A Culinary Adventure Through Tel Aviv
Most who land in Tel Aviv for the first time are fascinated by this vibrant, bustling seaside city, oozing style and liberal-minded locals smack bang in the Middle East. It has beautiful sweeping beaches and an infectious energy running through the city from day into night all week long. The locals practically invite tourists to eat, dance and swim in the ocean with them. Tel Aviv is the ultimate foodie’s paradise, with infinite dining spots from the most imaginative of street food to innovative high-end restaurants of all different culinary influences, serving fusion recipes at their best made from the freshest of local ingredients. What makes Israeli cuisine so intriguing is that it consists of a combination of local dishes and recipes brought back to Israel by Jews from the diaspora, resulting in an Israeli-Jewish fusion cuisine. The city is strewn with restaurants serving Egyptian, Iraqi, Moroccan, Yemen and Lebanese dishes, all infused with a European twist. So in between chilling on the beaches, and wandering the city marvelling at its architecture, whether you’re a meat-eater, a vegetarian or a vegan, embark on a thrilling gastronomical adventure.
WHERE TO STAY – The Boutique Hotels
The last few years has seen the emergence of unique hotels that have become the hippest places to say.
If you want to indulge then this hotel, located in Jaffa, is the place for you and far superior to any other accommodation in the city. The Setai, once a 13th-century Ottoman prison, opened its doors last year. The most striking thing about the venue is the restoration of the yellow Jaffa stone from the Byzantine era – at sunset, the walls to the courtyards shine gold. The rooms are spacious and modern with a novel interior that reflects the heritage of the destination. The hotel is designed in a way that spectacular sea views can be seen from the rooms and outdoor lounging areas. The serene rooftop setting has a slick infinity pool, making it a place you can chill all day and watch the sunset with a cocktail. There’s a wellness centre with a menu of speciality treatments and a lavish Turkish bath. Breakfast set in the lush courtyards, is a never-ending feast of Middle Eastern dishes – pile your plates as high as you can with local specialities, Jachnun and Bourekas, fresh colourful salads, the sweetest of tomatoes, olives, aubergines, fresh bread, local cheeses and add a splash of tahini the Israeli way.
The Poly House
If you’re looking for a more reasonably priced abode, but still crave a 24-hour rooftop pool to cool off in, then this eccentrically restored Bauhaus architecture-
This city is all about brunch and I’ve yet to discover anywhere else in the world that can compete with the overall standard of Tel Aviv’s version. Here are some of the highlights (note all restaurants specialise in creative dishes for vegans and vegetarians).
The interior is bright and modern with rustic furniture sourced from the local market (as are the ingredients) and that make for a talking point – our table was a battered wooden door. The restaurant specialises in traditional local Arabic cuisine with a European twist. According to the head chef Yossi Shitrit, the mission statement is “emphasis on freshness, and on combining the highest-quality ingredients with the most advanced, sophisticated cooking techniques”. Mashya is filled with the spicy aroma of mace, the local spice that the restaurant is named after and which inspired the reinvented traditional cuisine. Using a taboon (stone) oven, Mashya makes wonderfully fresh bread including challah, alongside a buffet of exotic, colourful salads infused with herbs and spices, cheeses and classic delicacies like pickled herring. To accompany your feast you’re invited to select an egg dish from the menu, and this is the place to go for Shakshuka, either white (cream) or red (pepper) based.
This is a vegan’s paradise, where plant-based food just doesn’t get more adventurous, creative and exciting. Set in an enchanting garden in trendy Neve Tzedek, a neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv, whether you’re vegan or not, Meshek is a real treat. The colours, flavours and blend of surprising ingredients will delight the eyes and palate. Ingredients are fresh, organic and locally sourced, resulting in an innovative, authentic farm-to-table experience. Indulge in exotic homemade bread, dipped into shakshuka where egg is substituted with a special tofu. Don’t miss the equisite tapas dishes including homemade vegan cheeses, Israeli salad with a nut-feta and perhaps the highlight, a calzone dish filled with spinach, tofu and cashew nut cream.
Hotel Montifiore Restaurant
An elegant boutique hotel famous for its innovative brunch. Sit on the stylish terrace and enjoy classics with a twist such as eggs Benedict with homemade toasted challah bread, pancakes with fresh, locally sourced fruits and the hotel’s speciality sauce, Gouda with sweet roasted tomatoes and organic poached eggs.
The venue for the ultimate scenic breakfast, set in an impressive bright, high-ceilinged modern structure with large windows allowing a sea view from every angle. Indulge in its selection of Mediterranean-style meze dishes and cheese and olive Bourekas with egg and enjoy people watching as Tel Aviv’s most stylish residents dine with you.
Where the Tel Avivan chef combines fresh ingredients, cultural influences and imagination.
