There is a lovely sense of familiarity about Katamon Hayeshana (“Old Katamon”), even if it is your first visit there. There is a coziness to the cafe-restaurant, with its comfy upholstered booth seats nestling against the back walls, which offer a contrasting dining experience to the standard table–and-chair arrangement dotted around the rest of the premises. There is also a deck with tables out front that, despite the eatery’s street corner position, does not give you a feeling of being unduly exposed to passing vehicles or pedestrians.
Mind you, the place does have something of a vintage esthetic head start, as it occupies a building that has been around for nigh on a century, and the refit designers were clearly keen to preserve as much of the original architectural elements as possible, which have been pleasantly incorporated into the new design.
Of course most people, presumably, do not frequent a restaurant for its ambiance alone, and if the vittles aren’t up to scratch the atmosphere can take a running jump.
Happily both aspects are well tended to at Katamon Hayeshana. The middle of the road music is set at a volume that makes it comfortably audible without encroaching on easy conversation, and the food proffers a similar user-friendly ethos.
Pick of the crop in the fun section, is the lovely array of dips. The flavor selection – like a lot of the other dishes – ebbs and flows on a daily basis, but mostly you can look forward to an esthetically pleasing and taste-bud stimulating spread that takes in – inter alia – red pepper, carrot, tehina, lemon and pesto. The jewel in the crown of this and other menu items is the bread rolls, lovingly baked by the ever-smiling and colorfully spectacled chef Yossi. The rolls are simply scrumptious.
Oh, and if you’re an avid carnivore I suggest you take your custom elsewhere. Katamon Hayeshana is mostly vegetarian, and there is a special vegan menu too. The business even features on the global Vegan Friendly roster.
Morning offerings including yogurt muesli with granola, nuts, raisins and cranberries, with seasonal fruit and a touch of silan (date honey), while the Israeli breakfast dish is a generous affair that takes in eggs made to order, green salad with dressing, 5 percent feta cheese, cream cheese, several of the aforementioned dips, jam, butter and those delicious bread rolls, fruit juice and a hot beverage. The shakshuka shuli concoction is enhanced by sautéed onions, garlic and green vegetables and served in individual sizzling frying pans.
The starters list ranges from broccoli fingers, to bruschetta, stuffed vine leaves and stir-fry veggies, and there is a richly appointed timon antipasti complete with eggplant, beets, sweet potato, onion, garlic and thyme. The goats cheese and beets dish, with basil, olive oil and hazelnuts is also a gastronomic delight.
The homey element comes through strongly in the range of soups offered, which includes the vegetable, lentil, couscous and kubeh varieties. They too vary daily. There is also a delicious cooling yogurt and mint soup.
The pasta section offers plenty of choice. The raw material ranges from whole wheat ballerina, to penne, pappardelle, gnocchi and cheese or sweet potato ravioli. Once you’ve decided on the base ingredient you can then go for pomodoro – complete with basil and fresh oregano – the enticing salsa rosa with tomatoes, cream and white wine, or something a bit richer, such as the spinach, alfredo, aglio e olio or coconut milk species. Vegans, too, have plenty to choose from in the pasta section. There is a tasty and texturally pleasing sweet potato-based kaia quiche, which comes with cheese and walnuts, or mushrooms and onions. Quiche consumers also get a side dish of salad.
And if you’re looking to pack away some calories, you can tuck into any of three nuances of pizza – Margherita, Marley – with its triple- barreled cheese onslaught of mozzarella, feta and Parmesan – chives and olives, or mushroom and scallions. You can top up the weight- inducing ingestion with the vegan focaccia cayoo, or the dairy goat focaccia.
As spring appears to be done and dusted, as the weather heats up, it might be best to go for a refreshing salad. Greek salads, in my experience, often pale in comparison to the “real McCoy” over in Greece, but the Katamon Hayeshana version does the business. The Mediterranean salad has plenty going for it, as does the roasted grand Caprese salad, complete with mozzarella, pesto and greens with that ever-wondrous x-factor of balsamic vinegar.
If you’ve still got room to top off the starter and main dish, the dessert list takes in apple pie – fittingly served with vanilla ice cream – a selection of cakes, homemade strudel with ice cream, Belgian waffles and watermelon as the season permits. There are plenty of hot, cold and alcoholic beverages offered to wash all that down.
And don’t be surprised to get a visit from welcoming owners Moshiko and Sharon, or Yossi the chef. The homey factor certainly enhances the Katamon Hayeshana dining experience.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant Katamon Hayeshana
20 Hasharayot Street, Jerusalem.
Opening hours: Sun.-Thu. 7:30 a.m.-midnight, Fri. 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m