Olive oil and the Waldorf: fine dining at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

Motti Verses always has something different up his sleeve. In this case it was an olive-oil tasting.

Chef Barak holding a bottle of Meshek Achiya (photo credit: Courtesy)
Chef Barak holding a bottle of Meshek Achiya
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When an invitation to visit the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem appeared in my inbox, I was more than thrilled, especially when it turned out that the trip included a workshop on olive oil, a festive dinner and an overnight stay in one of Jerusalem’s most prestigious hotel.
Motti Verses, the enterprising public relations manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton, which also owns the Waldorf, always has something different up his sleeve. In this case it was an olive-oil tasting, which the invited journalists and bloggers had to go through before getting to the dinner.
We had all been softened up by glasses of pink champagne in the imposing lobby with its waterfall and glittering chandeliers, and Mrs. Netanyahu’s favorite drink got us all in a good mood.
Just as well, because we were required to stand for half an hour during the tasting of the oil, which was produced by the Meshek Achiya farm especially for the Waldorf. However, it was very interesting and quite enlightening to discover how varied olive oil can be.
Finally, we were led to a beautifully laid table in the Palace Restaurant with linen napkins, flowers and candles, in order to taste the special meal prepared by chef Itzik Barak Mizrachi to show just how ubiquitous olive oil should be in good cuisine.
The first course was described as “Celery root Cappuccino” and looked just like a cup of coffee. On further examination, however, it turned out to be a delicious vegetable soup, hot and comforting, with tiny mushrooms and pine nuts waiting to be discovered. To eat together with the soup was fresh whole meal bread encrusted with – what else? – chopped olives.
The next course was a fish one, and we chose different ones to be able to compare notes.
My companion’s salmon was described as being served “in a cloud of smoke,” and when the dish arrived, he had to lift the glass over the piece of fish to see a cloud of smoke waft into the air. This was served with “cucumber and avocado cannelloni,” a fancy way of saying a piece of avocado wrapped in a slice of cucumber. There was no noticeable smoky flavor to the fish, which was otherwise acceptable.
I chose a fillet of sea bass in quinoa crust with caramelized carrots and pecan cream. Both dishes were very good, although I can really do without “foam” on my food – I find it very off-putting, and it adds nothing to the dish. (By the way, famous chef Gordon Ramsay feels the same way.)
The main courses offered a choice: chicken breast stuffed with pistachios or slow-braised lamb osso buco. It was quite clear, without words, that I would take the former and my companion the latter, being a passionate lamb aficionado.
I liked the combination of chicken breast with the crunchy green nuts and thought they complemented each other well. The side vegetables, cauliflower and roast potato, were fine if a little unimaginative.
All conversation ground to a halt as my companion confronted the huge meaty bone set before him. The meat was very soft and had obviously been cooked for hours. I was allowed to taste a minute portion, and it was, of course, scrumptious. The sides of Jerusalem artichoke, bulgur and a roasted beetroot were all good but, for my companion, basically irrelevant.
Dessert (offered as desert on the menu) was ice cream made with – you’ve guessed it – olive oil. It was rather runny – oil doesn’t freeze well – but nice and cold. The accompanying almond crust added a lot.
We took the elevator up to our luxurious room (with a television in the bathroom mirror) and slept the sleep of the just – and the well-fed.
Waldorf Astoria
Gershon Agron Street 26-28 Jerusalem
Cost of 3-course meal – NIS 300.
Sunday-Thursday, 6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Tel: (02) 542-3333
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.