Lilienblum is the first of Eyal Shani’s London collection to really take me to Tel Aviv.
Yes, Miznon was just like its Israeli cousins and the food’s just as delicious but somehow, I wasn’t totally transported. Felt a bit London.
And although the third of the Eyal Shani London openings is in spitting distance of the Old Street roundabout something about it sent my mind back to a late-night, pre-pandemic meal at Malka, his one of his few kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv.
The memory jog wasn't anything specific, so not about Lilienblum's bright and shiny setting, airy room nor even the upbeat music. Maybe it was more about the brown paper-clad tables and shiny, red tomato table centres, our lovely Israeli waitress and chilled vibe.
In this non kosher dining room Shani’s trademark Comic Sans font menu prose is as creative and at times, curious as always. Now I know my way around a menu. I’m also familiar with Israeli favourites like sabich and malabi (at this stage, who isn’t?) but even I needed help with ‘six spicy instruments that will swirl your soul’. Turns out it's simply a selection of spicy dips.
Fresh from the oven flatbread lived up to the hype Photo: Yuki Sugiura
Passing over that, we dived into freshly baked ‘golden fresh focaccia’ — more of a puffy flatbread, its doughy crater filled with sweet tomatoes, red onions and slivers of fiery green chilli. Perfect for tearing apart and swiping up the accompanying dish of sour cream with zhug and olive oil as well as mouthfuls of lima bean mesabaha — a soupy and homely stew with tomatoes, bright green zhug and hard-boiled eggs.
The bread had arrived on a flat, shiny gold board. The type you’d peel your smoked salmon off. We wondered if they were repurposing their Sunday brunch recycyling. Wherever it the card came from, it was ideal for the beetroot carpaccio, giving a pleasingly trompe l’oeil-esque effect. Super satisfying to peel off floppy slivers of purple and yellow beetroot showered in finely grated horseradish – an oddly Ashki mash up.
A plate of tomatoes were billed as ‘from a far away land’. Less purple prose than an ironic reflection on the air miles needed to find fruits with more than a watery flavour after a gloomy May.
Branzino (for two and priced as such at £45) arrived theatrically with juices still bubbling from the oven, topped by flaming herbs. Head chef, Oren King, came out from the kitchen to decapitate and fillet it. It was superb.
As invited guests we were presented with the entire dessert menu. Special mention goes to the lightest Basque cheesecake; creamy malabi with strawberry syrup — served in a vintage teacup; and deeply dark chocolate mousse with a very short(crumbly), salted butter cookie. All priced at £8 and worth saving room for. I'd even make the journey just for that cheesecake.
Oren came back to ask me to choose my favourite, but which Jewish mother could ever do that? Of course I loved all of them equally …
Special mention goes to bubbly front-of-house manager, Kitty Sparks, whose warm welcome made us instantly at home. And to waitress Lee — full of info and fun. Oren shared that on a Friday he bakes challah and takes a slice to each guest to wish them Shabbat Shalom.
Overall, prices aren’t crazy high. Some dishes push the boat out — although when was Sole Meuniere ever cheap?
The dining room is huge and there’s a terrace so great for large tables. Rush there — take the Northern line so you can sample the range of cocktails or wines, that start from £35.