Chef Eyal Shani’s Miznon, now in locations including Paris, New York, Singapore and London, has become an emblem of the Israeli flair for flavour and style. With Miznon, Shani gave us an ode to pita in an urban, shabby chic, street food-style environment. In May of this year, Lilienblum officially opened, as the sister restaurant to Tel Aviv’s bustling North Abraxas. Housed in a high-ceilinged, uber-chic space just off Old Street roundabout, Lilienblum is a full-service restaurant which has stepped into the space of sophisticated sit-down dining.
Lilienblum is a vast, bright and airy restaurant, exuding quintessential east London and Tel Aviv cool with a dose of formality. On one side are large glass windows and a door which spills out onto a terrace for al fresco dining. In the main room, the spotlight is on the open kitchen, which occupies the entire back wall. Several chefs in crisp white uniform work behind a white marble counter adorned with neat piles of raw, vibrantly coloured vegetables, from stripy purple aubergines to tomatoes of all colours. An imposing, brass-coloured wood fire oven demands attention behind the chefs; cooking by fire is one of Lilienblum’s core features. Counter seating is an option, in a nod to authentic Israeli bar-restaurant culture.
The semblance to Tel Aviv food is heartwarming, and the passion of the staff and chefs is evident throughout the experience
Whole tomatoes decorate each table, exactly like in Miznon. On the amusingly simple menu, dish names are written in Comic Sans and in half sentences designed to sound like a memo from the chef, like ‘And if I’m not wrong, it’s the best Branzino that I ever ate, the roasted one’. This adds a welcome touch of humour and sentimentality to the otherwise rather serious space, though the mini anecdotes don’t give much in the way of description.
Some dishes are decidedly Mediterranean, like tomato pasta or bruschetta, but to my disappointment there is not a pita in sight: “The chefs wanted to make Lilienblum stand apart from Miznon, so there is no pita,” informs our waitress. I try to mask my internal cry. We choose most of the vegetarian dishes and double up on ‘Sabich 2.0’, which is far removed from the iconic Israeli pita sandwich, instead consisting of a flame-cooked aubergine in a spicy tomato sauce with chopped boiled egg.
We dare to try the ‘creamy bruschetta’ and focaccia ‘wrapped in tomato and sage’ in the absence of plain pita, which would have been a useful carb vehicle to mop up the various saucy components on the table. Eventually, I request plain focaccia – the focaccia here essentially being flame-grilled pizza dough – to fulfill the same role. Among the dip-like elements are ‘six spicy instruments that will swirl your soul’: six vibrant varieties of fresh Israeli chili sauces including a zhoug and harissa, each sauce a delightful addition to any dish. The hummus is perfectly silky and rich, instantly transporting me back to one of Tel Aviv’s hummus bars; silky soft confit chickpeas sit at the centre of a smooth bath of hummus atop a puddle of fragrant olive oil.
The burnt aubergine Sabich is soft and tender, a plate of varicoloured tomatoes and slices of green chilli is sharp and refreshing, and thin slices of exquisitely purple beetroot carpaccio topped with horseradish ‘snow’ add layers of texture and flavour to the whole spread. It may be a quality unique to the veggie options, but our dishes paired together like a synchronised dance, with no component overpowering its accomplices but rather softly melting together on my plate. We order the ‘jacket potato’ which is no more than cheesy mashed jacket potato in its crispy skin topped with a blob of crème fraîche. Rich, gooey, and pleasantly uncomplicated, it hits the spot.
For dessert, much to my delight the malabi with pistachios and rosewater and strawberry ‘perfume’ (syrup) is as delightful as any malabi in Tel Aviv. While the chocolate mousse is delicious, the whipped cream and salted caramel cookies that come with it are too sickly sweet and the cookies have that slightly burnt flavour reminiscent of my first ever baking experiments.
My criticism still remains the absence of pita, and while I understand the desire for differentiation, I am unconvinced that the menu’s Mediterranean touches are a perfect match with the modern, perfectly executed Israeli dishes that form its bulk. The least successful dish of the evening is one of the Mediterranean fusion experiments: the creamy focaccia, which amounts to two squares of dry focaccia topped with an overwhelmingly large scoop of crème fraîche, thick and ice cream-like in consistency, with some radicchio leaves emerging from its head like an elaborate fascinator.
At £50 a head for ten sharing dishes and an alcoholic drink each, it isn’t cheap, but with Lilienblum’s location, chic décor and Eyal Shani’s reputational weight, this is hardly surprising. Overall, I am very pleased with the vast majority of the dishes, and there is far more to be sampled from the meat and fish options. The semblance to Tel Aviv food is heartwarming, and the passion of the staff and chefs is evident throughout the experience. I absolutely intend to return, but when I do the first thing I’ll be ordering is that off-menu plain focaccia to mop up the good old-fashioned Israeli classics.
80 City Road