The mantra here is to take experiential cuisine to another level, providing an extraordinary tasting menu that diners are not presented with until the end of the meal. OCD is designed for the ultimate foodie to embrace the mystery and element of surprise that each dish presents. The tasting menu, which changes from time to time, is created by chef Raz Rahav who says he “draws inspiration from the local culture and history, whilst being aware of the availability of raw materials and the season, influences from around the world and memories”. Prior to attending the dinner, you are asked to email them your dietary requirement so they can devise a suitable tasting menu for you. There are two sittings per night of 20 people. You dine at a chic bar around an open kitchen, with a full view of the chefs working silently under pressure, building up large blank plates from scratch to create each dish with precision and serve all diners at the same time. As the chefs serve up, they explain what it consists of but this still does not prepare you for the flavours and unique textures that hit your palette. A sitting consists of 12 courses and it was immediately evident from the first dish – gin and tonic granita with yoghurt, parsnips and pine nuts – that we were being presented with thrilling new concepts and flavours. Other dishes included corn sorbet with Israeli osetra caviar, steamed seabass with eggplant, leek and beurre blanc – all far from obvious. If you invest in one fine dining experience during your stay in Tel Aviv, this is the one not to be missed, but make sure you book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
I was skeptical how well the Middle East could do Thai food justice. But I will say they not only surpassed my expectations as this was the best Thai restaurant I have ever been to, including those I experienced in Thailand. It’s another example of a skilled Israeli chef’s ability to take authentic cuisine and add an intriguing Middle Eastern twist to it. The tasting menu is a must – share with the waiter your dietary requirements and you will be presented with a beautiful feast consisting of the perfect balance of contrasting dishes and flavours designed for your palette. Everything is exquisite, but for vegetarians, you cannot leave without trying the dumplings with Jerusalem artichokes and for fish eaters, the speciality is the wild fish crispy rice cone with black sesame seeds, soy foam and flying fish roe. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, desserts here are an adventure that cannot be missed.
Where east meets west, presenting a fusion of Arab-Italian-French cultures and flavours in a rustic, charming setting. Dishes are incredibly fresh, ingredients sourced from Levinsky Market, which is on Dalida’s doorstep. The concept is sharing dishes and among the exotic choices are spicy feta brulee, seabass in an Ethiopian sauce, cheese tortellini jazzed up with lemongrass, fresh shitake and crispy sage. For meat-eaters, the brioche steak and bone marrow with beef hibiscus stock and Jerusalem artichoke cream – to be mopped up with the sweet homemade bread – is insanely divine. The presentation of all dishes is equally as impressive as the flavours.
This is one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest dining spots, located in a spacious, preserved wine distillery. The concept is “from farm to table” and the menu changes on a regular basis as the chef aims to use fresh seasonable ingredients. Meanwhile, the specialities that remain and tantalise the palette are: whole-wheat frana bread with labaneh; spicy matbucha; Mediterranean fish bruschetta with tahini, tomatoes, olives and capers. Make sure you save room for dessert as Claro’s twist on Israel’s classic, Malibu, with sugared pistachios, coulis and kadaif promises to delight.
Part of your culinary tour must include a night eating on the streets of Jaffa that really come alive at night – tables line every alleyway for a dining experience with live bands to entertain as you feast. There are many restaurants to choose from, but look out for Onza which is the real gem among them. Here you will experience the real Tel Aviv, dining with the hippest of locals. It’s another Israeli sharing dish experience where you cannot be disappointed by whatever you order as each dish is carefully thought out with a wonderful balance of flavours and fusion of concepts.
THE STREET FOOD
You cannot visit Tel Aviv without experiencing the casual side to their culinary culture, where you will discover another level of food innovation.
The food market destination where many locals do their grocery shopping. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and the abundance of the brightest of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, olives, cheese, fish and more. Use your tour through the market as an opportunity to sample a bit of everything you desire. The market can be hot and crowded so venture down the side streets to find little bars serving ice-cold craft beer to cool down or freshly squeezed lemonade and orange juice.
For the best….
Sabich the city has to offer, head to 42 Frishman Street, just off the corner of Dizengoff, a busy shopping street with many street food stands. Sabich is a vegetarian Iraqi-Jewish creation of fried eggplant, overnight cooked egg, cooked potatoes, tahini and pickled mango sauce (called amba) generously stuffed into fresh pita bread.
Hummus and Falafel
Remember, you are in the land of the falafel and hummus and will be overwhelmed with options, but Falafel Hakosem is the real deal. The falafel are fresh, light and full of flavour. The hummus is equally as fresh, delicately flavoured and just delicious. You’ll find it hard to enjoy hummus or falafel in the UK again!
Knafeh – if you love cheese and you love all things sweet, you’ll find many food stalls selling the traditional Arab desert in Jaffa and at The Carmel Market. You simply cannot miss it it’s radiant orange glow!
Port Said is an Israeli-Egyptian fusion, upmarket street food restaurant, is also well worth venturing to as part of the experience. The concept was conjured up by Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani. Service is fast, recipes imaginative and attitude is “no fuss” as dishes are served in paper and most are designed to eat with your hands. “Dip and indulge” is the mantra here. The menu changes daily and includes sharing portions of freshly sourced local food, served with spoonfuls of the best tahini in town. You can’t book but it’s worth a short wait on the street with one of their refreshing fresh mint cocktails until a table becomes available. Port Said encapsulates the energy of the Tel Avivans: dining on the streets until late and rising for work early the next morning.