For such a young country, Israel is making a mark on the UK eating scene.
Israeli restaurant Delamina was launched earlier this month in Marylebone by husband and wife team Limor and Amir Chen, inspired by their family heritage. (They already own Strut & Cluck in Shoreditch.)
Amir credits Yotam Ottolenghi as the “godfather” behind this type of cuisine by introducing the British palate to the spices and flavours.
And Ottolenghi alumni have gone on to open restaurants inspired by the region, such as Honey & Co., Berber & Q and Palomar.
But Israeli cuisine is seeing the next iteration with the opening of Delamina, as well as another ex-Ottolenghi alumni launching its Israeli-inspired brunch two weeks ago at his restaurant Bala Baya.
Because as Amir explains,it’s not just the Middle East that influences Israeli food...
“The reason Israeli food has caught people’s imagination is really because it’s a true fusion of food from the region, because Israeli is a country of immigrants and they all brought their food to the country,” Amir tells Food Spark.
“It’s a very young country and residents have intermarried with people from different backgrounds who put their food and family recipes into the pot, and therefore there is this fusion where they have used the local ingredients and the local herbs and spices to create dishes that come from Morocco, Yemen, Eastern Europe, Iran, Hungary and Romania where people have immigrated from.
“It’s very different to Lebanese cuisine… every Lebanese restaurant you have more or less the same food and every Turkish restaurant you have the same food, depending on the region.”
For Limor, who has drawn on family recipes to create the menu at Delamina, she says the cuisine is also light.
“It’s very Mediterranean in that way, there’s a lot of olive oil, vegetables and a lot of salads,” she says.
It means Israeli cuisine is ideally poised to tap into the healthy-eating trend that is sweeping the UK. The food is colourful, unexpected and you can eat it everyday, as it’s not spicy or fried.
Key ingredients at Delamina include za’tar, sumar, tahini and barberries, and they have moved away from the trend for tapas and sharing-style plates to instead offer “fulfilling meals.” For instance, the whole fish rubbed with dried lime then charcoal grilled and served with roasted fennel bulb.
Then there is a starter menu filled with charred cauliflower, grilled courgette two ways, charcoaled leeks, baby aubergines with black sesame and a vegetable and feta pashtida (an Israeli quiche), all bearing out the vegetarian credentials of the cuisine.
Taking the traditional into new experiences
On a trip home to Israel, Executive Chef Eran Tibi discovered the idea for his Israeli-inspired brunch at his restaurant Bala Baya in London.
“In Jaffa there are restaurants in front of the sea and they have lots of fish, meat and kebabs, but before you order mains, you get an array of 10, 15 or 20 mezze plates without asking. And you get bread with it and they keep filling the plates up, it’s completely unlimited,” he says.
“It was natural to develop that menu and add a menu of roast dishes like the lambshanks and have the little plates and combining the two services into one.It’s basically sitting down for two or three hours, chillaxing, enjoying the beats and asking for more bread and chopped liver and small plates, while engaging and talking about the food and passing it between people. It’s about an experience, not just a brunch.”
Tibi calls them “little plates of indulgence,” which include the likes of hummus, homemade crunchy pickles, olives and feta, grilled Turkish chillies with lemon, spiced double-roasted potatoes and sweet potato with pickled aubergine and walnuts.
The shank deluxe takes centre stage as a roast lamb alternative: a lamb shank on top of garlic artichoke puree, juicy grilled tomatoes with fresh marjoram, crunchy tomato crisps and coffee-infused tomato jam.
Vegans aren’t forgotten: the kitchen serves up a dish of pockets of semolina crammed full of herby mushrooms and pine nuts in a paprika broth with pumpkin, chilli and cardamom. (As an aside, Tibi has also had kebab dumplings on the menu before thatwere made with a Syrian dough, which he cooked like a pasta dough.)
The sharing theme is continued with a whole, deboned sea bass, a big branch of burnt sage making up the backbone of the fish. This is plated alongside fresh fennel, grilled tomato and butter sauce.
Typical brunch items have also had the Israeli makeover, with sticky date beef, fried eggs and pickled salsa with harissa hollandaise or the Israeli shakshuka and lamb meatballs on the menu.
“It’s not fine dining, it’s fun dining – it’s a cheesy slogan, but it’s what I enjoy doing,” says Tibi.
With a new wave of immigrants coming through the UK, Tibi says it a new era for cuisines in the city, like Israeli food.
“I think it’s fortunate that people embrace our flavours and the cuisine is daring,as the varieties of fruit and vegetables we use is endless. We are not afraid to put fruit in savoury dishes or put savoury stuff in desserts, so for example we do a knafeh, which is a goat cheese dessert. Or do cocktails from fennel or peppers. It’s about respecting the traditional and using elements of it to elevate your dish.”
Israeli cuisine is also having another moment on America’s East Coast, according to Food Spark’s trend spotter Aaron Arizpe.
“It started back up last year with the opening of Nur, which continues to be wildly popular,” he notes.“Mike Solomonov’s Dizengoff also opened last year in Chelsea Market, and Eyal Shani’s Miznon opened a month or two ago over there to great fanfare.
“Philadelphia has had the edge on New York for several years in that department, with Zahav, but New York might finally be catching up.”
So does Sparkie think Israeli food has the chutzpah to embark on a new phase?
Israeli food is already in a lot of eating trends that we see in the UK. Yotam Ottolenghi made that style of eating ‘cool,’ and it’s been adapted into the vegan, ketogenic and general health food trends that we see today.
This wholehearted, wintry style of cooking comprises heavily of stewing, pickling, heavy breads, smoking and curing. Combining this with Arab cuisine gives what is recognised now as Israeli cuisine. Tel Aviv itself is continually challenging food trends and unsurprisingly at the forefront of food trend innovation. For example, there are over 100 sushi/Japanese restaurants in Tel Aviv, which is the third highest in the world after Tokyo and NYC.
With the current eating trend already leaning towards fresh, rustic and home-cooked food – and with the influx of street food on literally every corner – Israeli cuisine will no doubt find its place. The difference will be that these new restaurants, pop-ups and street-food concepts won’t be labelled as Israeli cuisine restaurants.
Israeli food is not an up and coming cuisine like Hawaiian or Peruvian because it doesn’t have unique cultural dishes linked to its heritage – after all, the state of Israel is only 70 years old! But the message and eating style it’s associated with is extremely appetising to the millennial British customer, and therefore we will see Israeli cuisine disguised within new start-ups, just like YotamOttolenghi did all those years ago.