Whenever I have the opportunity to take a few days off work, I try to explore an area of the country I don’t know so well. In the past few years, I have made several trips to the Galil and Golan and spent a long weekend in Haifa (read more here), but I haven’t been to Akko since moving to Israel, so it was time to take a visit!
We drove up on a rainy Sunday morning and our first stop was Atlit Detention Camp, a historic museum dedicated to the flight of the refugees entering Israel during the time of the British Mandate. Having survived the Holocaust and the dangerous journey to get to Israel, many faced similar harsh conditions at the camp. We were taken on a tour which included a fascinating multi-sensory film in a reconstructed boat, similar to that used by some of the refugees. Tours must be booked in advance.
We stopped off in Haifa for lunch at Gal’s Bakery (Kosher) in Merkaz Carmel, a wonderful kosher café with fresh food and pastries. The café was somewhat draughty on such a cold wet day but the food and friendly service made up for it.
For dinner, we drove to Roots, a new kosher restaurant by Chef Uri Arnold, in the Old City of Akko. The restaurant is beautifully designed to carefully complement the cave-like stone building where it is housed, but the large glass doors did not take a windy winter night into consideration and there was a bitter draught every time they opened.
The menu focuses on the Levantine kitchen, offering kosher diners the chance to try some classic Arabic dishes. We started with the Akko Roots Mezze (NIS 68), which included a delicious parev labaneh and a wonderfully smoky and creamy eggplant dip. The Veal Carpaccio (NIS 56) was a classic dish, served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and vegan Parmesan. The vegan cheese had an interesting taste, although it was a bit of a gimmick. For the main course, I had the Veal Entrecote (NIS 138) aged beef in a red wine broth with roasted new potatoes which was well seasoned and cooked. My companion had the Roasted Whole Sea Bream (NIS 88) which she found to be overly fishy in flavor.
For dessert, we shared the Dessert Platter (NIS 58) which included the Akko Baklava Cigar with vanilla ice cream, Uri’s Halva Parfait and Malabi. It was the perfect sharing platter and we loved all three desserts, but the cigars were the best.
The next day was beautifully sunny but not too hot, the ideal weather for touring. The Bahai Gardens in Haifa are well known, but few people know that the Bahai Gardens in Akko are more significant to the Bahai faith. The gardens in Akko surround the mansion that was once the home of Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet and founder of the faith. At the center of the gardens is a shrine to Bahá’u’lláh where he is buried. The gardens are immaculate and it is a wonderful way to spend a morning.
We headed to the Old City of Akko and walked along the Sea Wall Promenade, down to the marina and past the clock tower. We explored the old market which seemed to be far less touristy than any of the markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We strolled through the Turkish Bazaar with its boutique shops and bars and then wandered around the tiny alleys of the Old City.
I couldn’t visit Akko and not delight in the famous fish delicacies of Uri Buri (Not Kosher) restaurant. I have never had such interesting combinations of flavors in fish dishes before. My starter of Salmon Sashimi (NIS 52) topped with wasabi sorbet was a perfect combination of tastes.
All the main courses are offered as half or full portions, giving diners a chance to try more of the menu and perfect for someone like me who wants to try the whole menu. First I had a half portion of Barramundi (NIS 67) in a delicate butter, sage and lemon sauce with a creamy cauliflower puree. My second dish was Lavrak (NIS 67) drizzled with a reduced balsamic rosemary sauce and served with a sweet potato puree. I have always seen Lavrak translated as European Sea Bass but the menu and the waiter insisted that it is called Sea Wolf in English, a term I have never heard before. I also tried a taste of the Salmon (NIS 69) with spinach martini sauce and creamed puree, which was delicious. The salmon came with buttery mashed potato topped with a parmesan crust.
We ended the meal with the Vanilla Crème Brulée (NIS 42) with cardamom seeds which was very good but I couldn’t taste the cardamom flavor and I also have a pet peeve when a crème brulée is too cold at the bottom.
The Old City of Akko has so much charm and authenticity to it. I really enjoyed the time I spent there and I am already looking forward to going back.