Restaurant Review: Right stuff at the right price

Shmil at the Lab: A welcoming mixture of textures.

yummy food 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
yummy food 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
Knowing a thing or two about the Jerusalemite culinary scene, I can attest to the difficulty of finding a high-concept restaurant where most items cost under NIS 50 and everyone knows what they're doing. One person who has succeeded in establishing such a place is Shmil Holland, chef and owner of the new kosher dairy restaurant Shmil at the Lab on Derekh Hebron, behind Jerusalem's Old Train Station. This rare gem has the pleasant feel of a place where the crew pulls together. On our visit, for instance, we watched Shmil help a busy waitress by bringing the main dishes to a table. The spacious dining room is a perfect marriage of contemporary and old Jerusalem style: a mixture of textures including wood, leather, limestone, brushed metal and fashionable light fixtures. The atmosphere is both informal and stylish - warm, busy and surprisingly sophisticated. Some of the round tables in the center are a little cramped, but there is also the option of long bench seats with facing chairs, and it's definitely worth asking for one of those. However, it's the cuisine that matters, and this eatery offers high-quality food at reasonable prices. Putting in long hours thinking up new dishes for his East European-inspired menu, Shmil brings vividly herbed dishes to both the observant and secular Jerusalem crowds. Fresh local ingredients are fundamental to his menu, and the dishes have a light, fresh feel, with greens distributed throughout. A couple of the appetizers would make satisfactory meals in themselves. Start with the Maatjes fillets with apples, cream and pickled red onion, served with crisp rye bread (NIS 30), or gravet laks with sour cream, chives and red caviar served with blini (NIS 49). From here, you can let your taste buds indulge in such treats as the inventive dish of Tarte tatin of tomatoes and goat cheese served with pesto & green salad (NIS 50), or the open ravioli with fresh and dried mushrooms, shallots in a thyme butter sauce and grated parmesan cheese (NIS 49). Well-prepared fish dishes such as seared fillet of seabream on a bed of tomatoes with seared Portobello mushrooms served with basil sauce (NIS 82) are also featured. Desserts were even harder to resist, and equally divine - you'll rarely taste creamier crème brûlèe, or find such all-Austrian cheese dumplings with berry coulis, crème fraîche and fresh fruit. As well as the evening menu, Shmil offers an attractive three-course business lunch for NIS 45 to NIS 75, depending on the main course. It's served between noon and 4 p.m. Jerusalemites are lucky to finally have such a reasonably priced locale. Shmil at the Lab, Derekh Hebron 28, Jerusalem; kosher; wheelchair accessible; tel: (02) 673-1629.