On top of the Mamilla Hotel you are stuck between two worlds. You are in the chic confines of the Mamilla pedestrian mall filled with luxury shops and cafés. To your right, down below, Jerusalem’s ancient Old City beckons.

The normal chaos on the ground of tour groups and pilgrims is muted from up above. The quiet beauty of the ancient structures instead smacks you in the face and makes you think only of the history surrounding you.

The Mamilla Hotel Rooftop Restaurant overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: courtesy

This hotel rooftop is probably one of the most beautiful places you can have a meal in a city not lacking in atmospheric dining rooms.

With tourists gone from the city indefinitely, the view went wasted, even on the locals for the last year or so. The Mamilla Rooftop Restaurant only recently got back to work.

Mamilla Rooftop Restaurant Antipasti Salad of roasted beets, grilled zucchini, roasted carrots and lima beans with almond “feta” cheese. Photo by Afik Gabay

Simone Shapiro has been the chef at the restaurant for six years. “Working for many years in the restaurant and hotel industry I never imagined that we would be in the situation that we are in now,” she confides.

Shapiro, a New York native who was used to the insane work hours that chefs know intimately, didn’t quite know what to do with her idle hands.

Just like that, she changed from making dishes like beef tartare with quail egg and bone marrow, to more homey menu items like ras-el-hanout roast chicken, and meatballs in an Italian-style red sauce.

Grouper sashimi marinated in homemade “dukkah” topped with fennel and fresh apricots. Photo courtesy of Mamilla Hotel

“I try to find the silver lining in every difficult situation. I live in Jerusalem with my boyfriend, who is also a chef at the hotel, and we decided to create a Shabbat menu together,” she says.

“We tested and created many new dishes in our home kitchen and created a menu that we would deliver to people’s doorstep before Shabbat. We turned our one-bedroom apartment into a catering hall and had a blast while doing it.”

Rooftop Restaurant Chef Simone Shapiro plating lamb chops. Photo courtesy of Mamilla Hotel

Now it’s a relief for Shapiro and her kitchen staff to be back to work in an official capacity. “I am very excited to be creating new menu items to please the guests. We have to continue to live, cook and persevere through these difficult times,” she says, ever the optimist.

“Of course, we won’t be at the same capacity,” she goes on to say. “No one will, not until the world starts to heal itself from this pandemic. Although I do see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Here is a recipe for a spicy North African fish stew, traditionally served in Jewish homes on Friday evenings.

Shapiro says it’s a mainstay at the restaurant. Keeping in tune with what the restaurant strives for culinarily, combines Israeli flavors with French techniques.

Confit Red Drum Fish with Spicy Moroccan Chraime, Grilled Lemon and Challah

For the Chraime:

2 tablespoons chickpeas

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

3/4 cup tomato confit

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Turkish spinach, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon harissa

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Fresh lemon, halved and grilled

Preparation: 

  1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat.
  2. Add the chickpeas, cherry tomatoes and tomato confit, and cook 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add the Turkish spinach, chopped garlic, harissa, salt, pepper and cardamom.
  4. Serve with grilled lemon and challah bread