Located off a luxurious courtyard shared with the Cameri Theatre, The Dining Hall (or, Heder Ochel, in Hebrew) is a modern Israeli hybrid inspired by the communal dining hall of the kibbutz. Despite its charming name and long simple tables, any resemblance to actual kibbutz dining ends at the kitchen. Here is where Chef Omer Miller‘s ‘new Israeli kitchen’ reigns supreme.
Idan, my representative Israeli and a known beverage man, was impressed by the lemonade selection (with ginger, with yogurt, with pomegranate), but then betrayed his countrymen by asking ‘what’s silan?’ Answer: date honey and one of the most popular ingredients of said ‘new Israeli kitchen’. In fact, The Dining Hall’s entire menu is chock-full of quintessential local ingredients the likes of za’atar (hyssop), pomegranate, yogurt, tehina and schug.
Reviewing the long menu of dishes, all intended for sharing and divided into somewhat non-traditional categories of ‘For Starters’ – the longest list by far – and ‘Pots and Grill’, Idan mentioned that this restaurant is like a melting pot of cultures. Or, as described on the front of the menu, based on ‘kibbutz hagaluyot’ – the ingathering of the Diaspora – in other words, an authentic Israeli experience in which Chef Miller gathers together traditional ethnic ingredients and dishes as he chooses and in doing so creates something new, e.g. the new Israeli kitchen.
For us, the ingathering started with the eggplant cream – super smoky, and with a unique creamy tartness the result of silan and labane - and chopped liver - with fried onions and a pickle and so good that even chopped liver haters will like it, served with a warm seed covered loaf of bread.
The creative fusing continued not only in combination of dishes, but within the dishes themselves. Next came a carpaccio of beef filet and Jerusalem artichoke, rice filled vine leaves with loads of dill and a spicy kick, and veal kubeh on a tabouleh and pomegranate salad. All to our liking thus far.
The warm dishes to follow continued upping the ante, both in flavour and creative combining. If the kreplach of pulled veal neck in caramelized onions and sour cream would have had Chef Miller’s Polish grandmother up in arms at the treifing of her signature dumplings, she’d probably be left utterly confused at the next dish: lightly battered calamari in a creamy schug aioli. Sorry Chef Miller’s bubbie, but both these dishes are winners.
Though our array of starters had as more than sated (mental note: return with much larger group next time), we couldn’t resist trying something off the Pots and Grill section. Two recommendations (from Chef and waitress) steered us towards the slices of beef filled with roasted potatoes and mushrooms in mustard sauce. The dish, like quite a few others in this section, arrived looking gorgeous in a stunning black cast iron pan. Each of the simple, high quality ingredients shone through, all complemented by the rich, but not overwhelmingly so, mustard cream sauce.
For dessert we shared the small and light Bavarian cream, served ‘a la Jaffa kiosk’ in a disposable little plastic container, and the large and rich cheese mousse, served in what looked like a heavy over-sized whisky tumbler. The cheese mousse also contained strawberry sorbet complementing the lemony hint in the cheese and was topped by a bird’s nest of kadayif. Unfortunately, Idan and I couldn’t resist over-enjoying both desserts.
But what we enjoyed most of all about The Dining Hall experience, even more than the truly excellent food and the evident forging of an authentic Israeli cuisine, was the utter lack of pretention, the openness and the reasonable prices, perhaps inspired by the country’s humble, communal beginnings.
The Dining Hall
23 Shaul Hamelech Street, Tel Aviv