IF YOU’RE A FOODIE, you will know Yotam Ottolenghi is not only influential but inspirational. He has influenced a nation of Brits to delve into the wonders of Middle Eastern food and inspired a battery of both professional and amateur cooks to try their hands at cooking Israeli dishes.
What you possibly don’t know is that there is a Facebook group dedicated to the man, his restaurants and his recipes.
The Yotam Ottolenghi-Inspired Cooking Housewives group was started by a group of Dutch women in 2015 and has grown to more than 7,000 members. Cooks from all over the world (mostly, but not exclusively, women) post photos of their Ottolenghi (and sometimes ‘Nottolenghi’) dishes, report on visits to the restaurants and share recipes.
Ottolenghi’s business partner Sami Tamimi has posted on the group a couple of times, most recently asking members to share photos of their kitchens. “The respect we see among this group is hardly ever broken and although politics, taste or religion may divide us, we all love to cook, eat and share our experiences,” says the group’s founder, Ella de Stigter. “I was touched by the story of Sami and Yotam – they too found each other in food and I think one of the things that makes them so successful is their different backgrounds – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – combined in one very beautiful new taste.”
WITH OTTOLENGHI as the culinary satnav, the restaurant scene in Israel has exploded over the past five years. “Modern Israeli cuisine is interesting and exciting and it’s happening mainly in Tel Aviv” says Ottolenghi.
It’s happening in London too, largely thanks to the huge number of Ottolenghi protégés venturing out on their own. Several Israeli-owned restaurants, including Ottolenghi, Nopi, Honey & Co, The Barbary and Berber & Q were named in Time Out’s list of 100 best dishes in London last December. The melting pot of flavours we are privy to here is phenomenal, and some of the dishes have become legends in their own right.”
HONEY & CO
The best-known of dishes here is the Honey & Co cheesecake. It’s the best dessert anywhere, ever. Creamy whipped feta sits atop crisp kadaif pastry, topped with nuts, blueberries and a drizzle of honey. Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich famously trained under Ottolenghi and opened their much-loved restaurant on Warren Street in 2012. They have now expanded to a shop, Honey & Spice, and a second restaurant, Honey & Smoke.
BERBER & Q
The cauliflower shwarma at Berber & Q, the Hackney-based restaurant from Zest@JW3 founder Josh Katz, is my favourite dish – and number five on Time Out’s list. And it was even better at Berber & Q’s new permanent street-food stand at Spitalfields market! A parboiled whole cauliflower is flame-grilled with a 20-ingredient Levantine butter, sprinkled with rose petals and covered with tahini – the smokiness raises the humble cauliflower to a level far beyond its beginnings.
Ottolenghi protégé Eran Tibi brought Tel Aviv to Southwark, opening Bala Baya restaurant and bakery in 2017. Tibi’s vibrant cuisine is rooted in his mother’s Middle Eastern cooking and generations of baking expertise. Bala Baya is home to fluffy stuffed pittas at lunch (made in the pitta oven designed by his father and transported from Tel Aviv), sharing dinner plates and an Israeli-style weekend brunch. The standout offering is babka with a twist. Jostling for space with the chocolate and hazelnut spread are stewed plums and whisked crème anglaise.
London’s most exciting and inventive kosher food can be found at Delicatessen in Hampstead. Israeli chef Or Golan wanted to provide food he loves to eat on Shabbat and indeed every Friday the restaurant cooks up magnificent ready-to-eat food to take away for Shabbat. If you’re eating in you must try the sublime seared duck breast with celeriac purée and heritage carrots or Old Jaffa lamb kebabs with tahini, sehug, chermoula and baby vegetables. Golan has taken inspiration from mentor Ottolenghi’s style in his Head Room café in Golders Green, with a counter groaning with colourful salads and mouth-watering pastries.
THE GOOD EGG
Ottolenghi’s former pastry chef Oded Mizrachi is one of the team behind The Good Egg, the Stoke Newington-based Tel Aviv-style cafe that recently opened a second unit in Kingly Court, Soho. Born on a food truck, The Good Egg has gained a huge following and queues stretch out the door for the Sunday brunch. The Za’atar fried chicken is a winner here.
Limor and Amir Chen, the husband-and-wife team behind Delamina on Marylebone Lane and Strut & Cluck on Commercial Street, are not ex-Ottolenghi, but Limor is from Tel Aviv. The focus is on grilling and roasting with Middle Eastern spices; head to Delamina for koftas with grilled onions on hummus and tahini, ras-el-hanout poussin with sweet potatoes and amazing desserts, such as parfait of halva and roasted almonds with date syrup and raw tahini drizzle.
HOT FOODIE SPOTS IN TEL AVIV
Taizu is an interpretation of street foods from five countries in South East Asia: India, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The result is pan-Asian food with Mediterranean touches and a riot of spices, colours and flavours. Great desserts, too, using a combination of savoury and sweet spices, such as curry and saffron.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you will have heard about the famous restaurant in Tel Aviv where you eat straight off the table. This is it – and Yotam Ottolenghi says it’s the best restaurant in town. The menu changes twice a day and the dishes are colourful and full of flavour. Sugar-coated bananas wrapped in dulce de leche? Yes please!
Hotel restaurants have taken a huge leap away from the stuffy places they once were. This restaurant (by the same chef as the well-known Kitchen Market) in the Mendeli Street Hotel is modern right through to the cooking and the North African-inspired dishes are interesting, with wonderful spices and beautiful presentation.
Casual, lively, fun and amazing fish with great meat and salads too. Well known for dishes such as fish tartare wrapped in avocado, this is a long-established place to which people keep returning, despite all the new openings.
Equally busy day and night, this Greek taverna near the Levinsky market churns out innovative dishes, and it’s great fun to sit up at the bar with ouzo shots. Known as a modern ‘hamara’ – a meeting place to drink, play and discuss life – Ouzeria is a great spot to enjoy Mediterranean-style cuisine.
AND if you’re heading to Jerusalem… you simply have to go to Machneyuda. This is where The Palomar and The Barbary hail from but, incredible as they are, nothing compares to this. It’s unique. its loud, its bold, it’s full-on and full of spirit and soul. The chefs high five and dance, and the whole place becomes a party. The food? That’s amazing too (the Palomar’s famous truffled mushroom polenta dish was born here).
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