Israel

A Continental Cuisine Series

Day 3

The day started early again. We headed back to Jaffa to pick up a few bits and pieces and to meet our Land Rover driver for the trip to Jerusalem. Then, it was out of Tel Aviv into the Judean hills to meet an exciting young chef. The trip takes about an hour and in glorious weather we head higher and higher into the hills finally arriving at a small entrance to a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Up the drive we arrive at Rama’s Kitchen. It looks like a sort Nursery crossed with a few beach shacks. All the outdoor areas are loosely covered with tarpaulins as this area gets blisteringly hot in the summer. I meet Tomer Niv (Tom) the head chef, he speaks good English. It transpires he used to work for Heston and at the acclaimed Ledbury in London, what a small world.  He shows us around, the restaurant, kitchen and his wonderful herb and flower garden. These gardens grow many of his ingredients he explains, wow, its very impressive. He tells me how he wants to use local ingredients and cook them simply to evolve a new type of Israeli cuisine. His local means the med, and will use ingredients from many countries. He’s a breath of fresh air.  We film in the garden and outdoor oven. We film the driving shots across the valley and of course one of his dishes. 

A braised veal dish with lamb, potatoes and carrots, its simple and straight to the point. Every mouthful tastes of what it should. I detect in his food that he has exhausted every angle of the individual component to get the best flavour out of it, no doubt a throwback to his time with Heston. The sauce is particularly good, a deep meaty sauce sweetened with concentrated pomegranate juice. 

As with all filming we are running late, so we hurriedly scoff a plate of Tom’s local, slow roasted Judean hills lamb. It has a slight mutton flavour and is very lean. We say our goodbyes and crack on. 

We arrive in Jerusalem late afternoon and immediately set out to film at the Western wall, more commonly known as the Wailing Wall. Its late afternoon and we are in the middle of a religious festival. 

The place is packed with many people praying and milling about, its a very moving sight. I spend a few minutes just watching and listening. 

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As the evening draws in, the blue sky turns into a deep blue, the now lit wall, standing out even more so, its a spectacular sight. The shiny gold topped mosque in the background shining brightly under the floodlights. I’m swamped by the atmosphere here, its an incredible feeling. We film and depart, settling into our hotel.

Not for long as we are having dinner at a restaurant called Eucalyptus and serves biblical cuisine. Yes, I know, I was confused also. Chef Moshe Basson has been a stalwart of regional cooking here for many years and is really well known throughout Israel. Somebody described him as a ‘food archaeologist’ all his dishes he explains personally and in real detail. They are cooked and served in the traditional way and use many old recipes, local spices, herbs and vegetables. Now I can see where he is coming from. 

The 12 course menu is a treat, in fact it should have been a few more but we had to decline. Chaim, is not impressed with the wine, describing it as ‘average minus’

We feast on so many dishes I will only pick out a few.
Three soups to start red lentil and cumin, Jerusalem artichoke and a warm almond milk soup are well seasoned, balanced and taste pretty good
Stuffed vine leaves with sage leaves are very good, along with, many salads, humours and tomatoes.
Aubergines stuffed with meat and thin, and figs stuffed with chicken, then braised in sweet pomegranate sauce are very nice.
Nahaphoch-hou, as sort of pilaff with chicken drumsticks, carrots and cabbage is delicious and again nicely seasoned. The veal Kofta with okra and tomatoes are equally as good and packed full of flavour.
The menu has duck, St Peter’s fish and a spectacular Golan Heights prime sirloin steak; I could go on and on.
Oven baked lamb in a large pot covered with pitta pastry is a light version or our British hot pot using neck chops. Its cooked overnight and has a deep, mutton flavour. I like this very much.
Puddings are ice creams, semolina sponge cake with almond milk, light and tasty. Final one a sort of rose water gelee made form almond milk, wild pistachio and Hibiscus flowers. This is a pretty impressive way to end the meal. We stagger back to the hotel and bid each other good night. JD as always wants a beer. I don’t know where he puts it.

 

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