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Interviewing Motti Sofer: Bringing Italy To Israel

Picture of Debrah Marcus
Debrah Marcus
Updated: 29 November 2016
We catch up with Motti Sofer of La Repubblica di Ronimotti, learning his secrets to success and how to recreate the most mouthwatering dishes from his restaurant.
 tel aviv italian La Repubblica di Ronimotti
© La Repubblica di Ronimotti

 

Why the name ‘La Repubblica di Ronimotti’?

Ronni, my business partner and I, are both chefs. Our previous restaurant was called Ronimotti but when we moved to our current premises in Tel Aviv, we wanted a new name. We had used a facsimile of the newspaper Corriere della Sera for the background of our takeaway menu and La Repubblica is another Italian newspaper; so we decided to call the restaurant La Repubblica. But when in 2011, opening day arrived, we just had to include ‘di Ronimotti’ in the logo.

 

What is unique about your restaurant?

Ingredients are the most important thing in Italian cuisine. Not exclusive dishes but honest Italian fare using very good ingredients. Most of our dishes only contain five ingredients – I believe that less is more. Less ingredients, but each one has to be excellent! Each dish has one secret ingredient USP – unique special proposal – that makes it unique. We offer Italian nouvelle cuisine, without pretentiousness. Even if it is not beautiful on the plate, the taste is precious.

 

What is Il Giardino?

In 2010, I established an organic garden on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. I grow only what is special, not things like potatoes and onions. For example I grow mangetoute, red and yellow zucchini, aubergines, long sweet red peppers, as well as the corn for the polenta.

 

What is the Club di Repubblica?

This is a club for our clients. We have 4000 people on our mailing list. Club members are invited to closed evenings on the first Monday of every month. I myself cook for these evenings. Each time we cook 15 dishes that we have not made before. These events are always fully booked as soon as we advertise them.

 

What experience had the greatest impact on you?

My visit to the River Café in London. It was an amazing experience and, of course, the food was exceptional.

 

How would you describe the philosophy of La Repubblica di Ronimotti?

A combination of nouvelle cuisine and Italian cooking, fresh, seasonal produce, less is more, and casalinga. This is what the customer comes for. [A casalinga is a housewife who cooks only with what there is available at home.]

 

What’s one of the most memorable dishes you’ve ever had?

My mother’s grissini! We use her grissini recipe in the restaurant. She would make it using a pasta machine. It is flat and ribbon-like, with sesame and katzach – a type of black sesame – on top.

 

tel aviv La Repubblica di Ronimotti
Rolling dough © La Repubblica di Ronimotti

 

Which dish are you most proud of?

Malfatti –  it is a small, delicate, dumpling-like dish, served with a delicious sauce. There was an old legend about a cook who made a dish of ravioli, spinach, red pepper and onion. The dish fell on the floor and the maid picked it up, made it into a ball and simply added some sauce. That is how the malfatti got its name. It is our most popular dish.’ (See the recipe for malfatti below).

Malfatti

Ingredients for dumplings:

1kg wilted spinach, drained, with all liquid squeezed out, chopped into 0.5cm pieces

300g grated cheese (mixed mozzarella, provolone & parmesan)

90g white flour

2 eggs

1 chopped onion (sweat in olive oil)

150g grilled pepper, chopped

Salt & black pepper

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and form dumplings of approx. 60g each (about the size of half an avocado pip or a walnut)

Bake for 15 mins at 190°C.

 

Ingredients for sauce:

5 large sweet red tomatoes

250g cream (42% fat)

1 tablespoon grated parmesan

10 basil leaves

Pinch of salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Remove stems from tomatoes and boil in lightly salted water with basil leaves on a low heat until tomatoes are completely cooked and there is plenty liquid. Allow to cool for an hour, then drain and place tomatoes in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon crush tomatoes, then drain remaining liquid.

In a separate pot, reduce cream to about half the original quantity. Add a pinch of black pepper, a cup of the tomato liquid, salt, grated parmesan and fresh basil leaves.

 

And what about your wines?

The wines we serve are either local Israeli wines or Italian. The exception is the Chablis.

 

What’s the secret to running a successful restaurant?

To be a restauranteur is demanding work, as you have to be there physically all the time. In Israel, serving staff are young, not like in Europe, so you need to train them, teach them.

 

What can we expect from Ronimotti in the future?

We have plans for a coffee shop, a deli, a pizzeria, each offering simple, good fresh food.

 

In Tel Aviv, culture lovers should:

Visit Cafelix – there’s nothing like experiencing their coffee with crema first thing in the morning. Try Le Moulin for the best baguette in Israel.

Cafelix, 15 Sgula Street, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972-3-546-9890

Le Moulin, 72 Bograshov Street, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972- 077-531-1110

Reviewer’s Recommendations

No matter what else you decide to order, I would recommend trying the polenta. It is made with 35% fresh corn, corn flour, butter and milk and is served with truffle oil, ground truffles and shavings of parmigiano. I was never a polenta fan, but this version left me speechless, while the actual kernels of corn provide a most delicious surprise to the palate.

The delicate malfatti is another dish not to be missed.

But don’t worry about what to eat. Motti is on hand to assist and advise his clients in their choice of dishes. He knows what his regular clients enjoy and instructs the waiters as to what each and every one prefers. Members of the Italian community frequent the restaurant on a daily basis for a little taste of home – what better recommendation could one ask for?

La Repubblica di Ronimotti, 3 Maze Street, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972-3-6470247