If there’s one thing you can’t miss in Acre, it’s Uri Buri.
‘Live like real crusaders!’ said the tagline. It wasn’t exactly the holiday vibe I was going for. But we needed somewhere to stay.
And the raison d’etre for this particular trip wasn’t our accommodation. It was a coveted table at the renowned fish restaurant, Uri Buri. Yes, I booked the table before I booked the room.
It’s nigh on impossible to get a dinner reservation at the weekend, so we settled for a Sunday and an Airbnb in the Crusader arches of old Acre. These particular Crusaders had a jacuzzi and AC, so it wasn’t all bad.
Uri Buri: the legend
Uri ‘Buri’ Jeremias is the man behind the thirty-year-old institution that has become his name (‘Buri’ means fish, btw). He’s also an institution himself in these parts. And easy to spot about town, with his famous Dumbledore-like beard trailing in the sea breeze (we celeb-spotted him in the souk the next day).
Last year, his restaurant featured in TripAdvisor’s top 25 best fine dining restaurants in the world. But I’m sure he has many other, finer, accolades too.
You take your kid to a fine dining restaurant?! I hear you cry. In Israel, yes. We’ve trashed a few white tablecloths with tomato sauce and chocolate ice cream. Because they’re big on family here. And our five-year-old was welcomed in Uri Buri; the staff took time to chat with her like she was an actual person.
Modest and honest
But back to dinner. The restaurant is in an old Ottoman house, overlooking the sea walls of Akka (or Acre, or Akko). It’s the perfect spot for watching the sun sink into the shimmering Mediterranean.
The yellow sandstone arches are grand, but this understated eatery looks like an empty art gallery when we arrive early on a Sunday evening. It’s all white walls and silence. The tables soon fill up though. And the chatter rises gently into the vaulted ceiling, where traditional Palestinian dresses—heavy with embroidery—are suspended high above our heads.
Yes, there are white tablecloths, but this place is not at all not pretentious. It’s just ALL about the fresh seafood and amazing flavours. The staff are relaxed and friendly and know every dish inside out. They’re happy to recommend something based on what you do—or don’t—like. And you can opt for half-portions; perfect for trying out a few different dishes. But we’re here for one thing and one thing only: the tasting menu.
The food just keeps on coming. All of it delicious. And rich. Soft scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée and crunchy fresh seaweed; spicy seared tuna chunks on creamy labneh with olive oil; salmon sashimi with eye-watering wasabi ice cream; shrimps and artichokes steeped in butter, turmeric and lemon… eight dishes in all. And they would happily keep on cooking for us.
For the wee one, we order a half portion of mujadara (an Arab staple of rice and lentils) and a fillet of bass. And we all agree that the mint ice cream is THE best mint ice cream we will ever eat. Stretchy, almost chewy Arab-style booza, which tasted of mint. Actual, real mint. Not the mint of mint-choc-chip fame.
We amble home to our Crusader cave—about a two-minute journey—full and happy, stopping to peer over the sea walls as the last of the light disappears.
The next morning, it’s hard to find a coffee shop that’s open. Even harder to find somewhere that does breakfast. We wander around the old streets, with barely anyone to bump into; it feels like we shouldn’t be here.
‘Where are you from?’, ‘Why are you here?!’ are the questions we keep hearing. This town, which relies so heavily on tourism, has no tourists. There’s a domestic tourism boom going on elsewhere in Israel, thanks to Coronavirus, but it hasn’t reached this ancient Arab port.
We take a 20-minute boat trip from the harbour with one other family, for just 10NIS each. Nothing is this cheap in Israel, and I’m not sure how these people are making a living. The pink and white pleasure cruiser pumps out Arabic dance tunes as we go around the city’s sea walls, and back again. We watch the teenage boys jumping off the old stone fortifications, into the sea below. I hold my breath.
Akko beach is close by and has a picture-postcard view of the ancient old town. Spires and minarets puncture the skyline, poking up from behind the thick sandstone walls that hold the sea at bay. The beach is quiet. It’s a weekday in late July, and the jellyfish are still around. A week later and they’d be gone, just like the tourists.
We’ll be back though. Uri Buri is worth the trip. Besides, we missed his ice cream shop and I need more of that mint ice cream in my life.
More info on our trip…
Uri Buri – call +972-4-9917702 for reservations.
Uri Buri’s ice cream shop is Endomela
Here’s the Airbnb we stayed at.