Jacko’s Street: A Winning Combination

Jacko’s has all the right ingredients for a memorable dining experience

If eating at a restaurant was just about the food, then I don’t think the restaurant industry would survive. A dining experience is not just about the food but rather the whole experience, including the service and the ambience. Many restaurants in Israel fail by not considering the experience they offer diners.

Jacko’s Street opened four years ago in Jerusalem and was the first kosher chef restaurant in the Mahaneh Yehuda market area. As the small streets around the shuk started to fill with more and more eating options, the popularity of Jacko’s also grew. In my opinion, the success of Jacko’s Street is due to its understanding that it is important to offer people more than just great food.

Click here for the full review in The Jerusalem Post

Asado Credit Sivan Shuv Ami

Asado Credit Sivan Shuv Ami

Goose Liver Semolina Cake

Beef Fillet Credit: Sivan Shuv Ami

Beef Carpaccio Credit: Sivan Shuv Ami

Fish Bruschetta

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.

A trip of remembrance and lunch in the sun

It is always a challenge to find new interesting things to do close to Jerusalem on a Friday and of course every day trip has to include yummy food.

As this week is Yom Hashoah, we decided to head to the Martyrs Forest in the Jerusalem hills. This KKL forest includes six million trees as a memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust.

At the heart of the forest is the Scrolls of Fire memorial, created by sculptor Nathan Rapaport, a Holocaust survivor who also designed the monument in the Warsaw Ghetto and several sculptures in Yad Vashem.

The scenery on the drive was beautiful, especially in the spring while everything is still so green. There is a sign post to the Scrolls of Fire from road 395 near Kisalon or here is the link for Waze.  You can park directly next to the memorial and the access road is suitable for all vehicles.

The memorial was not only a beautiful piece of art, it was also thought provoking and you can walk inside the scrolls which was eerily silent.

Our second stop was the Anne Frank Memorial which is also in the Martyrs Forest but about 15-20 minutes’ drive from the first stop, this was less well sign posted so here is the link for Waze. Again the memorial can be accessed by car but it is also a lovely place to take a walk/hike.

This memorial was a gift from KKL-JNF Holland and is a sculpture created by Dutch Holocaust survivor Piet Cohen.  It is in the form of a room made of rusted steel with a stool in one corner, from where the viewer can see an engraved image of the famed chestnut tree which Anne Frank wrote about in her diary.  The memorial is also surrounded by quotes from Anne Frank’s diary.

After a morning of remembrance and exploring, it was time for lunch so we headed to Derech Hagefen, a favorite with all the family.  For those who don’t know it, Derech Hagefen is a picturesque dairy restaurant in Moshav Beit Zayit, which is about 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem.  The restaurant is set in the grounds of a garden nursery and includes tables inside two large conservatories, as well as outside in the gardens.

Luckily they take reservations on a Friday and although the restaurant was busy, it was not overly packed. Breakfast is only served until 12, even on a Friday and we got there later, but the main menu has plenty of delicious options.  We all chose different dishes so I was able to try a bit of everything.  I was in the mood for fish and had a very well cooked and generous portion of Grilled Sea Bass (NIS 105) served with potato gnocchi, carrots, Portobello mushrooms and green beans in a turmeric and caper butter sauce. I loved the gnocchi and the vegetables but I am not sure turmeric sauce worked so well with the delicate taste of the sea bass.

The rest of my family went for pasta dishes and were all very happy with their choices – particularly the Gnocchi with Asparagus and Chestnuts (NIS 65) and the Tortellini Porcini (NIS 66) which were both beautifully presented.

For dessert we shared a large slice of Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream, as well as some very rich and creamy Chocolate Truffles (NIS 15).

Derech Hagefen is a great place to go both during the day and at night and the food and service is always very good. They were also pretty helpful with our requests to have certain dishes to accommodate food intolerances.

Foodie score 8/10, FODMAP friendly score 7.5/10

Botanika cocktail bar brings Swedish style to Tel Aviv.

In the last few years, Israel has been hit by the cocktail craze, with cocktails bars opening up all over the country, with Tel Aviv at the epicenter. Although each bar varies slightly in its décor and style of drinks, many are located in boutique hotels and have a strong emphasis on the presentation of the drinks, sometimes to the detriment of the taste.

Both the beverage and the food menu at Botanika in Tel Aviv are simple and elegant, with a focus on high-quality ingredients and clean flavors with a subtle Scandinavian influence.

Click here for the full review in The Jerusalem Post

Botanika (Credit Dana Caspi)

Foodie score 9/10, FODMAP friendly score 8.5/10

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

Ahuzat Dobrovin – fine dining in a farm

I probably use the term hidden gem in reference to restaurants far too often, but in this case it is 100% accurate.  Not only is this kosher meat restaurant hidden in between fields and orchards in a moshava near the Hula Valley, it also seems that many locals do not realize that it actually functions as a restaurant, rather than just a venue for private events.  Hopefully by writing about it, more people can discover this true “hidden gem”.

