The morning sun is rising when I crawl out of bed. My room is on a slight angle so I can see the sea, 14 floors up from my bed. Its a lovely view, as good as you can I suppose from a modern hotel. We breakfast in the vast eating area, its good with plenty on offer. Salads are everywhere.
We meet our guide Chaim Helfgott, a lovely chap, very funny and full of passion and knowledge for his country. He re organises our mini bus and driver after JD changes his mind, as per usual. It takes a few moments, but we are on track finally. We decide to make the short walk to the open market across the car park/park outside the hotel. By now the sun is high and its pleasantly warm, I love filming when its like this, bright but not too hot.
The market is a couple of long passages, some covered some not. The first thing I notice is the wonderful array of fruit and vegetables. Its packed and piled high. We film for an hour or so, trying not to get in peoples way (quite difficult) On the whole, they are all very accommodating and helpful.
We film a young lad cooking Falafels in a small booth. He’s funny and speaks good English; we josh with each other about football. We film his deft touch when moulding and cooking Falafel. Then slicing the pitta and filling with salad and various dressings and of course humours. Thinking back to what Ottolenghi had said about the 90 second rule, I roughly counted when he was making them. He was about bang on. They were really good. We ask to film him, but be declines, saying his English is not good.
Our next contact we were to meet was Janna Gur, the author from the book I had been reading. We meet she is very attractive and informative, and reminds me of a young Nana Mouskouri. She is going to take us to a hummus restaurant called Ali Karavan to show me what the real stuff is like, can’t wait.
We pile into the bus and head off to Jaffa (yes the home of the orange) about 15 minutes away from Tel Aviv. In fact you could walk it in 30 minutes. Jaffa is a quiet place, quite touristy, but spotlessly clean. The upper town is renovated and dotted with coffee bars and snack joints. Lower Jaffa and the harbour area are very nice, again clean and a bit touristy. We film a couple of pieces to camera then head up the street to the restaurant.
In fact its not a restaurant, it looks like a take away cafe, with a few tables, almost like a bar. Its packed full, and people are queuing down the street. Janna corrects me, its not a restaurant its just sells hummus, nothing else, she almost calls it a shop and gathering area.
We line up and she explains the 3 dishes on offer, plain hummus, with tahini creamed inside with a few warm whole chick peas, and a dusting of a couple of spices. Next, a version, exactly the same, filled with a warm stew of dried broad beans. Finally what Janna calls the 5 star version, with herbs, spices lots of oil whole, warm chickpeas. All come with small, warm soft pitta’s.
We move across the road and sit on a wall in the warm sunshine. I dive in starting with the basic version. The first thing I notice is that they are all served warm, not like the UK. Instantly its better, why do we chill ours? The really creamy tahini mixed with the hummus is truly delicious and so satisfying, wow it was good. Onto number 2, again, lovely, the broad bean stew very ‘meaty’ and very filling, I liked it very much, packed full of flavour. Finally the 5 star version, well, what can I say she was right. Creamy, full of flavour, the spices and herbs perfectly balanced loads of olive oil and beautifully seasoned, I can see why they eat this dish all the time. I will say it again, I have never eaten anything like it before, so filling, its a complete meal on its own, no wonder they love it so much.
I quiz Janna on why it tastes so good, something we film later on in the day. She explains its the tahini, sesame seeds ground to a thick, pulpy oil and packed full of creamy flavour. The other reason why its so good is that fact its 98% fat, oh yes!!! There was I thinking it was a really good healthy option...
We finish the tasting session with a bottle of a sort of Israeli non alcoholic root beer, its quite nice, reminds me of Dandelion & Burdock, thick and dark. We finish just in time as a refuse truck the other side of the wall lifts out a huge bin of stinking rubbish; thank goodness we got it in the can.
We head back into town after a little more filming in Jaffa to film with a young exciting chef who is moving the Israeli fusion food forward. His name is Omer Millar and his restaurant is called The Dining Hall in a very trendy part of Tel Aviv.
We film in his kitchen wait for it, prawn falafels, mmmm not what I expected at all, my Jewish friend was up in arms when I told her. Still they were good, light and crispy, really pushing the boundaries of classic street food. We have coffee and leave the tired looking kitchen guys to get ready for the evening service (I don’t miss those days).
We film the beautiful opera house and the buildings beyond before quite scarily being stopped at gun point for filming the wrong building (another story entirely).
We then film in the area in town where all the spices, nuts and dried fruits are sold and have been for many years. Its an interesting place, shops filled with every nut and dried pulse imaginable, all beautifully presented. They take this very seriously indeed. Here I try raw tahini for the camera. Janna, explains its the base for a all good hummus and has to be of top quality. I try 3 teaspoonfuls, one after the other. I’m sure JD is doing it on purpose as its a strong, intense powerful flavour and coats my mouth like glue, making it hard to speak.
We rush back to the seafront to get the sunset on film. We get there with about 1 minute before the suns is gone for another day. That night we were to meet Chaim and his charming young wife to have dinner in a trendy seafront restaurant called the Herbert Samuel. Its only a stone’s throw from the hotel, and we all meet at 8 o’clock.
The chef here has done stints in many top restaurants, including Gordon Ramsey in London. So I’m expecting big things. The menu is chosen for us, and it kicks off with a selection of starters. Grilled artichokes, spicy peppers and beetroots (the Israeli’s love their beetroot) with garlic. Very good and full of flavour. Next, 3 varieties of tomatoes, the purple variety being the tastiest (even straight from the fridge) some roasted some raw with a soft Turkish cheese and shed loads of fresh garlic. Yellowfin Tuna, salad leaves and dressing is pleasant enough. Next pink cooked veal loin, sliced thinly and served cold with a thin tuna mayo, classic northern Italian. In fact all the food leans toward Italian fare here.
The accompanying 4 types of bread are warm and delicious, but all with a sweet edge. Mains arrive including salmon with crispy skin and Somali spices fritters (not sure what) and carrots. The sauce was good with that intense coriander seed, orangey kick, I loved it. Huge beef kebabs, with spinach and a large roasted marrowbone. This was accompanied by a good wild mushroom sauce (very Hix) Very light gnocchi come with large whole chestnuts. These are a little dry for my liking, in my view needed to be smaller in size. I was very happy with a restrained use of that awful stuff truffle oil. The dish needed a sauce though.
We drank, on Chaim’s instruction a 2008 Castel red (more on this later) very nice, deep and packed full of flavour, not what I was expecting at all. Puds were more run of the mill. Chocolate tart, rich, dark and filling and Tonka (bean) ice cream. Banana tart tatin, was good, pastry cooked well again with an ice cream, this time a salted caramel version. The other option was something with Kulfi shards and pistachio ice cream, by now I was tired. All in all it was a good meal.