Haifa’s Ishfish restaurant.
(photo credit: PR)
For years, the Voila restaurant in Haifa was one of the few places in Israel where you could enjoy authentic Swiss cuisine, from fondue to raclettes. Four months ago, chef-owner Aviram Steinmetz decided that the menu was too heavy for a city with a seaside Mediterranean climate, and in a matter of days he transformed the premises into a fish and seafood restaurant, with the catchy name Ishfish.
Ishfish is conveniently located at the Gan Ha’em Carmelit station, which is also probably the best way to get there, since parking in that area can be tricky. The menu transformation has certainly been complete. There are only three dishes that are not fish or seafood. But there is definitely plenty of variety in those two categories and quite a few tempting choices even for those who eschew shellfish.
There is a full bar with an alcohol menu, including a selection of draft beers and ciders. There is only one specialty cocktail, the eponymous Ishfish (NIS 30), a blend of ouzo, lemon, soda and berries. It is a fun cocktail, like drinking liquid licorice candy.
As is the case with many fish restaurants in Israel, a main course at Ishfish comes with an array of salads.
There are eight, in fact, served with piping hot black cumin and oregano mini-buns, baked on the premises.
What is different here is that, with the exception of the ever-present homemade hummus and outstanding labaneh, the other six salads change daily – sometimes even more than once a day – depending on the freshness of the ingredients and the chef’s mood.
The mezze are both warm and cold and reflect not only Mediterranean cuisine but also Steinmetz’s Transylvanian heritage.
For example, on our visit a surprisingly creamy cracked wheat with beets, and freekeh with yogurt – both exceptional – were accompanied by a hearty lecho with sausage. While free with a meal, the smorgasbord of salads may also be ordered separately for NIS 40.
The fish and seafood dishes come in a variety of sauces that most people may not have tried before.
The fish dishes, for example, may come in a peanut curry sauce, a poppy seed cream or a thymevermouth sauce. The fish, whether grilled or steamed, may also be stuffed.
The seafood dishes, meanwhile – usually shrimp or a combination of shrimp and calamari (NIS 99) – feature an even greater variety of sauces. According to Steinmetz, the most popular ones are blue cheese with walnuts and cream; mustard cream and chives; and peppered apple butter with chestnuts. The cream sauces are decadently rich and extremely well balanced, while not overwhelming the noticeably fresh seafood. There are welcome echoes of Switzerland and Central Europe in the remarkable apple butter sauce with crunchy shards of chestnut, another inspired combination of flavors and textures.
The three interesting desserts on the menu are equally distinctive. Our waitress did not hesitate to recommend the fresh dates in a whiskey toffee sauce (NIS 25), accompanied by a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. It quickly turned into a delicious soft date sundae.
There are some quite good options for beverages to go with the excellent food. The house red and white wines, which change regularly, are reasonably priced. And there is a wonderful spiked apple cider redolent with spices (NIS 25).
The best bargain is a concluding surprise: a bold blend of coffee that is ground and roasted especially for Ishfish for only NIS 5.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
119 Hanassi Ave., Haifa
Tel: (04) 837-0737