“Palates ready, our starring dishes arrived. Idan’s was an archetypal Rama taboon dish of lamb ossu bucco. Also on the plate was a thin slice of veal thigh - a playful quick cooked juxtaposition to the slow-cooked lamb...” Rachel Wagner journeys into the Judean Hills for an authentic Israeli culinary experience at Rama’s Kitchen in Nataf near Jerusalem.
Rife with anticipation, Idan and I traveled up the winding rode that leads from Abu Gosh, right off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, up to Nataf, a small settlement way up in the Judean Hills. We were headed to Rama’s Kitchen, a rustic gourmet spot open only 2-3 days per week and for events. We had heard talk of an ‘amazing experience’, ‘an indescribably beautiful setting’ and ‘the freshest and best local ingredients.’ We would soon learn that even these seemingly superfluous portrayals didn’t do the place justice…
Up the gravel road, past a seedling nursery and suddenly the first awe-moment revealed itself: the all-wood patio on the precipice of the mountain view. We were seated at a chunky wood table for two and presented with menus by a friendly and calm waiter. We took deep breaths of the otherworldly air and already our urbanite blood pressure was going down a couple points.
Two glasses of warm sangria, which at this altitude was welcome even in June, accompanied us through our perusal of the short elegantly laid out menu. Hungry from our drive we decided to start with two pre-starters – very small dishes that arrive quickly to the table. The biltong salad with asparagus, celery and pears in wine was a lovely refreshing start and 2 mini ramekins of liver pate, some of the best I’d ever tasted, were each topped with caramelized fresh grapes and candied nuts.
Temporarily sated by our hors d'oeuvres, we took our time in selecting the dishes to come, aided by our waiter, who turned out to be as knowledgeable and professional as he was genuine. We wanted to keep the meal as local as possible – a rather simple desire given that everything served at Rama is either locally grown or in keeping with products traditionally available in this region. We selected the taboon baked Jerusalem artichoke and Roquefort pastry with onion, cream and pesto vine leaves. The topped flat bread to arrive was not overly large, but jam-packed with flavour. The perfect shared starter for the large dishes to come.
Before our main dish selections arrived, we were served a refreshingly tart orange granita to cleanse the palate. Palates ready, our starring dishes arrived. Idan’s was an archetypal Rama taboon dish of lamb ossu bucco served with mushrooms, radishes, and mashed potatoes. Also on the plate was a thin slice of veal thigh - a playful quick cooked juxtaposition to the osso bucco. The lamb, infused in ouzo and citrus, literally fell off the bone. Though not a number one fan slow-cooked meats, Idan left nothing but a clean bone behind. My dish was also lamb – quite a lot of lamb. The ‘Select Cuts of Lamb’ dish contains chops, kebabs on cinnamon sticks, and a filet-like seared piece of leg of lamb served with Jerusalem artichoke and sage stock. The top quality meat in this dish shone, with each element holding it’s own. I’m partial to chops, and initially focused my attention there, but soon discovered the wonder of the seared cut of leg. The kebab was also delicious, encouraging kebab-lover Idan to partake. Hearty, delectable and so in keeping with the local land and hilltop view, this meal at Rama’s felt like a whole and wholly authentic experience, moving us far beyond a gorgeously cooked lamb dish. For dessert, we again stayed close to home, ordering a special house dessert: local pistachios are transformed into luscious ice cream and served with rose water, crisp phyllo pastry and a baby eggplant confiture.
Only 40 minutes from Tel Aviv and 15 minutes from Jerusalem, Rama’s Kitchen is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and sometimes Saturdays. We’re already looking forward to visiting again soon.
Rama’s KitchenNataf, The Judean HillsTel: 02-5700954