From Cheese and Wine, the garden-top restaurant which can seat 120, at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame in Jerusalem, one gets a magnificent view of East Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the mountains of Jordan.
A rough, cream-color cloth intertwined with the wooden beams covers part of the roof. The wood plank floors are in the walking areas; tiles are under the wood tables with wrought iron padded chairs. Grey-blue damask tablecloths and black napkins adorn the table tops.
As guests are seated and their beverage orders taken, a dish of nuts and a bread basket with baguette, dark bread and bread with zatar, from Russell’s Bakery in the Jewish Machaneh Yehudah market, is set on each table.
The choices for a beverage come from the wine menu with champagnes; white, red and rose wines; liqueurs, liquors and more. Wines in the wine cellar comes from France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.
Terrace rooftop restaurant Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Our host is Amaury Lecomte, French-born, manager since the restaurant opened in March 2011. Although he studied law and sociology, he worked in bars, restaurants then gastronomy restaurants; met his Israeli wife in France and moved to Israel October 2010.
At the time of writing, the menu featured four salads, six main dishes and five desserts. A special feature is the cheese platter available for European, French, Italian, Middle Eastern or Spanish cheeses which are offered with bread, butter, olives, fruit and vegetables. A combination of cheeses is also available.
Salmon Grissini. Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
First, we tasted Norwegian smoked salmon with cream cheese rolled around Italian grissini sticks, with home-made onion and red wine marmalade, garnished with capers, cherry tomatoes and greens. The taste was great but the most unique thing was the marmalade. Holding the stick while eating the salmon was also very original.
The spinach salad was served with grilled Halloumi cheese and a dressing of pomegranate syrup, olive oil and lemon juice which, happily, was very subtle and light and was just enough for the spinach.
The tricolor salad, with an oil and basil dressing, was mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and avocado slices and quite a simple but nice combinaation.
For a main course, we tried the beef filet, cooked just to perfection; with roast potatoes, browned and cooked just right; and barely cooked asparagus–all served on a serving board, looking tasty and beautiful.
Chef Raed Qudsi Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Next, we were introduced to the new chef, Raed Qudsi, formerly with the Rotisserie restaurant which is closed during the summer, and Chef Ramzi Kahla who started work with Notre Dame kitchens in 1987, studied in Lyon, France, and has been with the roof garden since it opened.
Instead of trying one of the desserts with coffee, in traditional French style, we were shown a cheese platter. Chef Kahla explained the two French cheeses (one of them blue cheese), the goat cheese, and the Dutch and Spanish cheeses, which can be served at the end of the meal with breads, crackers, vegetables, olives, onion marmalade and a special white wine.
All in all, the service was excellent, the food top gourmet and the ambiance perfect for a special evening dinner.
The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center
View of Old City from Rooftop Restaurant Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center is a unique place, owned by the Vatican. Besides an attractive lobby and sitting area, meeting and conference rooms, the John Paul II Conference Center, Our Lady of Peace Chapel and numerous archaeological displays, there are 150 rooms available, with breakfast, half board or full board; a cafeteria; a main dining room; the Cheese and Wine Rooftop restaurant; and, in winter, La Rotisserie. All of these were part of a tour by Father Eamon Kelly, vice charge.
Located on Paratroopers Road, opposite the New Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City, the Institute was built in 1904, initially to accommodate French pilgrims and until World War I as a seminary. During the 1948 War of Independence, the building was heavily damaged. It remained on the border until 1967 when Jerusalem was liberated and reunited by the Israelis. In 1972 it was turned over to the Vatican and reconstruction and rehabilitation was begun. Pope Paul II signed a decree establishing it as a Pontifical Institute and ecumenical holy place and that was made official in December 1978.
Father Kelly was appointed vice charge in January 2007.
The author and photographer were guests of the restaurant.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem and leads walks in Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish produce market.