For many, Bloom’s Restaurant was symbolic of the Jewish East End. When The Whitechapel eaterie went, in 1996, it was a sad sign of how the Jewish population of Tower Hamlets had declined and dispersed. For others, Bloom’s was simply a good place to eat, an experience sharpened by some of the most spectacularly rude service in London.
The man responsible for rise of Bloom’s was Sidney Bloom, who died last summer, aged 82. In 1952 he established the East End establishment which became ‘Britain’s most famous kosher restaurant’ (as it said above the door).
The original Bloom’s had been established by Sidney’s father, Morris, a Lithuanian immigrant who arrived in London in 1912. He set up the first restaurant in Brick Lane in 1920. During the early 1930s, the restaurant moved to the corner of Old Montague Street and, in 1952, to Whitechapel High Street.
The 1950s East End was still the centre of London’s Jewish community, and the reopened Bloom’s was an instant success with both local people and celebrities. Everybody would queue for their lockshen or gefilte fish – even Charlie Chaplin. The great London comic was a friend of Bloom, but when the restaurateur invited him to jump the queue, the modest Chaplin declined and waited his turn.
Other celebs were less accommodating. Frank Sinatra ordered a special delivery from Bloom’s to his suite at the Savoy. Sidney obliged, putting the meal on silver plates. The food was enjoyed, but the plates were never seen again, to the understandable horror of the parsimonious Bloom. This, after all, was a man who insisted that his waiters buy each meal from the kitchen, the staff then earning commission on what they sold.
This unique system of payment produced Bloom’s famous quality of service, politely described as ‘informal’. With the waiters on piecework, it was unsurprising that they would bully customers into eating quickly.
“From the welcome, ‘Sit there and wait till I’m ready,’ to the final slamming down of the bill, the customer was the enemy,” remembered journalist Simon Jenkins in an Evening Standard piece in 1966.
Yet the food was so good that customers would tolerate the rudeness. The noise of people waiting and dining was ‘immense. You could stand up and sing an operatic aria without attracting much attention,’ recalled writer John Sandilands in 1978.
The core clientele were now the grandchildren of those Yiddish speaking immigrants who, like Morris Bloom, had travelled from Eastern Europe, from Germany, Slovenia and Lithuania. Among their number were celebrities, like boxer Max Baer, musician Ronnie Scott, actor Steven Berkoff and film producer David Conroy. When Cliff Richard visited Bloom’s to dine during the early sixties, the crowd outside grew so large that the restaurant’s front window was broken. Bloom’s was not only a local favourite; it was a fashionable place to eat.
But the heyday was brief. From the 1960s onwards, Whitechapel’s Jewish population declined as people made their money and moved out to the suburbs of Golders Green and Ilford. An astute Sidney Bloom followed, and in 1965 opened a branch of Bloom’s at Golders Green. The walls were decked with East End scenes and the new branch was an instant hit.
The Whitechapel restaurant was in terminal decline however. In the early nineties the restaurant racked up a half million pound loss, and by 1996 the restaurant was in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons.
The food had to be kosher, of course, prepared according to Hebrew ordinances, and cooked by Jews. The slaughter of animals for meat had to be done in a certain way, accompanied by a prayer. Foods were then examined by a Rabbi to make sure that they conformed with the Jewish religion. But in January 1996, managing director Michael Bloom, Sidney’s son, had his food licence withdrawn by the Chief Rabbi after an attempted breach of these strict Jewish dietary laws.
The license was swiftly renewed under Sidney’s name, but it was a brief respite. A month later Bloom’s of Whitechapel closed its doors. East Enders nostalgic for salt beef, meatballs, gefilte fish and pickled herrings now have to travel to the thriving Golders Green branch to stock up.