A new French Café near Abu Ghosh

Although it has been open over a year, Les Jumelles in Beit Nekofa has only been gaining notoriety in the last few months since they have made a push for more people to hear about them.  The small French style café is located just inside the entrance to Moshav Nekofa, a few minutes from the highway turn off to Abu Ghosh.

We knew they did not take bookings on a Friday but having arrived at 12noon, we only waited about 5 minutes before a table became available and this gave us the opportunity to admire the wonderful selection of baked goods they had available to take home including both dairy and parev cakes and biscuits.

We were sat in the outside conservatory that overlooks the street (they do not have real outside space).  Unfortunately this area does not have air-conditioning and another diner had insisted on closing one of the large windows, so it was very stuffy with little fresh air – I would not want to sit there in the height of summer.  There was also a group of 20 in this section and although they were not too noisy, they were mostly kids and made some speeches which was not ideal.  We should have insisted on waiting for a table in the main café room which was significantly quieter and cooler! It was much more pleasant once the window was eventually opened, but the inside section is still nicer.

The main menu is varied and there are also daily specials.  We all chose from the breakfast menu, which included various options of eggs Benedict and shakshuka.  I made the mistake of getting the simple house breakfast (NIS 58) which was a very average Israeli breakfast and lacked any interesting dips or breads – quite surprising for a French style cafe and the eggs themselves were overcooked.  Others were happy with their orders of the Eggs Benedict with Spinach (NIS 58) with a hollandaise sauce and a special Eggs Benedict with mushrooms, parmesan and truffles.  Both said they were delicious but the eggs were also slightly overcooked and not runny as poached eggs should be.

For me the pastries were the redeeming factor! We tried the Gluten Free Hot Chocolate Cake which was rich and indulgent but not overly sweet.  The Cheesecake was perfectly creamy and also not too sweet and the accompanying tart berry sauce was a wonderful pairing. Finally we enjoyed the pistachio cake which was rich although not overpowering but I personally thought it didn’t need the cream topping. The ice-coffee was also a perfect compliment to the cakes.

They do not have a menu in English which will hopefully change if they want to attract English speaking clientele but here is the link to the Hebrew menu.

I am personally a big fan of going for Friday brunch outside the city so I will be sure to go back but next time I will stick to the more interesting French dishes or maybe just the cakes!

Les Jumelles Café, +972(0)2-930 9991, Mehadrin

Foodie score 7/10, FODMAP friendly score 8/10

Brunch and mini hike in Tzuba

With the days getting longer but before it gets too hot, I try to plan some fun Friday day trips outside Jerusalem that include two of my favorite things, good food and exploring the Israeli countryside.

Buffet Brunch at Tzuba Hotel

I had heard about the brunch buffet at the Tzuba Hotel on Kibbutz Tzuba for a long time and kept meaning to go and try it.  They recently re-launched with a new taboon oven, which gave me an extra push to check it out.  The cost for the buffet is 95 NIS per adult or 115 NIS including a wine tasting tour at Tzuba Winery.  I have been to the winery before so just went for the brunch option.  It was not easy to book, I called a few times but there was no answer, I sent an email which went unanswered but eventually I got through by phone.  Even though the brunch runs to 2pm, the lasting booking slot is 12 and by 1pm the omelet and focaccia stations closed so make sure you arrive on time.

The setting was beautiful but we couldn’t sit outside on the balcony as it was in use from a private event for about 60 people – something I think they should have mentioned when I booked.

The buffet was a typical Israeli breakfast buffet, with the addition of more hot food like fish, lasagna other oven-baked dishes.  The focaccia from the taboon on the balcony was fresh and delicious and definitely a great feature but I felt uncomfortable going out to get food there as it was next to the private party.  I also felt that the omelet station was very standard and lacked any exciting fillings.

Most of the food was replenished as it was finished and we particularly liked the cheese selection which was more unique than an average hotel breakfast. The dessert section was also varied and interesting and we enjoyed having unlimited fresh coffees.

Overall the food was very good and it was a pleasant atmosphere for a brunch in the country.  We probably ate our money’s worth and you certainly pay a premium for the section a buffet offers, but I personally prefer less food and higher quality.  We enjoyed the meal but I wouldn’t rush back unless I was in the area.

