A taste of Hungary in Jerusalem

Opened this past August by Hungarian native Rafael Kohn, the restaurant seamlessly incorporates other cuisines into its featured Hungarian dishes.

Blackened red mullet with jalapeno dip (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
Blackened red mullet with jalapeno dip
(photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
If one is looking for a special dining experience – a superb yet unpredictable dairy menu attractively presented by attentive, service-oriented and engaging staff – IgenMigen Bistro Halavi (dairy bistro) is an excellent choice.
Opened this past August by Hungarian native Rafael Kohn, the restaurant seamlessly incorporates other cuisines into its featured Hungarian dishes – a cuisine that thus far has not had much representation here in the Holy City. (Incidentally, the name IgenMigen refers to a snarky expression used in reference to Hungarian Jews.) Chef Yochanan Lambiase, with a wealth of cooking and teaching experience, has a strong creative streak and a flair for fusion. The menu, which shows signs of evolving with the seasons, reflects his passion for experimenting with every dish he creates. The restaurant, in the city center, relies on the strength of its food and service to compensate for what might be considered an unusual setting, especially in the cold weather – as the dining area is located in a succa-like structure in a charming courtyard. A space heater was available and I suggest dressing in layers, though Kohn promises that something more permanent, perhaps involving a tent, will soon be arranged.
My dining companion and I were impressed by the fact that people arrived throughout the evening and kept filling the restaurant. Most of the diners reported hearing of IgenMigen through social media and word of mouth, which in the food world is a strong endorsement.
We started the meal with two appetizers. The first, korozott, considered Hungarian street food, was a fried dough served with three small bowls – one containing garlic water, another sour cream, the third a crumbled cheese. Just the pastry on its own was delicious (what fried food isn’t?), but with the three toppings it was transformed and upgraded to a delicious opener.
The second appetizer, savolyai kalács, was a brioche dough presented in the form of an intricately and beautifully designed pastry. Filled with cheese and spring onions, it was topped with sunflower seeds and served with four spreads – herb and sun-dried tomato pesto; a black olive tapenade with figs and mint, in which the fig flavor was less pronounced than I might have wished; an excellent spicy paprika cream-cheese spread; and caramelized pomegranate red onion confit, which my companion liked but I thought it could have been enhanced by a bolder flavoring.
Another of the restaurant’s featured culinary delights was is the dish of blackened red mullet, tiny fish coated in a tasty spice mixture served with a very flavorful mayonnaise- based jalapeno dip. The texture, seasoning and dip made us both plan on ordering this on our next visit to the restaurant.
At this point, we were offered a choice of wines. The knowledgeable and good-humored sommelier made this aspect of the meal even more enjoyable.
For entrée options we were served fish; each dish was different and attractively presented. Curious about the other menu items, I wished we could have chosen Hungarian- style pastas or casseroles, but we will happily try those in a future visit.
A blackened grouper – boldly flavored, nicely portioned and a treat, since one doesn’t see this fish on many Jerusalem menus – was served alongside a small lettuce salad and a few maple-glazed sweet potatoes, which pleasantly balanced the fish’s more pronounced spicy seasoning.
A salmon fillet, perfectly cooked (no small feat), was wrapped in thinly sliced strips of zucchini. This was served with curried rice and an incredibly rich and flavorful ratatouille, which included the surprisingly nice addition of thinly sliced Jerusalem artichoke.
A favorite classic so well done that it evoked a desire to pick up the plate and lick it clean was the trout meuniere.
Again, well-portioned and cooked to perfection, the browned butter, lemon and almond garnish justified this dish’s reputation as a Julia Child classic.
The Hungarian kitchen is known for its high-quality desserts, and we were not disappointed. The first, a coffee- infused mascarpone topped with poached baked pears and accompanied by a dollop of fresh raspberry jam was perfectly prepared and strongly flavored, yet a light option with which to end a rich meal.
Almond tart with a marzipan cream, accompanied by a generous and addictive dish of crème anglaise, was elegantly constructed with complementing ingredients and flavors. This could well be a standalone treat for an afternoon or evening snack with a cup of coffee.
Kohn sees his restaurant in a large and communal context. Given that food is a form of art, the location and the surrounding area of Nahalat Shiva – which is undergoing a revival – will be the backdrop for various initiatives and exhibits to showcase local artists, thus feeding all the senses and ensuring a thoroughly enjoyable dining and cultural experience.
We eagerly look forward to returning to IgenMigen.
Starters: NIS 24 to NIS 39; main courses NIS 56 to NIS 129; desserts NIS 36 to NIS 42.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.