A mini-break in Haifa gave me the opportunity to try some of the wonderful local Arabic restaurants that the city has to offer. Those who are familiar with El Marsa in Akko will not be surprised that Chef Alaa Mussa has created a restaurant that combines local, seasonal and traditional Arabic food in a relaxed and trendy atmosphere in downtown Haifa.
Chef Alaa grew up in Akko and worked for many years at a famous fish restaurant in the Old Town. Having gained experience at a number of restaurants around Israel, he moved to Sweden where he worked at three Michelin-starred restaurants and was exposed to innovative cooking techniques and molecular gastronomy. In 2012, he returned to Akko and opened El Marsa, in the Fisherman’s Wharf of Old Akko. In early 2018, Chef Alaa partnered with Ahmad Asadi to open Lux Haifa, offering Haifa residents a modern interpretation on authentic Arab food.
The Focaccia Ya Yuma (NIS 16) was a delicious start to the meal. The warm bread was topped with fresh herbs and chili, accompanied by tahina and labaneh dips. It was hard not to demolish all the foccacia, as we knew there was so much more to come.
Although the menu is not separated into starters and mains, we chose a few smaller dishes to begin with, before moving on to some larger ones.
The Ceviche Marsa Style (NIS 56) has been a signature dish of the restaurant ever since it opened. The raw Amberjack fish was served with shanklish (Levantine) labaneh, sliced red chili and pistachio. The ceviche was refreshing with a wonderful balance of heat, creaminess and crunch.
As a lighter starter, Yochi’s Asparagus (NIS 44) was a simple dish of al dente asparagus served on a bed of labaneh, topped with Parmesan shavings. The final starter dish was Steak Tartare Arabic Style (NIS 62), a modern take on the traditional Arabic dish Kibbe Nayeh (which translates as raw kibbe/kubbeh). The tartar was beautifully presented with an amazing mix of colors and flavors, including lightly roasted tomato, smoked eggplant sauce, muhammara (a hot-pepper Levantine dip) , tahina and fresh chili.
Our final starter was Fish Shishbarak (NIS 52), another traditional Arabic dish with a modern twist. Small pieces of white fish, cooked inside small dough balls, were served on a bed of sheep yogurt topped with wild za’artar, pine nuts and sumac. The dish was tasty and interesting but our least favorite of all the starters.
As Chef Alaa is known for his fish expertise, we chose two fish dishes for our main courses. The Balagan from Akko Market (NIS 106) was probably my favorite dish of the meal and definitely the most beautifully presented. The fillet of meagre (stone-bass) was served on a glass platter, on a bed of freekeh risotto with spinach, green beans and yellow carrots. The fish was perfectly cooked with a wonderfully crispy skin and moist inside. The fish was artistically drizzled with raw tahina, crumbled shanklish cheese, pickled lemon purée and black eggplant cream.
The second fish dish was Sea-bass Fillet (NIS 98) on a bed of Shulbato, an Arabic dish of bulgur cooked with eggplants and chickpeas in tomato sauce. The two generous pieces of European sea-bass were once again cooked with a perfectly crispy skin and topped with yogurt. Although I prefer sea-bass in general, the overall flavors of the Balagan dish worked so well together.
We accompanied all of this wonderful food with some of the house cocktails. The Sage (NIS 40) was a unique tasting cocktail made of pineapple, passion fruit, vodka, aniseed and burnt sage which we both loved. The Richana (NIS 40) was made with gin, fresh basil and lemon which I really enjoyed.
For dessert, we took our waiter’s advice and chose the Pine Nut and White Chocolate Crunch which is a favorite among the staff and it was clear why. The Halva Parfait was topped with shredded halva, kadaif, nuts and syrup and was very nice but less unusual.
Finally, we tried the Beirut Nights, a traditional Arabic dessert which is often known as Layali Lubnan or Lebanese Nights. The aromatic layered dish has a base of creamy semolina pudding, a thin layer of cream, topped with crushed pistachio, kadaif and rose water syrup. It was great to try a new traditional Arabic dessert but the Pine Nut and White Chocolate Crunch was our clear favorite.
Although the restaurant had a fun vibe inside with a long bar and open kitchen, we chose to sit outside as it was such a beautiful evening.
We found Lux Haifa to be a modern Arabic restaurant with an incredible mixture of tastes and flavors. We loved trying new dishes and all the staff were friendly, attentive and very patient explaining all the elements of each dish to us, especially those which we were trying for the first time.
I hope that more restaurants like this open around the country, as it is always fun connecting to a culture through the food and Chef Alaa has been able to do that so beautifully in his restaurant. Perhaps he will open a branch in Jerusalem next!
Lux Haifa (Not Kosher), 13 Hanamal Street, Haifa, +972 77 206 0970