Brunch at Tzuba Hotel, +972(0)2-5347090, Kosher Rabbinate Mate Yehuda

Foodie score 7/10, FODMAP friendly score 8/10

Belmont Crusader Fortress – Tel Tzuba 

A few minutes’ walk from the main hotel building is the beginning of a hiking trail of Tel Tzuba, which is believed to be the site of an ancient Jewish settlement in the days of King David. In 1170 the Belmont Crusader fortress was built there to guard the route to Jerusalem and it was conquered in 1191 by Saladin. The Arab village of Suba,  built on the site of the ruins, was the scene of fierce fighting during the 1948 War of Independence due to its strategic location overlooking the road to Jerusalem. In July 1948 most of the inhabitants fled before the fighting and moved to Jordan or the nearby village of Ein Rafa. In October 1948 a group of Palmach veterans established Kibbutz Misgav Palmach, 1 km south of Suba, which was later renamed Palmach Tzova (known as Tzuba).

The receptionist at the hotel gave us a helpful map of sites in the Tzuba area (which includes various walking trails around the kibbutz and The Cave of John the Baptist) but the entrance was very badly sign-posted and even though you can access it by car, we advised it would be better by foot.  We followed the road that winds up the hill past some incredible looking cactus plants.

The small path that goes up the castle  and village ruins was not signed and was also closed off by a barrier but we soon realized that this was the only way up and climbed over the barrier to go exploring.  We didn’t make it all the way to the main ruins as the path became a slightly precarious and we were not prepared for a proper hike, but the views from where we reached were incredible and well worth the climb. We could see over to Kiryat Anavim and Maale Hamisha in one direction and to Ein Kerem and Hadassah Hospital in the other. There was not much to see among the ruins we passed but it was still a beautiful mini hike. I believe there was more to discover on the other side of the hill but we didn’t get that far.

Apparently Tel Tzuba is in the process of becoming a national park which will hopefully make it more accessible and clearly signed.

Once again I found very little information online in English about this location even on the Tzuba tourism website, so hopefully this post will be helpful to other people who are planning short day trips from in the Judean Hills surrounding Jerusalem.

Click here for another post about a day trip in near Jerusalem, followed by a delicious lunch.

Idyllic country café in the Hula Valley

As I have mentioned in other posts, I like to do research before I travel to make sure that I know about all the hidden foodie gems that I would never find otherwise.  This is one time when that research really paid off. Having been in the Hula Valley area before, I knew there were not many exciting options for lunch, especially with my parents who only eat kosher.

We had spent the morning at Agamon Hula (read my post How the Hula valley made me a bird watcher) and had built up quite an appetite. My father was insistent that we try the new Hotel Galilion as who can go wrong in a nice hotel but we were told very rudely that there were no dining options unless we were hotel guests or pre-booked. It turns out that this was very fortunate for us, as otherwise we would never have found my back-up option Beit Ha’ugot. I don’t remember how I heard about Beit Ha’ugot but I am pretty sure it was from a Facebook group.

It was already nearly 2pm so I called to check that they were open and the very nice owner said that she would keep the kitchen open if we arrived in the next 15 minutes.  One of my favorite things about these obscure places is the anticipation of not knowing what you are going to find.  I wasn’t sure if had the right address but the moshav was fairly small and we followed numerous signs, weaving our way through a small residential neighborhood until we eventually found the oasis that is Beit Ha’ugot.  Set in the lovely garden of a family home, I don’t think any description I give will really do it justice.

We were lucky that it was warm enough in late February to sit outside on the wooden decking, surrounded by various citrus trees.  The back of the garden, which backs onto various fruit orchards, is lined with a number of cages filled with chickens, guinea fowl and various brightly colored budgies.  Here is a Facebook live video I shot from the garden – sorry it is a so blurry.

My mother and I both ordered the quinoa salad which was served with finely chopped vegetables and garnished with seeds.  My father opted to the shakshuka which he said was the best he has ever had and we all enjoyed the freshly baked wholegrain bread with tahina and home-made garlic butter.  The cakes all looked amazing but we resisted but I had a lovely jam biscuit with my macchiato and I regret not buying some of the biscuits and cakes to take home with us.

If the café wasn’t closing, we would happily have spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun in such tranquil surroundings. The owner was delightful and was so happy that we had stumbled on her cafe. The couple at the table next to us had come from Tiveria especially for lunch.

Considering the lack of good dairy restaurants in the area, I am not surprised this place is so popular. In case it is not clear, I would highly recommend a visit to Beit Ha’ugot and it is even worth a special trip – next time I plan to order the full Israeli breakfast as it looks great.

Beit Ha’ugot, Kosher Mehadrin, 052-651-0881 – call in advance to check timings.

