When I first told my father that we were going out to a strictly kosher fish restaurant located above a gas station, in a city with no shoreline or fish ponds, he assumed I was kidding. When going out to a fish restaurant, we all like to imagine that the fish on our plate was pulled straight out of the nearest body of water before being tossed on the grill or skillet – however unrealistic this may be. At Ahavat Hayam, despite its landlocked Jerusalem location, they do their best to meet these expectations, with fish arriving fresh almost on a daily basis.
The restaurant is located above the Paz gas station on Ben-Tzvi Boulevard. The decor at Ahavat Hayam clearly is influenced by someone's (perhaps the owner's) previous nautical experiences. The walls are lined with fish tanks (the fish inside unfortunately were not offered on the menu) and various maritime memorabilia decorate the shelves. The windows draped with thick blue curtains offer an excellent view of the adjacent park (Gan Sacher), the picturesque neighborhood of Nachlaot and its red roof tops and of course the busy streets of down town Jerusalem.
The menu is very old fashioned and Israeli in style. Don’t bother asking the waiter about the lack of starters listed on the menu – at Ahavat Hayam Every meal starts off with an assortment of salads served to the center of the table while the diners can choose their favorite type of fish prepared either on a grill or fried served with fries and dipping sauce. The fish selection includes: salmon, mullet, St. Peter's, sea bass, grouper, rainbow trout and more.
A couple of minutes after we were seated and received our menus, a waiter arrived. He was carrying a tray with no less than 14 different types of fresh colorful mezes (Middle Eastern salad appetizers) served with toasted garlic-olive oil pita bread. Three types of eggplant dishes – one grilled with tahina, the second with plenty of garlic and diced red peppers and the third consisted of fried eggplant topped with labane cheese – all were very tasty. While the carrot and beat salads were plain and a bit too sweet for my taste, we enjoyed the tabuleh salad and the piquant tomato salad as well.
Following our waiter's recommendation, dad ordered the grilled rainbow trout, which is considered the house specialty and I decided to go for the deep fried mullet. Both fish dishes were generous and were prepared well. The delicate trout, seasoned with a mixture of traditional Israeli BBQ spices (cumin, paprika, turmeric etc.), filleted and then placed on the grill was very tasty and aside from a squeeze of fresh lemon, did not require any additional treatment. The mullet was also pretty good. Lightly covered with flour and then deep fried whole, resulting in a perfectly cooked fish - crisp on the outside while remaining moist and flaky within.
Desserts at Ahavat Hayam are nothing fancy, but provided a sweet and welcomed ending to the meal. One scoop of vanilla ice cream and a portion of Bavarian cream, tea with mint for dad and a double espresso for me and it was time to call it a night.
As we were heading back to the car, my father mentioned that while location may be very important and even serve as a deciding factor in the success of a restaurant, Ahavat Hayam proves that with attention to detail, excellent service and fresh ingredients – a decorative body of water isn't all that necessary for tasty fresh fish.
11 Ben Tzvi Blvd Jerusalem