Unprepossessing excellence

In these tumultuous times for Israel’s dining scene when new restaurants (Shiratoya) and veteran establishments (Bellini) alike are suddenly closing up shop, it is heartening to see a fledgling startup succeed – especially one helmed by young chefs embarking on their first independent venture. After a tenuous start marked by mixed reviews, Mansura has just celebrated its first birthday, with plans to expand its dinner-only service to include Saturday lunch.

With a name like Mansura and a location in a less trendy section of Jaffa, one could be excused for thinking the food would lean towards Arab cuisine, but the menu reflects the eclectic nature of new Israeli cuisine, as interpreted by two chefs who had trained with the best: under Sharon Cohen of Shila in Tel Aviv, and at the famous Michelin-starred L’Atelier in Paris.

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The talent in the kitchen extends to the bar as well, so it is worth starting with one of Mansura’s seven specialty cocktails (NIS 44 to NIS 48). The two we chose were both extraordinarily good: the Hibiscus Mojito – the classic rum and mint cocktail plus hibiscus syrup and brown sugar – and the smooth yet complex French Martini, a blend of citron vodka, Chambord liqueur and pineapple.

The food menu – which is constantly being revised, as seasonal ingredients and fish or seafood catches vary – comprises four sections (which are not defined by written headings, but whose categories are explained by the waiter): appetizers (NIS 14 to NIS 24), starters (NIS 38 to NIS 62), intermediate dishes (NIS 48 to NIS 72) and main courses (NIS 68 to NIS 152). There is at least one vegan/vegetarian option in each category.

As we waited for our orders, we munched on the house bread: brown walnut bread and mini-pitas seasoned with sumac, served with mild tomato salsa and an unforgettable caraway orange butter. The unique butter had us dangerously close to filling up too fast.
Our first starter was one of the two raw fish dishes: yellowtail in pomegranate juice, with pomelo, radish, rocket leaves and zaatar. The extremely fresh fish was enhanced beautifully by the contrasting sweet fruit and savory herb.

Next was chicken liver mousse with finely chopped chives and a coulis of apple and quince. Pâté with a sweet-tart condiment is always a winning combination, although this sinfully rich version needed no extra help.

There is usually a risotto as one of the intermediate dishes, and on our evening it was a pumpkin risotto topped with a melting slice of semi-soft cheese and a scattering of pumpkin seeds. This colorful creation was deliciously different: the unusual cheese was a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Parmesan, while the toasted seeds added a welcome bit of crunch.

Our second intermediate dish was the crystal shrimp with lentils and corn. As good as the flavorful shrimp were, it was the vegetable stock that stole the show: it was good enough to be a soup on its own.

The main courses cover all the bases: vegetarian, fish, meat and chicken. The manager did not hesitate to recommend the catch of the day: fillet of Spanish mackerel in brown butter capers, accompanied by green vegetables and potato terrine. Spanish mackerel is not often elevated to the status of a main course, so we were happy to follow his suggestion: the thin fillet was cooked perfectly, while the fried capers were positively mellow. The al dente vegetables were also excellent; only the bland terrine disappointed.

The wine list is not extensive, but its global reach shows that it has been curated with care. We enjoyed glasses of both house wines: a crisp Pinot Grigio from Italy, and a full- bodied red blend from the south of France.

Throughout our meal, the service was friendly, professional and efficient. In fact, sometimes it was too efficient: our bread and butter was whisked away without our even noticing. It was immediately replaced with a smile, although there is no way we could have eaten any more.

There is no dessert menu; rather, the four on offer (NIS 38) were explained by our waiter. The dessert devoted to chocolate featured 70% cacao crémeux alongside chiffony mousse, a dollop of dark toffee and sablé cookies – all in the right proportions to delight the chocolate lover, without adding to a feeling of heaviness after a full meal.

This was followed by rice pudding flavored with reduced orange juice, sugared orange zest and candied almonds. This feathery cloud of pale white fluff was the lightest rice pudding imaginable, allowing us to enjoy a second dessert without feeling stuffed.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Mansura
Not kosher
13 Shalma Rd, Jaffa
(03) 944-6556

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