Aus­trian com­fort food just like our grand­par­ents made

A chance dis­cov­ery led to the Rob­son brothers cel­e­brat­ing their hid­den Jewish her­itage with food, says Jake Wal­lis Si­mons

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Be­hind the doors of Boop­shi’s, a mod­est restau­rant in cen­tral Lon­don, lies a story that be­gins in Thir­ties Aus­tria. “One day we found an old card­board box that used to be­long to our grand­par­ents,” says Ed Rob­son, 31, who set up the restau­rant with his 27-year-old brother Ben. “It was filled with doc­u­ments – birth cer­tifi­cates, let­ters to each other, bank state­ments and copies of visa ap­pli­ca­tions. That’s how we re­alised they were Jewish. They had never talked about it.” Both Nora and Fred Rob­son – or Nora and Fritz Rosen­zeig, as they were for­merly known – had es­caped from Aus­tria be­fore the Sec­ond World War and made new lives in Eng­land. They passed away sev­eral years ago, hav­ing never spo­ken about the past. For the brothers, the dis­cov­ery prompted a de­sire to re­con­nect with their her­itage. But their start­ing point was not the Na­tional Archives or a ge­neal­ogy web­site. Rather, it was the col­lec­tion of do­geared note­books that they had found in the box. “They were full of recipes passed down to our grand­fa­ther by his mother,” says Ben. “The in­gre­di­ents were writ­ten in full, but the tech­niques were in code. We had to de­ci­pher it.” “Food was a cen­tral part of their lives when we were grow­ing up,” adds Ed. “He al­ways did the bak­ing, and she did the savouries. The one ex­cep­tion was the strudel.” Ben nods sagely. “He was never al­lowed to in­ter­fere with the strudel.” This clas­sic western Euro­pean pud­ding was the cen­tre­piece of Nora’s fa­bled “dessert trol­ley”, which she used to trun­dle out “three or four times a day”. The strudel is one of the three recipes that the brothers have agreed to teach me in the kitchen at Boop­shi’s. The other two are savoury dishes, schnitzel and spät­zle. Like ev­ery­thing else on the menu, th­ese are based on their grand­par­ents’ note­books, but have been given a mod­ern twist.“When we dis­cov­ered the recipe books, we were both work­ing in a restau­rant in Hamp­stead, north Lon­don,” Ben ex­plains. “We de­cided to set up a restau­rant that served light, fresher ver­sions of our grand­par­ents’ tra­di­tional Aus­trian recipes, with­out los­ing the essence.” For more than a year, the brothers took fre­quent trips to Vi­enna, din­ing in all types of restau­rant, from cor­don bleu es­tab­lish­ments to road­side can­teens, think­ing about “what could work”. In De­cem­ber they were fi­nally ready, and Boop­shi’s – named af­ter the pet name that Nora and Fred had used for each other – was born. In the kitchen, the head chef, Rino Scalco, ini­ti­ates me into the se­crets of Aus­trian cook­ing lite. We start with the Wiener schnitzel, a thin slice of veal fried in bread­crumbs, a clas­sic Vi­en­nese dish. “It is best to use or­ganic rose veal,” says Rino, “which is pro­duced with­out cru­elty to an­i­mals. It’s darker in colour, and far more ten­der and flavour­some. You can get it from Waitrose or a good butcher.” Start­ing with a slice about half an inch thick, the first step is to “bash it out” us­ing a meat mal­let (or place it be­tween two sheets of bak­ing pa­per and at­tack it with “some­thing flat”). The trick, he says, is to “get the meat as thin as you can with­out putting a hole in it”. “A thick slab of meat will take longer to cook, and it will ab­sorb all the oil and be­come hor­ri­ble and greasy,” he ex­plains. “If you keep it thin, it will cook in a minute or two and come out very light.” Make sure that the edges are as flat as the cen­tre; if there are any in­con­sis­ten­cies, it won’t cook evenly. Af­ter dip­ping the veal in egg, flour and bread­crumbs, give the schnitzel 30 min­utes in the fridge. Oth­er­wise the bat­ter will sep­a­rate from the meat when it goes into the oil, cre­at­ing air bub­bles that will break away, cre­at­ing un­pleas­ant bare patches. I am sur­prised at how quickly it cooks. Be­fore I can taste it, Rino puts it aside and moves onto the spät­zle, or Aus­trian dumplings. He makes a paste with egg, flour, wa­ter and but­ter, spoons it through a colan­der into a pan of boil­ing chicken stock, then takes it out with a sieve. The re­sult is a host of gnoc­ci­like nuggets, which can be crisped up in a fry­ing pan and served with a cheese sauce, or sim­ply added to soup. OK, so this one isn’t so light. But if you’re crav­ing win­ter com­fort food, you need look no fur­ther. Fi­nally comes the leg­endary ap­ple strudel. The goal is to pre­vent the ap­ple from ooz­ing as it cooks, which can soak the strudel and weigh it down. To do this, the ap­ple is sliced very thinly with a man­dolin or po­tato peeler. Then it is mixed with raisins soaked in rum, cin­na­mon and de­mer­ara su­gar, and left to stand for an hour. The next step is to paint six sheets of filo pas­try with melted but­ter to make them pli­ant and ad­he­sive, then tuck a rect­an­gle of ap­ple mix­ture into it and roll it up. Af­ter half an hour in the oven, it is golden and slightly sticky. Fi­nally Rino hands me some cutlery. The re­sult­ing meal – washed down with Vi­en­nese lager – is not re­motely greasy or stodgy. In­stead it is tasty and mor­eish, the per­fect way to ban­ish the Jan­uary chill. “Our grand­par­ents would have loved this place,” says Ben. “One of their favourite things was en­ter­tain­ing. And their recipes live on.” Boop­shis.com Serves 4-5 In­gre­di­ents 6 sheets of filo pas­try 2 large cook­ing ap­ples 150g De­mer­ara su­gar 50g raisins that have been soaked in stroh rum overnight 50g melted but­ter 1 tsp cin­na­mon 1 tbsp of bread­crumbs Serves one In­gre­di­ents 200g of veal, prefer­ably loin, top­side or rump, cut to half an inch thick 2 large eggs 2 Kaiser rolls (white rolls will do) Bot­tle of veg­etable oil Method Blitz the bread rolls in a blender. Then spread on a bak­ing tray and cook in the oven, at the low­est tem­per­ate pos­si­ble, un­til com­pletely dry. Re­turn to the blender and blitz again to en­sure an even, dry crumb. Bat out the veal un­til it is as thin as pos­si­ble with­out break­ing. Dip the veal in flour, and sea­son it with salt and pep­per. Lightly beat the eggs and coat the floured veal on both sides. Re­frig­er­ate for about 30 min­utes. Coat the veal in bread­crumbs (don’t pat too hard). To cook, if you do not have a deep fryer, you will need a deep pan. Use enough oil so that you can sub­merge the schnitzel com­pletely. The­walls of the pot should rise at least 10cm/4in above the oil to avoid spillage. Us­ing a cook­ing ther­mome­ter, bring the oil up to 185C. Lower the bread­crumbed veal into the oil for 30 sec­onds, then turn it over for another 30 sec­onds. Re­move, place on a rack to drain ex­cess oil, and serve.

By the book: the Rob­sons have mod­i­fied fam­ily recipes at their Lon­don restau­rant Boop­shi’s

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