Thursday, February 12, 2004

Jerusalem experienced an earthquake yesterday - and for once there was no metaphor involved whatsoever. Sat at my desk, at 10:16 the room began to shake. Once my caffeine starved brain had computed that there had been no bang, I immediately figured what was happening. After a 25 second shake, felt across the entire country, things were back to normal.

Certainly the quake, reportedly measuring a respectable 5 on the Richter scale, was a talking point yesterday. It may even be the case that it will still be discussed during a lull in the conversation around Shabbat tables - it is after all, the first time I've felt the earth move (sorry ladies!) since I came to Israel (the last quake of any significance was in the middle of the night and didn't rouse me). Opening this morning's paper however, I was unsurprised to see that it wasn't the main headline. No-one died or was even seriously injured thank goodness - although I've yet to confirm whether the bottle that fell casualty at my friend's home was NOT a vintage single malt! Israel has more serious issues to worry about - every day is an existential battle. Israel is not a normal country but its because its not normal that I have chosen to make my home here.

Yesterday evening I dined at a Jerusalem institution. Fink's, a tiny, olde European style bar-restaraunt has been the destination of politicians, journalists and VIPs since before the State of Israel was founded. Located in an unassuming spot on the corner of King George and HaHistadrut Streets, a stone's throw from the original Knesset (Parliament) building, it represents an oasis of a world gone by in the centre of the world's most contested city.

Recently Fink's made a move to fit the times and demography of Jerusalem by taking pork and other non-kosher products of its menu and obtaining Kosher certification. Jerusalem has becoming an increasingly religious city. A guestimate would say that the majority of both its residents and visitors are at least traditional plus in their level of observance, and therefore the move represents common sense even though it has I'm sure led to a change in the clientele with digruntled regulars no longer able to order certain dishes moving on and an intrigued religious crowd coming to see what all the fuss was about.

Fink's is small - it has precisely 5 tables (book in advance) plus a certain amount of room at the well stocked bar. The walls are wood panelled and are decorated with memorabilia accumulated over decades which give it an intimate charm. The waiters are attentive and incredibly polite - almost to a fault. Tables are set with crisp white table cloths and napkins; the flatware and eclectic collection of glassware have doubtless been used to feed and water many famous names down the years.

We ordered the dish for which the establishment is perhaps most famous - Goulash soup as a starting point. Served in a tall cup it was absolutely delicious. Attention to detail included different breads, tabasco sauce (recommended!) and lemon scented cold water. For the main course, I settled on Wiener Schnitzel - another signature dish of the house. The schnitzel was paper thin and was served in crisp breadcrumbs with plenty of lemon juice over the top - delicious. My companion settled for a salad, which seemed unadventurous in the extreme given the extent of the menu which includes Tuna, brains, Chateaubriand, Tournedos Rossini, Tafelspitz (baked beef served with horseradish sauce) and many other delights. We shared a superb hot chocolate cake for dessert.

I shall certainly be going back to Fink's. It is an establishment which one would expect to find tucked away in a European capital as a well kept secret. It certainly seems slightly incongruous alongside the Felafel stands and Humous restaraunts which one eexpects to find in the middle of Jerusalem and as such is a pleasant surprise. I'm certainly glad for its kosher certificate, without which I would have continued to walk on by.


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