Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 12 noon to 10 p.m.
Saturday evening -- one hour after Shabbat ends to 10 p.m.
From the moment you open the door and walk down the path to the glass doors which then open into the restaurant, you are transported to exotic Morocco. The name, Darna, means "our home," and at once you feel the warmth and beauty of the restaurant.
Ilan Sibony was born in Morocco and came to Israel as a young man in 1968. Being very Israeli, he went to live on a kibbutz, was a paratrooper in the army, then came to Jerusalem to learn architecture at Bezalel.
He opened a little pie house on Horkenos Street, which was successful for 20 years. Meantime, he visited Morocco, the beautiful and special Morocco he had forgotten.
Next door to his pie house was a building that had been built as a private house during the Ottomans and was now a Chinese restaurant. The owners asked Sibony if he would like to be a partner and he thought---"what a donkey knows about ginger."
Then the man asked if he would like to do a Moroccan restaurant--and the rest is history.
Between 1993 and 1995, Sibony collected many decorative items from Morocco, hired Moroccan workers and Darna opened November 1995 with Sibony as the first chef.
As we walked past the trays with candles on the floors through the walk ways, Sibony was our host and seated us in a room with four round tables to seat 14 people. We sat on burgundy and gold couches made from Moroccan material with comfortable pillows behind us. On the walls were large Moroccan platters and paintings; a glass cabinet with shelves holds necklaces; an insert on an opposite wall has wooden doors; sconces as well as a chandelier give soft lighting. The floors are mosaic tiles.
The seven rooms can seat 200 people or are perfect for small groups.
In the center of our table is a wood lazy susan. Nearby are miniature salt and pepper shakers like tagines. The dinnerware was designed by Sibony.
A waitress, dressed in a Moroccan dress, brings us the first of seven first courses offered on the leather-covered menu. The 10 salads (meze) for NIS43 are in glass dishes and sit upon a silver tray placed on the lazy susan with: zaaluk (eggplant), carrots with cumin, beet greens with lemon, spicy green olives with red bell peppers, cucumber and orange blossom water, spicy matbucha, fennel salad, red beets, potatoes with parsley and vinegar, and tomato confit. Personally, I found some of them a little too spicy for my taste, but my companion loved them all. In the center was a round dark home-made bread, perfectly delicious.
Next was Harira Marrakghia (NIS 32), a large portion of traditional Moroccan soup made with chick peas, lentils, coriander, and veal, accompanied by dates and a lemon piece to squeeze on top the soup. The unusual combination of ingredients made for a delectable taste.
The third appetizer we tried was Pastilla Fassia (NIS 43), Cornish hen and almonds inside a phyllo pastry shell with powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. The distinctive sweet on top with the tender meat inside was a special combination.
Of the four couscous dishes offered, we sampled the Couscous Tfaya (NIS 95)-- chicken in a sweet raisin and onion sauce. I particularly liked the sweet raisins and the very subtle spices.
There are 8 tagines on the menu and we tried the Tagine Stuffed Artichoke--artichoke hearts stuffed with veal and lamb in a lemon sauce (NIS105) made with some cooked celery. It was particularly delicious.
We did not try any of the 6 desserts (NIS 25-43) which can be enjoyed, but the green mint tea (NIS10) served in a decorated glass was a perfect ending.
All of the delectable traditional Moroccan food is the work of Chef Kobi Ifrach, who studied at the Tadmor Culinary School in Herzlia. He has been a chef for six years and spent four more years in other positions at Darna before becoming chef. He works with Ortal Ben Abu, sous chef, who studied in the Hadassah College Culinary Department, has worked in kitchens for the past 10 years and is with Darnathree months.
The leather-covered wine menu lists 35 apertifs; 7 digestifs; 14 cold drinks; 3 hot drinks; 6 champagnes; and 59 wines including chardonnay, dry white, semi-dry white, rose, red, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
Sidony is very proud of the many well-known people who have eaten at Darna such as Mickhail Gorbachev, Giorigio Armani, Shimon Peres, Arik Sharon, Tony Blair, Buzz Aldrin and Hillary Clinton.
If you choose not to order from the menu, there is a Traditional tasting for NIS 175 with soup or first course, main course and tea.
There is also a Gourmet tasting for NIS 240 with pastilla, salads and other first courses, choice of seven main courses, irresistible platter and green mint tea.
A business lunch is available from noon to 3 p.m. for the price of the main course.
Since we have never been to Morocco, we now feel that we have had a "taste" of Moroccan cuisine and some insight into the decor found in Morocco. For a culinary experience in Jerusalem, Darna is the place to go.
Note: Handicapped people can ride the special chair at the entrance to avoid the steps.
The writer and photographer were the guests of the restaurant.