Foodie score 8.5/10 FODMAP 8/10

Trattoria Haba combines international style with local flavors

IMG_0348The Haba family has been an essential part of the Jerusalem shuk for over 50 years, since they moved to Israel from Iraq. What started as a small bread stand has developed into a baking empire and as the life in Machaneh Yehuda has evolved, so has their business.

While they still have numerous bread stands in and around the shuk, the younger members of the family recognized the need for a more upscale bakery and restaurant – and Trattoria Haba was born.

To help make this idea a reality, the family recruited Michael Katz as executive chef for the Haba group. Katz spent four years as the executive chef of the Adom Group (Adom, Colony, Lavan etc) and was previously the chef and owner of Michael Andrew restaurant, and a teacher at the Cordon Bleu school in London.

_3244Located on Jaffa Street between the entrances to the closed and open shuk, Trattoria Haba is a beacon of modern style in traditional surroundings. At the entrance to the trattoria is a delicatessen, with a large array of fresh breads, pastries, salads and desserts available for takeaway. The restaurant itself includes tables on the ground and first floor, as well as tables out front on Jaffa Street and a small courtyard in the back, overlooking the Georgian section of the main shuk.

We started our meal with a selection of appetizers and salads. The croquettes of brie and pecorino cheese were the perfect balance of crispy and creamy, without being too heavy or rich (NIS 39). We enjoyed the curry-flavored couscous salad (NIS 48), which included a combination of roasted butternut squash, green beans, nuts and a variety of fresh cherry tomatoes, but we found the curry flavor to be a little too subtle.

IMG_0316For main course, we tried the market calzone (NIS 46) filled with pecorino, camembert, tomato sauce, black olives and roasted peppers. The portion was very generous and came with a delicious side salad, but our only criticism was that the tomato sauce made the filling slightly runny. Next, we tried the homemade cheese ravioli (NIS 64) and the ricotta cheese gnocchi (NIS 58). Both dishes were fresh and light, and I could not believe the gnocchi were cheese-based and not potato; this was definitely a dish I would go back for. Finally, we had the sea bream fillet (NIS 98) served with roasted vegetables. This is the most expensive dish on the menu, but the portion was very generous and the fish was perfectly cooked.

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And so to the desserts. We sampled both the pain au chocolate (NIS 15) and cheese Danish pastry (NIS 15), which were both good, but we found the dough a bit heavy. My favorite dessert was the tiramisu (NIS 28). which was perfectly balanced.

The restaurant has an extensive breakfast menu that is served until noon on weekdays and all day on Friday. The house breakfast (NIS 56) is incredible value and as well as the usual choice of eggs, salad, breads and dips, it also includes home cured salmon, fresh juice and a hot drink. They are always happy to make substitutes and special requests like soy milk are not extra. The breakfast for two (NIS 104) also comes with yoghurt with muesli and additional salads and despite trying on numerous occasions; I have never been able to finish it.

The service is very hit and miss and is especially slow when they are busy on a Friday, but the food is always consistent so it keeps people coming back for more!

Kosher Mehadrin
119 Jaffa Street, Jerusalem
http://www.haba.co.il
(02) 623-3379
Sunday-Thursday 8 a.m. to midnight
Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday One hour after Shabbat until midnight

A healthy alternative in Nachlaot

Pumpkin cream ravioli (NIS 62)

Pumpkin cream ravioli (NIS 62)

The choice of restaurants in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood has multiplied in the past few years, but although many of them focus on using the fresh ingredients from the nearby Machaneh Yehuda market, most cannot claim to offer healthy options. There is an ever-increasing demand for vegan and gluten-free dishes, so it is wonderful that Nagila can satisfy that demand.

Click here for the full review of Nagila in The Jerusalem Post.

Pesach Jerusalem 2014

One of the many wonderful things about spending Pesach in Jerusalem is the abundance of choice when it comes to eating out. Here is just a selection of some of my favorite restaurants to enjoy during chol hamoed Pesach. As always, I recommend making a reservation.

There are a number of great meat places to choose from in the Holy City and most are open for Pesach, here are my top choices:

Sashimi (Angelica)

Angelica

Angelica is once again top of my list as I think they have the most varied menu, from good steaks to delicious fish, so there is something for all tastes (02 623 0056, Non-Kitniyot). A slightly more expensive option, with interesting dishes and an incredible view, is the Rooftop restaurant of the Mamilla Hotel overlooking the Old City (02 548 2230 Non-Kitniyot). For a great steak, you cannot go wrong with Gabriel and the new owner has changed up the menu recently so it is worth checking out (02 624 6444, Non-Kitniyot, Mehadrin).

