Meditations on Medita

Those who have lived in Jerusalem for a while will recall that our social lives used to focus on the city centre – Ben Yehuda Street and the now largely destroyed, Russian compound. During the second intifada our Thursday nights and Friday mornings moved South to Emek Refaim. More recently this thoroughfare has seen one restaurant after another closing so that it has increasingly come to reflect it’s name (literally Valley of the Ghosts) as Mamilla, King David and Shlomtzion, the Shuk, and latterly, the First Station have become increasingly popular with great new places to eat and to be seen popping up at a rate that’s hard to keep up with.

It was something of a surprise therefore when the owners of the venerable (in Jerusalem terms in any case) HeChatzer, which was in the First Station compound before there was a First Station compound, chose to open their new venture in a new but unremarkable building behind a gas station on Derech Hevron. When the first reviews started to come in however, they were overwhelmingly positive – not surprisingly so given the continued success of it’s elder brother which will always come up in discussions about the best meat restaurants in Jerusalem. For a variety of reasons yesterday was my first visit – for a special occasion.

Medita has a modern feel, with an open style kitchen centred on a large taboon oven from which loaf after loaf of delicious bread emerges. Making reservations is a must. Tables filled up quickly around 9:00, the bar also filled up and still customers kept arriving, some clearly regular customers. With many delicious looking and well priced options, we opted for the tasters’ menu as a very good way of trying a large number of the best that they had to offer. The waiter checked whether there was anything that we didn’t eat and we put ourselves at the mercy of the chef – my understanding is that the menu varies within the framework of fish starters, meat starters and meat main course.

We started with bread and dips. The bread, as noted, was straight from the oven and the dips were delicious with pickled lemon and an ethereal eggplant cream (which we’d previously raved over at HeChatzer) being the stand outs. A mixed leaf salad with grapes, persimmon and candied almonds in a refreshing citrus heavy dressing was served alongside.

We quickly moved on to 3 very different fish dishes. Sardines, lightly battered and simply fried are a favourite of mine and these didn’t disappoint, although the garlic chili that they were served on top of had me reaching for the water. The roasted sea bass dish was delicious. The Denis tartar I felt was the least successful of the 3 but was certainly interesting with Okra making an unexpected appearance in the dish.

The table was then cleared by the attentive waitstaff and we moved on to meat with a beef carpaccio served drizzled with a balsamic reduction and candied pistachios. We both love carpaccio and would have loved to have more of this. Smoky baladi eggplant with pieces of meat in a techina sauce was excellent as were the sweetbreads, creamy in texture, given a kick with a sauce with plenty of harissa and chile. A rich beef cheek stew with root vegetables was a stand out dish for us both and saw us groaning over the tender beef and dipping fingers into the accompanying sauce whilst trying to figure out if we could replicate it at home. The finale of the main course was medallions of fillet, chicken thighs and entrecote saw us loosening our belts with the entrecote in particular being a truly excellent piece of meat.

Although I generally have low expectations of dessert in meat restaurants, the ice cream dish was good, served on a layer of semolina cake and topped with candied cherry tomatoes and halva. Little “petit fours” were 2 bites of deliciousness – chocolate and coconut reminiscent of a bounty bar and 2 types of chocolate with nuts and rose water flavoured marzipan. The browny with caramelised banana sounded promising but in fact was a very strange offering. Served cold and with no redeeming features – it was the only miss of the evening.

All of the dishes (brownie excepted) were really good with a couple being excellent. I don’t feel that anything was absolutely exceptional although the meal did not include the asado which is a signature dish of the restaurant and which I would certainly be interested in going back for. My only criticism was that I felt that the chef was somewhat heavy handed with the salt on a number of the dishes. Otherwise a delicious experience. I don’t need to walk out of a restaurant feeling stuffed in order to be satisfied but on this occasion the portions were generous and I certainly felt that we had excellent value for money – the tasters menu costs NIS 195 per head and all diners at the table must order it.

It appeared to me that many of the other diners were return business. It’s not a high end place which would be reserved for a special occasion but rather a really good, affordable option which I could see myself going back to on an ongoing basis – similar to Station 9, Rosa and Joy (before their prices rose and portions shrank). Highly recommended.

You can check out the menu online.

10% off at eluna.

Beit Hanatziv, 101 Derech Hevron, 02-566-4466. There is plenty of free parking in the evening

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