Last week I visited the renewed restaurant-café at the YMCA in Jerusalem. After going through various stages over the course of the years, some more successful than others, it seems that the people behind the new version bearing the name Archibald C. Harte are on to something. Leveraging history, the fabulous architecture and of course serving good food is all it takes.
Dubbed the "Yimka" in Hebrew, the YMCA hotel, Jerusalem is situated in one of the most prestigious locations the city can offer, directly opposite the King David hotel, within a few minute walk of the Mammilla shopping center, the Jaffa gate and Old City, as well as 5 minutes from the center of Jerusalem - Ben Yehuda Street. The building itself opened in 1933 and was designed in an Art Deco, Byzantine-Islamic style by Arthur Loomis Harmon, who later designed New York's Empire State Building.
The YMCA hosts a wide selection of cultural activities, such as theater, music performances, art exhibitions and classes, with the aim of bridging the gap between east and west Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews.
Archibald C. Harte is also true to this theme with menus presented in Hebrew, English and Arabic, a staff comprising Christians, Muslims and Jews and a chef that is well rooted in the local culinary scene, serving a variety of dishes from a classic schnitzel to more traditional dishes like the maklube or musachan. The chef even has a great story about how he prepared a special kebab for King Hussein of Jordan some thirty years ago – and the same recipe is used today at the Archibald C. Harte.
After going on a brief tour of the hotel, we were seated on the patio and severed a sweet and sour tamarind based drink that quenched our thirst. ““Everything is prepared on site” says Chef Hamuda, “from the hummus, to the various spice mixtures and even the olives, I believe in working with local ingredients and preparing food that represents the kind of food people have been eating in Jerusalem since the hotel was opened in the 1930’s.” We sampled an assortment of salads with the hasdin – a piquant tomato, onion, green chili salad being our favorite. The fatoush salad was also very tasty – rustic – large slices of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, black olives, homemade croutons with hyssop on olive oil. Simple but when the ingredients are fresh – you can’t go wrong. Kebab, Maklouba and Sayadiya were next to arrive. The kebab baked in tahini and served on a skillet - siniya style, was tasty as well and was devoured in no time but what really interested me was the Sayadiya. Maklouba, Kebab and fatoush I have had before but this was my first encounter with the sayadiya. A dish hailing from the fishing towns in Lebanon, a cross between a Maklouba and a Spanish paella, the dish is comprised of rice, vegetables, fried onion and the catch of the day – definitely worth a try. Basbusa, homemade baklva and properly brewed black coffee were an excellent way to end the meal.
Friendly and homey atmosphere, great location, open on weekends, reasonable prices and good food and if you happen to be around on a Thursday evening, you can also enjoy live jazz music and a glass of wine.