Tel Aviv, Israel

Posted on Tuesday, 10th July 2012

I recently spent some time travelling in Israel and the highlight was undoubtedly Jerusalem. With its history, stories of conflict and beautiful monuments, I was totally captivated by this city that must surely rate as one of the most fascinating places on earth. But if Jerusalem was where I went for culture, Tel Aviv was the place that I hit for food (and the beach!). Tel Aviv is the second largest city in the Middle East with a cosmopolitan vibe and bustling energy, helped in no small part by the vibrant beach and warm sunshine. It plays host to some decent restaurants too, some of which I would like to share with you below should you ever decide to sample in the delights of this exciting city.

Breakfast at Benedict

In the short time that I spent in Israel, I came to learn that Israelis love their bread, strong citrus flavours (salads are often very lemony), and their dips, especially hummus and tahini which are available everywhere. Quick and easy foods include falafels and shawarmas which are a big part of the Israeli diet, and also popular, in particularly in Tel Aviv, is the humble breakfast.

In fact, I would go so far as to say breakfast is a cultural institution in Tel Aviv. Almost all the best restaurants serve breakfast, especially on a Saturday morning when the locals come out in droves to partake in this favourite pastime on their day off. As an example, Hotel Montefiore which lays claim to being one of the chicest hotels in Tel Aviv, offers breakfast until 1pm on Saturday.

So it wouldn’t do to go to Tel Aviv and not try a ‘breakfast’. The most common breakfast offering is the ‘Israeli breakfast’ which invariably includes eggs of some sort (usually an omelette with herbs), an ‘Israeli salad’ (a chopped salad typically containing onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and lots of lemon juice), a variety of spreads, an assortment of bread, coffee and/or fresh juice. It’s not exactly ground breaking gastronomy, but breakfast is a way of life here.

Benedict is one place that serves breakfast, and boy, does it serve breakfast. Well-known in Tel Aviv, it embodies how important breakfast is to the locals by serving breakfast, and only breakfast 24/7. Yes 24/7.

Benedict has just about every type of breakfast you can think of – Israeli (as described above), English, American, etc, not to mention eggs cooked every which way. But for something distinctively more Israeli, one can try a shakshuka (ILS 58 – about £9.40) which is a tomato based stew with eggs that has its roots in Morocco. Intensely tomato-y, it was nicely spiced with cumin and paprika. The two eggs were done runny as requested, and it came with an assortment of breads and spreads and an Israeli salad which was fresh but dressed with too much lemon for my liking. But as mentioned above, I have come to realise that Israelis like sharp citrus flavours, so this was in keeping with the local palate.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka

Israeli salad

Israeli salad

Breads and spreads

Breads and spreads

Benedict also offers pancakes in what must be some of the largest pancakes imaginable. This blueberry (ILS 38 – £6.20) version was good, but was best shared as it was so enormous!

Blueberry pancakes

Blueberry pancakes

A breakfast selection and a drink is likely to set you back about ILS 60 to ILS 90 (about £10 – £15).

At:
171 Ben Yehuda and
29 Rothschild Blvd

Bistro eating – Gedera 26

Named after its street address, Gedera 26 is a cosy, inviting restaurant which has received notable recognition on the local blogging scene for serving very accomplished food. It’s a small outfit with one chef working the stove and cooking all the dishes to order, and one assistant helping out with plating salads, sides, desserts and the like. I therefore couldn’t help but admire the chef as I watched him work up countless plates of food in his open plan kitchen. A low head count also keeps costs down, and the prices of the meals were fairly reasonable.

Frena, a Moroccan bread baked in a special stove, came out warm and was delicious. Nicely seasoned with sea salt, the centre was soft and spongy, and the exterior slightly crispy. Israelis love their dips, and this came with a tahini with scrumptious garlicy overtones and aromatic parsley, and a wonderful coriander pesto made with almonds. These dips were fresh and fabulous.