Jacko's Street

Jacko’s Street

A new addition this year is Jacko’s Street, a great option for a fun dinner with friends. Located next to the shuk, the open kitchen and creative dishes make it a quintessentially Jerusalem experience, bringing the essence of the shuk to your table (02 5817178, Kitniyot).

Sushi Rehavia has a great selection of cooked Asian dishes, as well as a full sushi menu.  This is a less formal option and good for families or large groups, their branches on Emek Refaim and the City Center will both be open, as well as deliveries (02 622 2083,Kitniyot).

There are also plenty of dairy options to choose from, so here are just a few:

Café de Paris in Rehavia (02 566 5126, Non-Kitniyot) and Grand Café in Baka (02 570 2702, Non-Kitniyot) are both great choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner with a large variety of dishes on their menu.

Trattoria Haba

Trattoria Haba

The relatively new Trattoria Haba on Rehov Yafo is a great café/restaurant and an oasis of tranquility next to the shuk. They normally specialize in bread and pastries so it will be interesting to see what creative dishes their chefs come up with (02 623 3379, Non-Kitniyot, Mehadrin).

Basher Cheese Bar

Basher Cheese Bar

 

Last, but by no means least, Basher Cheese Bar is a great destination for a meal or drink with friends and their Pesach menu includes rich cheesy dishes like moussaka and vegetable gratin, as well as their traditional cheese platters (02 5340400, Kitniyot). They are also open late and have an extensive wine menu so it is the perfect place for a fun night out during Pesach.

It is always good to hear what other people enjoyed, so if you go to these or any other delicious places, please post a comment below and let us know how it was.

חג פסח כשר ושמח

 

Having a Grand time

Grand Café in Jerusalem is a cross between a French pâtisserie and a high-end New York diner.

For many years I have been a groupie of chef Marcos Gershkovitch, so when I found out that he would be hosting us during the Benedict Festival at Grand Café in June, I knew we were off to a good start.

Click here for the full review of Grand Cafe in The Jerusalem Post

מקרונים

A taste of Paris

With the opening of Café de Paris, Jerusalem has a new kosher café with French flair on the site that was once Café Moment.

Arguably one of the most notorious locations in Jerusalem, Café de Paris sits on the corner of Ben-Maimon Street and Azza Road, a stone’s throw from the Prime Minister’s residence. The locale is part of Rehavia’s history, first as Café Moment and for the past eight years as Restobar, which caused an uproar among the city’s secular citizens when it closed in March.

Click here for the full review of Café de Paris in The Jerusalem Post

בוקר רחביה.jpg

Brunch in the Holy City – Take 2

It has been over a year since I wrote my last post on Brunch in the Holy City (here is the first one) so it is definitely time for an update.  My original post still stands true for most of the places.  I have given up on going to Café Inbal because although I love the food, it did not warrant the terrible service but if you have never been, it is still worth a visit.  I have become even more of a fan of Kadosh Café because their food really is delicious and it is a great local option.  But here are some new places for a great brunch in and around the Holy City:

Grand Cafe

This place definitely deserves top ranking as my favorite new place for brunch in the Holy City.  Built in the ground floor of a new apartment building on Derech Bet Lechem, the design and layout has been careful planned to allow for plenty of room for both small and large tables and a spacious outside seating area.  Although the design of the cafe has a strong French influence, there is also a touch of New York style.

The owners of the cafe are Adi Talmor, a restaurant entrepreneur whose ventures include Sushi Rehavia and Colony  and Chef Marcos Gershkovitz, who owns restaurant Angelica and co-owns Malka Rotisserie with Talmor. Similar to their other ventures, the service here is above average, they certainly know how to hire and train their staff.

Eggs Benedict at Grand Cafe

The menu (read in full here) is extensive, with a variety of all day breakfast options, salads, sandwiches, pasta, quiches and fish specials.  My brunch of choice is Eggs Benedict served on toasted English muffins with spinach and hollandaise sauce and a mixed green salad (48₪) with an option of extra smoked salmon (12₪).  Other enticing brunch options include Roshti potatoes served with fried eggs, sour cream and arugula (44₪) and Warm Croissant with melted Camembert and fresh tomato(30₪).

If you are feeling extravagant, treat yourself to one of the delicious pastries made on the premises by the pastry chef.  I can recommend the deliciously authentic French macaroons!

Whether it is the food, the style or the service that attracts them, there is definitely a predominance of non-Israeli clientele, although the more discerning Israeli locals seem to have been converted!

