'Panzer's is like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for my boy'

Russell Bentley and son Freddie (left); the Panzer's team (right)

Russell Bentley and son Freddie (left); the Panzer's team (right) - Credit: Louise Cole/Panzer's

As a co-parenting single dad, my thoughts often lead to how I can make every Wednesday an interesting day for my three-year-old son, Freddie, that will be fun and engaging.  

Walking into Panzer’s in St John's Wood, a celebrated north London fixture, and passing its beautiful floral offerings is like a gateway back into sweet nostalgia of the past.  

I’m speaking not of a museum, a library or a gallery but a delicatessen founded in 1944, revamped and rebranded by its owner David Josephs.  

The tote bags sold at the counter which proudly sport the brand name “Panzer’s” have become sought after commodities: GQ magazine recently wrote about how “the £5 Panzer's Deli tote became the only 'it bag' worth buying."  

The smell of freshly baked bagels and cholla rolls, the wide array of fresh smoked salmon, the incredible sushi bar and the instantaneous smiles of the staff make this a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” moment for a three-year-old and his dad.  

During the Covid era, the ability to pop Freddie on the counter while he talks to the cashier isn’t an option but the staff greet Freddie like a long-lost family member.  

David has made Panzer’s an assault of the senses of both culinary proportions and experiential richness with its extensive selection of cheeses, olives, breads and homemade dips on display (Labneh being a recent and welcome addition).  

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But it’s more than just the food itself, or the smiles of the staff, or the famous faces like Yotam Ottolenghi and Paul McCartney in search of the sesame bagels, it’s the experience that is so life affirming and wholly different from gazing down a cavernous aisle of a supermarket with bad air conditioning and poor lighting.  

In a time when we are craving human and communal experiences to reengage with others, this is a place that elicits that warm, safe and comfortable feeling and even, dare I say it, hope in these difficult times.  

Panzer’s has weathered the pandemic apparently effortlessly, showing the appetite people have for freshly ground coffee, artisan ice cream, kind staff and exquisite food.  

Freddie heads straight for the box of dates before exiting Panzer’s and the sweetness of its gooey centre sums up his experience.  

Russell Bentley is a Belsize Park actor and writer whose documentary on England’s Lane's Launderette was released in 2019. Russell was among campaigners including Cllr Luisa Porritt who helped save the launderette last year.

Russell Bentley and son Freddie

Russell Bentley and son Freddie - Credit: Russell Bentley