Celebrity chef Eyal Shani goes kosher

Renowned celebrity chef Eyal Shani, who was a really intimidating judge on the Israeli Master Chef reality TV program, has opened several restaurants in Israel and abroad, but never a kosher one – until now.

Malka, which opened about three months ago, took the place of the much-loved Lilyot in Tel Aviv and carries on the same commendable social program, employing and training special needs youth behind the scenes as a regular part of the staff. But in other ways it couldn’t be more different than the sedate Lilyot, popular with families, dating couples and business encounters.

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As we walked through the glass doors of Malka, the buzz was almost tangible, and not a spare table was to be seen. Fortunately, they managed to find us one, and we settled down to peruse the menu, feeling somewhat uncomfortable wearing our Sunday best, as all the other diners, as well as the wait staff, were dressed in T-shirts and jeans.

Our waiter, Yonatan, materialized almost immediately. He explained that the idea behind Malka was to bring the up-to-date Tel Aviv culture to the kosher-eating crowd – locally grown produce and free-range animals, which are already standard concepts in the non-kosher restaurants.

The menu was printed on a piece of paper, and our waiter explained that there were no separate sections of starters and mains – you could pick whatever you liked. While waiting for our order, he brought us an immense round flat focaccia. It was dripping with oil and covered in rosemary, tasted great but was a real hazard to the cleanliness of our clothes, as it had to be pulled at and eaten with the hands.

My first course was Bellini soused herring with aioli (NIS 47). This was chunks of schmaltz herring resting on a kind of crepe with a garlicky sauce and plenty of red onion. My research revealed that Bellini refers to an Italian bread mixer. The herring was the kind usually found in synagogue kiddushes and benefited greatly from the sauce and onion.

My companion had the young okra (lady’s fingers) wrapped in desert tomatoes, resting on tehina and a diced egg (NIS 47). The okra were swimming around in a smooth tomato soup that had been rendered slimy by the vegetable. Not a nice dish.

But the main course, called Deep night roast of lamb (NIS 105), which we shared, more than compensated.

It was a breast of lamb, very tender and served with a variety of braised vegetables – leeks, squash and carrots – all soaked in the delicious fat.

After a pause, during which we sipped our glasses of red wine, an Avidan blend and a Segal Cabernet Sauvignon (NIS 47 a glass), we were able to face dessert.

We ordered chocolate mousse and crème caramel. I was very surprised that these were not individual servings but dollops taken from a large amount, making for a very unappetizing presentation (NIS 45).

They tasted okay, the mousse being made from rich dark chocolate and very fluffy, the caramel saturated in a syrupy sauce – but the look was very off-putting.

Some mint water ended what was essentially an interesting meal.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Malka Kosher Asia House, 2 Dafna Street, Tel Aviv Tel: (03) 609-1331 Sun-Thurs., 2 p.m. until late