Jewel in the Crowne

The Kohinoor restaurant in Jerusalem offers an exquisite taste and feel of India.

By MARGARET STONE
November 26, 2010 15:19
3 minute read.
Indian food

Indian food 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Although the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem is not the most well known venue for fine dining, it holds one of the crown gems when it comes to ethnic food: the Kohinoor Indian restaurant.

Kohinoor was opened 18 years ago by Israel’s famed “curry queen,” Reena Pushkarna. The third of her three restaurants, Kohinoor was the first kosher Indian restaurant in the world. It was named after the famed Indian Koh-i-Noor diamond, which now rests among the crown jewels of England.

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As I entered the restaurant’s dining room, I was overcome by the unique and detailed décor.
Strong spices mingled with subtle Eastern music, a paisley-patterned woodcut drop ceiling led my eyes upwards, and traditional arches elicited visions of royalty.

Even before the meal arrived, my dining partners and I felt like we had long left Jerusalem and were preparing to dine in one of India’s finest restaurants.

As a simple starter, we were given a small dish with light crackers and three tapenades – a spicy mango (that resembles the Iraqi amba sauce), creamy tomato, and tamarind with dates. After just a taste, we knew that the meal to come would be as exotic as the room we sat in.

The next course was a simple but hearty Delhi salad (NIS 26) and red and green lamb and vegetable samosas – a crunchy, fried stuffed pastry and popular Indian appetizer (NIS 26). I have always loved samosas and found Kohinoor’s to be particularly flavorful, especially when dipped in the sweet and sour tamarind sauce. The intense flavors were toned down with a simple naan, a traditional Indian bread stuffed with lamb and chicken or garlic and cilantro (NIS 29 and 20).

By the time the main courses arrived, we were admittedly a bit full but knew we would have to make room for the heartiest part of the meal. The colors of the steaming dishes, served over a small flame, hinted at the variety of flavors we were about to experience, and our appetites were immediately revived.

For meat eaters, Kohinoor offers almost any texture and flavor in the book. The Tandoori mixed grill (NIS 125) showcased three different flavors of chicken – cashew, coriander and saffron, and mint – as well as lamb kebab and lamb chop. The meat (especially the chicken) was moist, tender and bursting with flavor.

The other, more stew-like mixes of meats and vegetables such as peas, lentils, and mushrooms, were served alongside Navrattan pilaf, a saffron rice with vegetables. The most traditional, tadka daal (yellow lentils), was the saltiest and most familiar of the dishes (NIS 39). For those who prefer something spicier, try the mushroom xacuti (NIS 46), and ask for it hot! Our favorite of the bunch was the mixed vegetable dish in coconut milk, which was perfectly balanced between spicy and sweet (NIS 44). Be sure to order a side of jeera aloo – roasted potatoes with cumin, ginger and chilies – to add some consistency to the souplike dishes and absorb some of the saltiness or spiciness (NIS 39).

For dessert we tasted the souplike rice pudding and the pistachio-soy ice cream. I would recommend the latter, which has a thicker consistency, after so many liquid-based dishes.

Sometimes it is hard to know how much to order when food is Thali style – i.e., in small bowls on a round stainless steel tray. An appetizer and salad, one main course with a side of potatoes or rice, and a dessert is the perfect amount for two hungry people dining at Kohinoor.

Anyone who has spent time in Israel knows how strongly Indian food, culture, and even spirituality have affected Israeli society. But Kohinoor is not a traveler’s den with cheap chai and a stomach-churning menu; it is a retreat that offers highquality food and service. The location (near the Central Bus Station) is not exactly central, and the hotel itself if not among the most impressive in Jerusalem. And though it is a bit expensive, Kohinoor is well worth the price.

So fill your plate with rice and a heaping serving of one of Pushkarna’s home recipes. Take your time to enjoy the music and décor, and devour your time in a place that looks and tastes like we all imagine the finest Indian restaurants would.

Kohinoor Restaurant, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Jerusalem, (02) 658- 8867, Kosher. Lunch: Sunday – Friday noon-3:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sunday – Thursday 6 p.m.-midnight; Saturday: After Shabbat to midnight.


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