Machane Yehuda market has a double life. In the evenings as the food market closes, small bars start to open up, lively music begins to play and the clientele becomes noticably younger. The best night to come is Thursday night, which is the equivalent to Friday night in the UK as it marks the beginning of the Shabbat (Sabbath). More about the bars later, first the food…
You’ll find everywhere mentioned on my map.
Machneyuda (High Intermediate A-), 10 Beit Ya’akov Street, www.machneyuda.co.il
This restaurant was our best food experience in Jerusalem and in our top three of the whole holiday (see also the Tel Aviv Carmel Market and Shabazi posts). Named after the way locals pronounce Machane Yehuda market, it’s a hipster spot, the kind of place that uses teatowels for napkins and has loud pumping music so the chefs can dance at their stations. Owned by three talented young chefs, the food is contemporary and highly original. They have now also opened successful restaurants in London and Paris. I’m a big fan of the Palomar, their Soho outpost (my review here).
As they’re a market restaurant, the seasonal menus change daily. We went for the Chef’s menu which wasn’t cheap at 295₪ (approximately $83/£65) per person. I reserved the bar in front of the open kitchen, so we could talk to the chefs and do shots with them but as there were five of us it was deemed better that we share a table (‘better for conversation’) and instead we had shots with Andine, our highly precocious and very lovely server.
I was too busy having fun to take notes but as I remember, the food scored an A overall on my rating scale. To start we had ‘Ancient Kurdish Pastry with Yogurt and Zhug’ (a spicy chilli sauce made with hot green peppers seasoned with coriander, garlic, salt and various spices). A lightly dressed salad of rocket and red onion came with them.
Next an oversized tray bearing ‘Damascus Gate Sashimi’; tuna with tomato seeds and sesame brittle with sumac. Also some lettuce leaves bearing a delicious seafood concoction that I think they improvised out of leftovers (we were the last customers for lunch) as I can’t see it on the menu. I think the white cheese in the bowl might be Labneh (strained yogurt) made from goat’s milk.
After this another tray with some crostini bearing thinly sliced beef and pickled red onion, and for one of us polenta, which again I think were made up on the spot as I can’t see them on the menu. Delicous though.
Following on, ‘Polenta’ with asparagus tips, truffle oil and flakes of parmesan, served in a kilner jar.
After this, ‘Vietnamese Pile of Seafood’; a pan of mussels and fried fish with coriander and a sauce of red peppers.
The meat course involved a double presentation of ‘Lamb T-Bone with Lamb Crumble’ (not sure what the latter was) with josper pumpkin and ‘labafresh’ (labneh and crème fraîche?) and next to it ‘New York Steak’ with a cauliflower puree, mash potato and chimichurri.
We had our first experience of Israeli white wine here. Andine’s recommendation of the Flam Blanc 2017 from the Judean Hills was wonderful (A) but a bit of a shock at over £40 a bottle. Other restaurants also charge a lot for local wine and we later discovered there are good reasons for the high prices. Basically the domestic market is very young and small and doesn’t have a large export market to support it (article here).
The pièce de résistance however was the dessert tray which simply blew us away (A+). Going on the menu, I think I can spot Pistachio Hashcake with crème fraîche mouse (sic) and strawberries. Also Bavarian (Ice?) Cream from Ramle and Toffee Cream from Lod (both towns in Israel) and Plaisir Sucré, a ‘right in your face’ chocolate bar. And maybe also Uri’s Mom Famous Semolina Cake with fruits and cream. Certainly no-one could accuse the menu of being unimaginative.
This was really a very memorable meal, so why the minus in the A- overall rating? We’d reserved late, for 3.30, and we’d had a tasting menu, so we were the last customers in the restaurant. Unfortunately it conflicted with a staff meeting on the next table and our rambunctious behaviour led to Andine being told to tell us to quieten down, which is a bit rich given it’s usually such a loud place.
So that took the shine off our experience slightly but it didn’t stop our smiles. We’d all definitely go again. It’s closed on Shabbat even though it’s not a kosher restaurant.
Azura (High Elementary B+), 4 Ha-Eshkol Street, in the “Georgian Market” section, www.facebook.com
Another market restaurant that has two locations facing each other across a small square. You want the busier of the two with the covered terrace outside and the red and white checked tablecloths.
The food is Turkish-Jewish with influences from Syria and Iraq. For me the dishes scored B/B+ (good/very good, but not amazing) however if it is authenticity you seek, then look no further.
Looking at the pictures in order, I think we had… Azura, their signature dish; roasted eggplant stuffed with minced beef and pine nuts in a cinnamon sauce.
Beef Goulash and a huge Beef Meatball.
Kibbeh is a Levantine dish that seems to vary greatly in appearance by country and ingredients but here I think they are balls of bulgur wheat, minced onions and finely ground lean lamb, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice.
I think this might be Okra Kibbeh with dumplings in a thick broth.
Possibly an Artichoke Kibbeh.
Chickpeas with rice and noodles.
All washed down with a few bottles of Goldstar.
Apparently the restaurant was a regular meeting spot for the underground leaders of the Yishuv (pre-1948 Jewish community in British Palestine) and remains a favourite of the Israeli elite despite its downmarket vibe.
Ishtabach (Intermediate B), 3 Mahane Yehuda Street, www.facebook.com
Also close to the market is another authentic spot, this time specialising in Kurdish Syrian home cooking. One of their specialities is Shamburak, a pastry filled with slow cooked beef, potatoes, onions and herbs and baked inside a large domed oven. Apparently the inspiration came from the owner’s grandmother who made them as a way of using up the leftover Sabbath stew, although the restaurant now uses better meat and offers several different versions. Looking rather like a large, open Cornish pasty, the Shamburak was served on a wooden sharing board, accompanied by lots of small dishes of tahini, pickled carrots, olives and various other sauces (yogurt, chilli).
We came here on our first night in Jerusalem and met up with Kate, another friend from home. We were very excited about being there so my notetaking went out of the window. As a result I’m not sure what these salads were but I do remember we finished with delicious spoonfuls of sweet sesame paste. It was definitely a good if not amazing meal and the wine (one local, one not) was pretty decent too (all B).
And for a pre or after dinner drink…
Casino de Paris (Intermediate A), 3 Machane Yehuda, in the “Georgian Market” section
Hidden down a side alley, with its own little courtyard, this atmospheric bar was our favourite spot for drinks, due in large part to the friendly staff, and we came a couple of times. Apparently its named for, and in the former location of, a British Mandate–era officers’ bar with a louche reputation. Its more hipster now so imaginative cocktails and bar snacks are the order of the day. I can only vouch for their well-made Negronis.
As mentioned at the beginning, Thursday night is the main going out night in Israel and this is when the market is particularly lively. Not knowing this, we mistimed our visit and instead spent a couple of the quieter evenings in the week at the market. There was still a buzzy atmosphere though and all the people we got chatting to were lovely. Video here.
I don’t recall the name of the friendly bar above, but it’s on one of the side lanes inside the market.
And that was our brief time in Jerusalem. Off to Tel Aviv next!