact. Restaurant bankruptcies in the UK rose 31% in the last quarter, from 226 to 296.