A couple of months ago a new player joined Jerusalem’s bustling culinary scene. Situated in the picturesque Feingold courtyard, just off Jaffa road, Mantra took over for Adom which relocated to the new First Station complex (the old train station off Emek Refaim). To those who are familiar with the space, I am sure that you will agree that it is one of the most special in the country. An old Jerusalemite stone building with thick walls, arches, a wine cellar and four seating areas, including an outdoor patio (although evening in Jerusalem are already quite cold so make sure to bring a jacket) and a sealed indoor smoking bar for those who just have to have a smoke with their beer.
We arrived at 20:00 which was too cold to sit outside. Because we preferred the non-smoking section, the friendly hostess escorted us to a table in the enclosed part of the wooden deck. The crowd at Mantra is very diverse and multi-national with local Jerusalemites, tourists and students who usually arrive towards 23:00 and take advantage of Matra’s attractive late night Tapas menu.
At first glance the menu seems rather plain with the usual first course, main course, pasta, salads and dessert divisions but after taking a second look and also tasting the dishes, I was positively surprised.
Our starters included the summer salad with an assortment of greens, a variety of summer and tropical fruits and a very tasty dressing – light and refreshing, the salad was delicious and an excellent way to start the meal. We also enjoyed the beet ‘carpaccio’ and Mantra’s version of a tuna sashimi is seared and lightly marinated in soya sauce-sesame oil and lemon juice. The flavors and seasoning were spot on but the fish could have been of higher quality. With these dishes I would suggest having an aromatic white wine which has become increasingly popular over the past few years. These wines are usually very approachable and are of the few that pair relatively well with Asian and even Indian style dishes. The list of aromatic white grape varieties includes Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltilner, Muscat, Viognier and others while the Sauvignon Blanc qualifies for the aromatic category only when grown in certain terroirs. Mantra’s wine menu is reasonably priced with an assortment of both local and imported vinos and they have a couple that will do the trick here.
For our main course we decided to sample one pasta dish, one meat dish and one from the sea. Quatro formaggie and truffle tortellini were delicious and after tasting one bite it was evident that the pasta is home-made and that there was nothing plain about this dish. The entrecote steak was grilled to perfection and served with a tasty black pepper and cream sauce on the side. From the fish section we tasted the Non-Jerusalemite Mix which is a play on words on the classic Jerusalemite mixed grill. Calamari, Shrimp, sea bream and artichoke hearts are coated with a crunchy batter and lightly fried – a very tasty dish as well. Wine pairing was a bit harder here as fried and battered fish pairs well with light beers, sparkling vinos or maybe crisp whites while the other dishes would prefer a red wine.
Mantra offers Agur’s Kessem (Hebrew for magic) by the glass and if you haven’t tried this one, I would highly recommend it. A red blend usually based on Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot , Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc , medium bodied, the wine opens with notes of green pepper and herbs alongside red berry fruits and young plums. If you happen to be in the area of the Ella Valley, the winery also has a small and very friendly visitor’s center that is worth a visit.
Decadent chocolate soufflé and a couple of espressos for dessert, next time I will definitely come late and also check out the tapas selection.