Monday, June 13, 2011

Duty Free Madness – True Gastronomy at The Ledbury

The Ledbury – Notting Hill, London

Israelis love Duty Free!!  What is generally considered an unnecessary overpriced distraction at the airport, here in Israel can be even more important than the trip itself. Yes there have been times I have bought a box of chocolate for co-workers but here people buy in bulk to be picked up on the way home and not as a gift to the their destination.

I suspect in a country which used to be very expensive with little competition there was a place for shopping at the airport, but it has gone far beyond this. There are even commercials on the TV reminding people to buy at the Duty Free stores at the airport.

Duty Free is also unique in Israel as one can purchase all their products when leaving the country and leave them to be picked up on the return. The stores themselves are not really different from other countries, apart from the crowds, the lines and are filled with overpriced candies, alcohol and cigarettes. Regardless people continue to buy in bulk taking advantage of the multiple buy 3/4/5 get one free offers as if there is no tomorrow.

Another sales gimmick that is big here is the check-out specials which include a whole host of products one does not need but is offered at a discount. The fact of discount is far too tempting to many and money is spent on junk. In fact, this is a country wide phenomena checkout offers and buy one get one for half price type deals. The essence of the sales tactic is for the consumer to spend more than they had planned. I was surprised to discover among friends and family the weakness to these ‘deals’ even after I explained that they were spending more money on stuff they didn’t need. They really believe that they are defeating the system – they are not ‘Friars’.

Even electronics are sold at the airport, though buyer beware, the most one can buy under the tax free law is $200. There have been multiple stories of people buying expensive goods only to be stopped on the way back and fined – I find that very funny and wonder why sell items that costs over $1,000 when you can’t actually bring it in the country.

Duty free doesn’t end at the airport Israeli’s also love purchasing on the plane I wonder if the act is a mixture of believing one is getting a good deal to also being able to show-off to friends and neighbours that one has been abroad. As duty free can be only be bought by those fortunate enough to have the money to spend on an international trip.

My suggestion is next time you leave Israel don’t buy anything at the airport but wander into the shops to experience the Israeli Duty Free phenomenon.

The Ledbury

One of my personal pleasures when travelling abroad is visiting the numerous excellent restaurants that exist within most cities. On this occasion I was lucky enough to be in London with its many gastronomic temples. London is a funny place as local regional food has, for most of its history, been considered low quality and not tasty. Only in the past 15 years or so has there been an explosion of gastronomic cooking using both local and regional ingredients.

One of my personal favourites is the Ledbury restaurant in upmarket Notting Hill. I have been visiting this place for the past 5 years, when it was relatively unknown. The primary reason is that chef Brett Graham is at the culinary impressing stage and hasn’t reached the celebrity stage. I hate celebrity chefs always on TV and spending the minimum amount of time in the restaurant. This is a worldwide phenomenon and which also exists here in Israel.

I was happy to read recently that the restaurant has achieved a much deserved second star and listed on the top 50 restaurant list - yet is still relatively simple to book a table, particularly at lunch.

Having been in Israel for a longer than normal continuous period I certainly felt the difference in the dining experience in a high quality UK, as compared to the Israeli equivalent.

The pleasure starts before the meal when one dresses up in anticipation of culinary excellence and continues when you step in the restaurant. The Brits are very competent in welcoming protocol pulling out seats unwrapping and wrapping table cloths to the overall feel of the high quality dining surroundings. And continues with each course meticulously describes and wine menus of 40+ pages discussed enthusiastically by a well-qualified sommelier. I fear we will never truly reach such a level here in Israel.

And the food – excellent! I have visited one or two good restaurants in Israel but the level of cooking at The Ledbury only reinforces that there is a lot of work for Israeli restaurants to catch-up. In some sense that is odd as ingredients here are excellent but for some reason the level of cooking (and definitely service) is just not as good.

On our visit we chose the lunch menu, three courses priced at £33.50 (190nis). The menu offered two choices for each course which was perfect as the brunette and I shared each course.

As per usual an amuse bouche appeared to open the journey and consisted of a foie gras mousse on a ginger biscuit. I admit not that original but tasty particularly the contrast in texture of the biscuit to the mousse.

For the first course we received risotto with morrels, guinea fowl and young garden pees and a salad of tomatoes, pesto and week old cows curd. Both were very tasty though the risotto was superior in flavours and complexity, while the salad was more of a summery light dish.

For mains we ordered an assiette of pork and a pan fried cod dish. The assiette of pork was very delicious with loin, belly and en-croute. I have to admit I had a real craving for pork and bacon when in London. Yes it exists here in Israel but nowhere near as good or accessible as in the UK. The cod, on the other hand, was my least favourite as I prefer the flavour of Mediterranean fish and the addition of seaweed to the dish just made it more fishy in taste (I dislike sushi because of the seaweed).

For dessert we were given edelweiss custard with meringue and wild summer red fruits and a banana parfait. Both desserts were very good and in no way less accomplished or imaginative than the starters and main courses (something which cannot be said for many other restaurants).

The meal itself was very good with cooking at a very high level. I have had better meals but this was still better than any equivalent one can get in Israel. The one point that was less polished was the service. The Ledbury has never been the most exacting on this front with more of a local dining experience than a Michelin service one (not bad but not perfect). It can’t for example compete with the service of Jean-Claude Breton (the best maître de I know) at Gordon Ramsey Hospital Road where the service is precise, excellent yet tailors to the individual diner. However, the food is not too dissimilar and you just try and get a table at GR!

4.5 stars out of 5

(Euro stars not Israeli stars)



  1. BEWARE of 'overly motivated' sales people at the duty free in Israel !!!
    I travel to Israel every 3-4 months. On my last trip (March this year) I purchased some cosmnetics (creams for my wife). The sales lady asked me to purchase another brand and told me that if my wife doesn't like it I can return it for refund. I purchased a $45.50 item. On July 13th I tried to return it (because my wife didn't like it). I was told that I can only receive merchandise credit, not cash nor credit to my C.Card because of their policy of 14 days cash refund (that was not explained to me by the sales person). I did not want to purchase anything, just get back the cash. I had no choice but take the merchandise credit that is good for 1 year. What a disappointment!!!!

  2. Yes, i have seen this happen in many places, the reason why i don't purchase electronic goods. !@bose
    Sales Lady Job Duties