I previously ate at Ahuzat Dobrovin when I visited the Hula Valley 3 years ago based on a recommendation from a reliable source (thanks Andrew!).  Since then I have recommended to anyone I know who will be in that area.

Dobrovin Farm was one of the first farms in the Hula Valley, established by Andrey Dobrivin who moved to Ottoman Syria with his family in 1903. It functioned as a farm for many years until in 1968 the family donated the estate to the JNF and the farm was converted into a museum to commemorate the early pioneers (next time I plan to actually visit the museum).

The décor in the restaurant fits with the surroundings and the mismatched fixtures and fittings add to the charm of the place.  Although it was a Sunday night, there were a few other tables around us but by the end of the meal, we were the only diners.

For starters I shared a huge portion of Smoked Asian-Style Wings (NIS 40) which were finger licking good!  I am not normally a fan of smoky wings as the sauce normally comes from a bottle but these were clearly smoked on site with a deliciously sticky sauce that was not too sweet.  My father enjoyed a warm bowl of Orange vegetable soup with the focaccia style house bread.

Much as I love steaks, this time I opted for the Moulard Duck Breast (NIS 95) which was nice and juicy and well flavored but I would have preferred the fat to be slightly more rendered than it was.  My father devoured a Dry-Aged Entrecote (NIS 125 for 300g) and my mother enjoyed the Smoked Asado Beef (NIS 90) with mashed root vegetables and green beans.

Although we only ordered the Chocolate Soufflé (NIS 30) – they brought us a selection of desserts that included the rich, well executed soufflé, deconstructed apple cake and chocolate and peanut truffles.

As you would expect in a country restaurant, they were not so happy with special requests and the service was not as attentive as it could have been.  Unlike some of the meat restaurants in the north, I would not make a special trip just to eat here but if you are nearby, I highly recommend it as the food is very good and the setting is so unique.

If you want to read more about what we got up to in the area, read here about Exploring nature with good food along the way and How the Hula Valley made me a bird watcher.

Ahuzat Dobrovin – Kosher 052-3025154, 04-6934485

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

Kosher Musings in The Judean Hills

Day or night, Muza Bahar is a scenic way to enjoy a very good meal.

While I love the convenience of going to eat locally, sometimes it is fun to escape the city, appreciate the countryside and enjoy the theater of a meal with a view. Muza Bahar in Moshav Shoresh is an ideal restaurant for such occasions.

The restaurant opened three years ago and became a popular destination for people in Tel Aviv and the center of the country on Shabbat. A year ago, owners Yifat and Yaron Armoza decided they wanted to have their weekends back and that they preferred to cater to the kosher market. Much of the menu has remained the same, and some of their customers have remained loyal and are amazed at how well the menu has adapted to the kosher diet, especially the desserts. All the food is freshly prepared on the premises with no preservatives – the focus is on highquality raw ingredients.

Click here for the full review in The Jerusalem Post

Muza Bahar. (photo credit:PR)

Muza Bahar. (photo credit:PR)

FODMAP friendly score 7/10, Foodie score 9/10

Discovering hidden treasures in Downtown Haifa

I had the honor to be invited on a food tour of Downtown Haifa (The Lower City) by Jessica Halfin, CEO of Haifa Street Food Tours and ambassador of #TheNewHaifa.  Jessica invited a group of 20 journalists, food bloggers and others related to the industry to visit a selection of Haifa’s restaurants and bars to showcase the growing foodie culture in the city. Most of us were not familiar with the Haifa restaurant scene and we were pleasantly surprised at what we discovered.

Whipped Cream of Onion Soup, Hanamal 24 -Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

Whipped Cream of Onion Soup, Hanamal 24 -Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

As in many cities around the world, the area surrounding the port of Haifa used to be very industrial but in the past few years it has been renovated and it is now full of bars, cafes and restaurants.  We started the tour at Hanamal 24, one of the first restaurants to open when there was nothing else in the area.  We were hosted by Guy Avital, one of the restaurant owners, who along with his business partner chef Ran Rosh, previously owned Recital Danya for 13 years until the building they were in was sold.  Like many Israeli chefs, Rosh trained in France for many years and at one time owned a Michelin star restaurant near Paris, before moving back to Israel.  The menu is very much a traditional French bistro but the design of the restaurant itself is more rural and although it holds a total of 80 people, the dining area is spread out across a number of small rooms so there is a very intimate feel to the space.

White chocolate liver pate - Hanamal24

White chocolate liver pate – Hanamal24

We sampled the Whipped Cream of Onion Soup (NIS 38) which was rich and creamy and unlike any other onion soup (according to a trusted source, they made me a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup instead).  Next we were presented with a beautifully plated dish with white chocolate, liver pate and chili – at first it was unclear if it was a starter or a dessert but we all agreed it was decadent and delicious.  It was confirmed that it was a starter and my favorite part of the dish was the perfect tiny chili flavored macaron with just the right amount of warmth.

