From Street to Plate

Jane Anderson chats to Nuriel Molcho about his family’s thriving restaurant business NENI and its kaleidoscopic Israeli street food

What is NENI?

NENI is a family business and that is reflected in the name. NENI is the initials of us four brothers: Nuriel, Elior, Ilan and Nadiv. We started out 15 years ago as a passion project of my mother, Haya Molcho, who was born in Tel Aviv and who has been a great chef and cook aficionado her entire life. My father was an artist and she travelled the world with him and learnt about different kitchens from all around the globe, and developed a fusion kitchen, which, back then, wasn’t so common. Whether they were in India, China or Mexico, they would come back to Europe and cook and reinterpret things she had tasted abroad and recreate them with new spices. 

Fusion is inherent to Israeli and Tel Avivi cooking. You have to imagine that Israelis came from all around the world to Israel. It was a new country and everyone brought with them flavours and food from where they were from: Moroccan Jews, Syrian, Romanian, Polish. So we could try food from the entire world but then mix it together with Israeli combinations. And that's what makes a Tel Avivian kitchen. That’s what we stand for today–international, eclectic cooking. It’s very hard to define it as we keep on innovating and cooking with different chefs and inspirations from our travels around the world, and that’s what you see in the NENI kitchen. 

The 25hours connection 

The way we linked up with 25hours Hotels is quite a funny story. Christoph Hoffmann, the founder of 25hours Hotels, along with some colleagues, were eating breakfast at our restaurant in Vienna almost daily while building the first 25hours Hotel in the city. They were also there having lunch and dinner! And we were like, who are these guys? They come here all the time. Are they trying to copy our concept? It was the first year we opened. We talked to them, and they said, you know what, we’ve been trying to think how we can create a concept similar to this in our hotels. We love it. It feels familiar. It’s uncomplicated. It’s fun. We don’t think we could do it any better than you so we want to ask you if you could run our restaurant business! 

Back then, we were honoured but we said no, we don’t have the knowhow yet. They called us a year later and they said, we have another hotel in Zurich, what about now? And we said, why don’t we rewrite your menus and test this out?

I can't help but be happy when I am there.

Nadiv Molcho

NENI and Tel Avivi cooking not only both have their hearts in street food but literally in the street. Back when my mother was growing up and it was hot and they had no air conditioning, they would spend most of their time out on the street. You would cook with your neighbours and taste the food of your neighbours. Israeli food is largely street food.

It is a sharing mentality and family-orientated type of eating. And that’s why the cooking style and the way we serve our dishes at NENI restaurants are usually family style, in the middle of the table. 

We brothers grew up in Vienna. My father was an artist and his manager’s grandmother had an apartment in Vienna, which he would stay in as my parents would always fly out of Vienna as it was much easier to travel from Vienna than Israel back then. And he fell in love with this small country and small city. We were all born and grew up here, but we have a strong connection to Israel. 

Restaurant life 

The first NENI was on the Naschmarkt in Vienna. And it was very clear to us that the first restaurant should be in a market because that is where my mother learnt how to cook. That’s always what’s drawn her creatively. And even to this day, whenever we travel, we always go to the market. We try the local food. We try to see what’s going on seasonally there. We knew that when we first opened, we didn’t want something fancy in the Innere Stadt (first district) of Vienna. We wanted something on a market–and the Naschmarkt for us was the perfect fit. We were lucky to be ahead of this trend because today it’s impossible to find a spot there.

Now we have 12 restaurants, including three of our own in Vienna and a fourth in Amsterdam in an old Citroen garage. Then we have all the ones with 25hours Hotels in Paris, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Berlin and Zurich. Then with another company called Bikini Island, we have one restaurant in Mallorca at Port de Soller. This is a beautiful bohemian, seasonal place. We see ourselves going more internationally in the future. 

 

 


 

 

TOPINAMBUR WITH TOMATO & RED ONIONS

For 4 people

  • 6 Jerusalem artichokes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 80g olive oil
  • 2 red onions
  • 15 cherry tomatoes
  • 40g parsley, plucked
  • Juice from 1.5 lemons

Preheat the oven to 220°C for a fan oven. Halve the Jerusalem artichokes lengthways and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Massage in salt, pepper and olive oil and roast the Jerusalem artichokes in the oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the onions into rings, halve the tomatoes and finely chop the parsley. Add the tomatoes and onions to the Jerusalem artichokes and roast together in the oven for a further 10 minutes. Mix in the parsley and lemon juice. Serve hot or lukewarm.

QUINCE DESSERT

For 4 people

  • 4 lemons
  • 6 small quinces
  • 280 grams of sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 cloves
  • Whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Squeeze lemons. Put half of the juice and the squeezed lemons in water. Peel the quince, cut in half and remove the core. Place the quince halves in the lemon water.

Stir sugar into the rest of the lemon juice until dissolved. Remove the quinces from the water and rub with the lemon juice sugar. Place flat-side down, side by side, in a shallow saucepan or tall pan. Reserve the remaining lemon juice sugar. Add the scratched vanilla pod with the pulp and the cloves. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Check from time to time whether water is needed and moisten the quince with reserved lemon juice sugar. Serve lukewarm with whipped cream or ice cream, using the vanilla pod as decoration.

 


 

 

OUT NOW

Coming Home:

My Family Recipes

by Haya Molcho

 

Coming Home is Haya’s sixth book and is all about old family recipes. As her son Nuriel says, “The book is all about the beginning. It’s about uncomplicated cooking. It’s about everything from the soup that we loved as kids when we were sick, to our favourite cheesecakes that our grandmother made for us. My mum dedicates every chapter to one of us sons and to my father and herself, featuring that member of the family’s favourite dishes.”

 

Coming Home: My Family Recipes, €35

Currently available in German. English to follow. 

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