Frena

Frena

Roasted vegetables of the day (ILS 22 – £3.60) included nicely cooked cauliflower dressed with tahini, and soft sweet peppers with roasted garlic and a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. Both the savoury tones of the cauliflower and the gentle sweetness of the peppers were scrumptious.

Roasted veg

Roasted veg

It may surprise you that I had pork in a restaurant in Israel, but pork I ate. As explained to me, most people in Tel Aviv do not keep Kosher. As such it is not uncommon to see pork or shellfish on restaurant menus. This pork chop (ILS 69 – £11.20) was slightly too done for my liking, but was tasty nonetheless, especially when eaten with the accompanying mustard and slightly sweet date marinade. On the whole a decent plate, but it would have been better balanced with more veg. The mashed potatoes that came with it was tasty but had been unevenly heated.

Pork chop

Pork chop

Pan-fried red mullet (ILS 62 – £10) had been beautifully cooked with crispy skin. Accompaniments of roasted tomatoes had been nicely done and a lovely aromatic basil ran through the dish. There was also lemon confit which was a touch sharp for my liking, but otherwise this was a really satisfying dish.

What I liked about Gedera 26 is that it has heart. Chef worked his butt off. The service was warm and the food was very good. It’s worth just going to try the frena.

Price range: About £20 – £26 for three courses. Excludes drinks and service.

At: 26 Gedera St
Tel: +972 (0)3 510 0164


Hot, hip and happening – Mizlala by Meir Adoni

Meir Adoni is one of the power chefs of Israel. His flagship fine-dining restaurant Catit in the prestigious Tel Aviv suburb of Neve Tzedek has won awards, but it was to his cooler-than-cool Mizlala that I headed. Touted as the hottest restaurant in Tel Aviv in 2011, supermodels such as Bar Rafaeli have been known to frequent its tables.

Its décor is minimalist and the furnishings simple. In fact, if you walk past Mizlala during lunchtime, the restaurant isn’t much to look at. But at night, the restaurant transforms into something with a clubby vibe with its hypnotic dance tracks and carefully designed lighting, not to mention very well-to-do clientele.

The menu is inspired with a pan-Middle Eastern focus that draws on modern techniques to bring the best out of the local ingredients. Palestinian tartare (ILS63 – about £10.20) was divinely good with the beef (rump) being nicely spiced with cumin. Accompanied by tahini, aubergine purée, pine nuts, yoghurt, broad beans and soft sweet tomatoes, the melding of all these flavours came together wonderfully, and exemplified what the best of the Middle East should taste like. The only slight let down were the pine nuts and broad beans which were a little soft.

Palestinian tartar

Palestinian tartare

Red mullet (ILS81 – about £13.15) was delicious with a fantastically crispy skin. It came with nicely cooked asparagus and zucchini, and crispy polenta cubes which were light and soft. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds provided crunch. Creamy aubergine purée dressed the plate and was too lemony (again) for my liking, but all in all, this was a skilful dish.

Red mullet

Red mullet

Layers of coffee and brandy cream (ILS41 – about £6.70) when eaten together proved wonderfully decadent. Alongside the cream was a ‘bitter’ chocolate terracotta with raspberry syrup (served in a syringe). More of a fondant cake with a good runny centre, it lacked for a strong bitter taste of chocolate. All the textures were wonderful, and the creaminess came together to create something satisfying, but the combination of coffee, brandy and chocolate had the effect of drowning out the other’s flavours, including the raspberry.

Coffee and brandy cream, chocolate terracotta

Coffee and brandy cream, chocolate terracotta

The service was good and I would not hesitate to go to Mizlala again. The dishes were creative and inspired, particularly the tartar, and the cooking was well executed. And as Mizlala is for the beautiful people, it was also great for people watching.

Price range: About £30 – £40 for three courses. Excludes drinks and service.

Website: http://mizlala.co.il/en

All three restaurants had English menus.

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One Response to “Tel Aviv, Israel”

  1. Rachel Says...

    While i was in Israel i enjoyed the dishes so much :) and it was really inspiring i started cooking Israeli dishes for my children as well.