My only criticism is the inflexibility of the breakfast meals and every small change is extra– you cannot have an iced coffee instead of the juice and hot drink included with the breakfast meal, fresh carrot or apple is extra and does a small shot of soy milk really cost 4 shekels!  To me the mark of an exceptional restaurant is going above and beyond the expectations of the customers.  In Benedict (in Tel Aviv & Herzliya) my ice coffee with soy milk or carrot juice is included in the breakfast, no questions asked!

Derech Hagefen

Derech Hagefen

Hidden inside scenic Moshav Beit Zait, 15-20 minutes outside of Jerusalem, Derech Hagefen is the sister restaurant to my firm favorite Café ItamarThe setting is slightly less authentic than Itamar but no less beautiful.  Here the garden center seems to have been designed around the cafe, rather than the other way around and the fish ponds add to the tranquility of the surroundings.

The menu is similar to Café Itamar but it includes some more adventurous breakfast options like Eggs Benedict (56₪) and French Toast (38₪).  Unfortunately breakfast is only served until 12pm even on a Friday so if you want a real breakfast, get there early.  The brunch menu also includes a selection of sandwiches, quiches and salads.  There is also an extensive lunch and dinner menu that includes pasta, pizza and various fish options.

They are always busy so make sure to book and if you are going during the summer, be sure to request a table in the shade.

Cafe Mizrachi

Opened by Eli Mizrachi over ten years ago, this cafe nestled in the middle of the covered part of Machne Yehuda has a very family run feel to it.  Although they do not take reservations, they have a very efficient registration system and if you have a bit of patience, it is well worth the wait.  I love getting a table in the “outside” of the restaurant, where you can enjoy a delicious meal, while watching the hustle and bustle of the shuk.

I do not remember the exact names of the dishes I have tried there and the menu is always changing but the dishes that stand out were Rice Noodles in a coconut curry sauce and a delicious Root Vegetable Salad with a tahina lemon dressing.  Other specialties include Poached Eggs on a base of melted cheese and toasted croissant and various home-made pasta dishes.  All the food is as fresh as the shuk around it.  Be sure to try some of their cookies and pastries, made by the expert hands of Moran, Eli’s daughter who is a Cordon-Bleu trained pastry chef.

Kosher since it opened, Cafe Mizrachi recently lost it’s kashrut license for refusing to only use Katif Lettuce and I believe, like others in a similar position, they have decided to continue to serve kosher food without a kashrut license.

Breakfast by the Sea

Much as I love going for brunch in the Holy City, (see earlier post here), nothing compares to a visit to Benedict.  With 2 branches in Tel Aviv and a 3rd on the sea-front in Herzliya, Benedict serves every kind of breakfast you can wish for and is open 24 hours a day.  As nice as the Tel Aviv branches are, the one in Herzliya Pituach is much bigger, a great location and has a more diverse menu.  I am pretty much a creature of habit and when I find something I like, I stick with it and re-order it again and again and again.  My dish of choice,from which the restaurant is named, is Eggs Benedict Royal – 2 poached eggs served on toasted brioche with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce (68₪) which includes a green salad and a choice of fruit juice, hot drink, champagne cocktail or ice coffee.  It is the best Eggs Benedict I have had in Israel and is pretty authentic; my only criticism is that the poached eggs are sometimes a bit watery.

Benedict One of the best things about Benedict is their homemade bread served with soft butter, homemade jam and nutella and you can request more of which ever rolls you prefer, so be sure to turn up hungry!  They also offer free refills of coffee before 10am and their “cold coffee” is really strong!

The Eggs Benedict can also be ordered with various other toppings.  If I didn’t only eat meat in kosher restaurants, I would definitely try the Benedict Joe topped with sweet ground meat or the Philadelphia style topped with sliced sirloin and asparagus.

If you prefer to indulge in a sweeter breakfast, the Pancakes take while to prepare but are more than worth the wait.  You can chose from original, blueberry, chocolate and white chocolate with espresso.  They are served with fresh fruit salad, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar and are light and fluffy.  I was slightly disappointed that the blueberries were not mixed into the batter but simply served as a jam layered in-between the pancakes and I could definitely not get through a whole portion of the white chocolate and espresso by myself, they are very sweet sickly but delicious.

Here is thel full menu to salivate over, I still want to try the Eggs “En Cocotte” and the Egg Balls.

Benedict Herzliya Pituach

Benedict Herzliya Pituach

They don’t take reservations on a Friday and there is always a line, but the service is amazing and they are very efficient at getting the line moving.  I recommend sitting at the bar if you are just 2 people, it is fun and you will get seated faster.