Our next stop was directly across the street to newly opened Morel Worldwide Tapas and Wine.  Unlike a typical Spanish tapas bar, as the name suggests the dishes are f

Reggiano Eggplant - Morel Tapas

Reggiano Eggplant – Morel Tapas

rom all over world and to cater to Israeli palettes they are medium size sharing dishes rather than the small tapas you find in Spain.  The restaurant itself is bright and airy and has a European bistro feel to it.  We sampled the Tuna Tartar (NIS 39) mini tacos which were tasty but lacked punch and the Reggiano Eggplant which was deliciously rich and comforting.

Lastly the Carpaccio Sinta (NIS 42) was tasty if not slightly predictable.   The chef/owner at Morel was an incredibly friendly generous host and it was clear that his goal is deliver what his customers want.  Morel prides themselves on their vast selection of affordable wine, including several local Israeli wines that are only NIS 20 a glass.

We were fortunate to taste some great wines from Vortman’s Winery and the owner Hai Vortman spoke to us about his critically acclaimed wines.  The Fume Blanc 2015 from the nearby Shfeya Valley is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and was a surprising delight as I don’t normally favor white wines.  It was much fruitier than European Sauvignon Blanc wines, while still being a dry wine. Hai explained that an increasing number of wineries are growing grapes in this area as it produces flavors that differ from the Golan and the Galil.

Down the same street is Chang Ba, a wonderfully authentic Thai street food restaurant. The chef who originates from the party island of Koh Phangan serves his favorite Thai street food dishes at a slightly elevated level.  Some of the Thai herbs that are the base of these dishes are hard to find in Israel but chef Dam simply grows his own.  He did say that some vary slightly in taste due to the difference in climates between Israel and Thailand but he manages to get pretty close to the real deal.

Chang Ba - Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

Chang Ba – Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

Chang Ba started in a smaller location with space for just 20 people and recently moved to Rehov Hanamal to bigger premises in the heart of the action.  We started with a deliciously spicy Som Tum (NIS 36) – green papaya salad and we were then presented with bowl of white rice and a buffet of all their most popular dishes.  My clear favorite was the Pla Thot (NIS 94), a whole sea bass which was lightly fried and served with a spicy thai herb sauce.  The green curry was also delicious and the most of the dishes on the menu have the option of tofu, chicken, beef, shrimps or fish so there really is something for everyone.

Our final stop was the Libira BrewPub which serves a selection of dishes that pair well with their own brand craft beers.  There were a number of pork based dishes on offer which I declined to taste like sausages with sauerkraut and a meatloaf, as well as some salads and fresh breads.

Gal's Bakery - Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

Gal’s Bakery – Photo Credit: Avi Shumacher

The highlight of the night for many of us was a delivery of pastries from Gal Gavrieli of Gal’s Bakery.  At one time Gal’s creations were available up and down the countrGal’s Bakery – Photo Credit: Avi Shuy but now they can only be found at his bakery and café in Merkaz Hacarmel and for delivery within Haifa.  Gal brought us a selection of both his savory and sweet pastries which were all incredibly buttery, flaky and addictive!

Jessica did a great job showcasing the Haifa culinary scene and we have already discussed a return visit to enjoy full meals at Hanamal 24 and Chang Ba and to visit Gal’s Bakery to try more of his incredible delicacies and eat in the café.

Haifa has many boutique hotels to choose from, here is a full list and if you are looking for five star accommodation then it has to be Dan Carmel.

Delicious Fish near Ashdod Port

Pescado in Ashdod has been included in a few lists of the best kosher restaurants in Israel (Haaretz and Mako) but I was slightly skeptical as sometimes restaurants are included in these lists either because they have good PR or there are fewer good places to choose from in Southern Israel outside of Eilat.

2016-10-13-20-03-33I recently visited a friend in Ashdod so took the opportunity to try Pescado for myself.  Although it is very close to the beachfront, the view from the restaurant is actually of a car park so don’t imagine a picturesque fish restaurant with a sea view. The inside restaurant is beautifully decorated, but the outside is very simple and they should buy some new furniture or jazz up the outside somehow. However the place was packed because the food is so good, which is the most important thing.

2016-10-13-20-03-45We all enjoyed everything we ate.  We started with the Panko Zucchini (NIS 24) and Crispy Cod (NIS 65) – both were lightly fried and not overly heavy at all.  We also received a delicious portion of Mushroom a la plancha with pesto sauce (NIS 38) on the house (they didn’t know I would write a review).

Three of us ordered the Whole Sea Bass (NIS 118) and the fourth had the Salmon (NIS 92) with a cherry tomato cream.  The sea bass was perfectly cooked and was succulent and flavorful – one of the best grilled whole fish dishes I have had in Israel.  The baked potato side dish was addictive – the skin was slightly burnt and was drizzled with a nutty olive oil – I would go back just for the potatoes and next time I would try the raw fish options.

If you find yourself in Ashdod or are happy to take a drive for a good meal, check out Pescado in Ashdod – here is the full English menu.

The staff were helpful and although there were no FODMAP friendly side dishes, grilled fish is an easy FODMAP meal and I personally am OK with some potato and breading on the zucchini.

Pescado is close to many of Ashdod’s beachfront hotels, click here for a list.

FODMAP friendly score 7/10, Foodie score 8.5/10.