Nestled in the green rolling hills, yet right smack dab in the city of Jerusalem, lays a little village by the name of Ein Kerem. A Christian pilgrimage point, Ein Kerem is the place where Mary is said to have visited Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Ein Kerem has also become a popular secular pilgrimage point – for secular Jerusalemites looking for good food and good fun on the Sabbath.
On the main strip of Ein Kerem, just steps from the site of Mary's Spring, is Agua, an eclectic restaurant-bar-café that magically succeeds in providing an all in one locale for Jerusalemites of all sorts.
On the night Avigail and I decided to visit (a Thursday), a cold Jerusalem wind was blowing, but it didn't seem to stop the diners in the outside patio café section, whom we passed on our way in. To the right, the restaurant dining room spread out before us. Hip and stylish, the restaurant's dim lighting and intimate environment provide the perfect setting for an elegant meal.
Being two girls out for a night on the town – or the village, as the case may be – we decided to head upstairs to enjoy our meal in the cozy bar, which also happens to the location of the stunning view. Enjoying the view of the village and the characteristic pine, eucalyptus and olive trees, we decided to leave the 'all view' corner table (known as the date table) for an incoming couple.
It was time to eat – but where to begin? With a broad menu offering dishes suited to the café, restaurant and bar, we had some trouble narrowing it down. We selected the Agua salad and the eggplant in tehina, upon the recommendation of owner Adi Cohen, who is around every night of the week, ensuring that all runs smoothly. Not being an eggplant fan, Avigail added the chicken liver pate to our list of starters. And then I decided I just had to try the cured sirloin. And so it was that we ended up eating a meal of starters.
The enormous Agua salad was sinful – covered in both mozzarella and Bulgarian cheese, along with nuts and seeds which had been sautéed in Dutch butter, and a lovely dressing which, as a house rule, comes on the side. The whole baby eggplant was perfectly grilled and delightfully swimming in a labane tehina. The chicken liver pate was, surprisingly, more to my taste than to Avigail's (though I normally detest liver) due to the large amounts of butter added in place of animal fat. And the sweet onion jam accompaniment was heavenly. Along with our myriad of starters came the house baked traditional Moroccan bread which served as the perfect accompaniment.
Upon discovering that all the meat is aged on site for a period of two weeks, we decided that perhaps there was room for a main. Tender and moist, the steak came with yummy mashed potatoes and a delicate sauce.
Throughout our leisurely meal, other diners and drinkers came and went from the bar. The mellow atmosphere and smiling laid back customers provided an appealing 'village' vibe. We took our time sipping our drinks and enjoying the view.
For dessert we chose the yin and yang of girly cakes - a chocolate tart and baked cheesecake, along with some closing espressos (which did a fine job attesting to well deserved café portion of the restaurant's subtitle). The cakes, just about the only element not created from scratch in the Agua kitchen, are even more homemade than that, supplied direct from the home kitchen of a local part time pastry chef. Both were delicious, and the perfect set with their opposing consistencies – the cheesecake was firm, while the tart filling practically melted out of its shell.
After dinner, Avigail (a Jerusalem local) gave out-of-towner me a little tour of the charming village. Gazing back at Agua while strolling up the hill leading out of Ein Kerem, I knew I'd discovered a place to come back to.
1 Hamaayan Street, Ein-Karem, Jerusalem