Carving a niche
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It's cool cuisine. Literally. Order sashimi in the Olive Leaf restaurant in the Sheraton Tel Aviv and it comes on what looks like a glass tray with circular sections for soy sauce, ginger and chilli mayonnaise. But the tray is actually an ice carving, prepared by chef Charlie Fadida.
Mr Fadida is one of Israel's top ice sculptors. Sitting in his restaurant he proudly shows videos of him carving all sorts of designs from large animals to the Sheraton's logo. For large designs like these he uses huge saws and tools that he brought from Japan. The sashimi tray is child's play by comparison.
The sashimi is far from the only inventive dish on the Olive Leaf's menu. Others include salmon prepared using the blowtorch technique normally reserved from crème brûlée.
It is a restaurant where the term "fusion cuisine", often merely interpreted as "anything goes", takes on its proper meaning. Olive Leaf goes in for disciplined cooking, with a twist. So, for example, the classic French goose liver pâté goes Middle Eastern with a baklava shell made from filo pastry and date honey.
"I have French friends who come and say: 'This chef, he's crazy as he's broken the rules', but it seems to work," says Mr Fadida.
Another restaurant with the confidence to innovate is Liliyot, which was declared by the recently deceased Daniel Rogov, Israel's most-respected food and wine critic, to be Israel's best kosher restaurant.
Starters there include grilled chicken liver on toast with bananas and vanilla caramel; green asparagus with popcorn cream, soft boiled egg and bitter chocolate and sirloin carpaccio with asparagus, pickled radish and black pepper vinaigrette.
Most impressive are the main courses, which show the ability of chef Noam Dekkers to use complex flavourings - as in the goose supreme in citrus honey and cinnamon with a tart cream of Granny Smith apples - and to explore cutting-edge methods such as vacuum cooking, which is used for the succulent roasted, boneless, marbled and aged premium cut of prime rib. The wine list includes reds from the boutique Yatir Winery, a favourite with connoisseurs and some fine merlot-cabernet sauvignon fusions.
If you plan to be in Tel Aviv over Rosh Hashanah, Succot or Passover, it is worth finding out about the David InterContinental's festive meals. In the evenings it opens up its enormous Grand Ballroom (or on Succot a huge succah) for a lavish feast where wine and soft drinks flow freely, all included in the price. Special stands offer kid-friendly food and there are plenty of lean options for the health conscious. Highlights include the carveries and exuberant dessert buffets.
Over the past few years, the quality dining culture of Tel Aviv has spread out along the coast, meaning that today if you are staying in Herzliya you have excellent eating-out options close by.
One trendsetter in Herzliya is The Meat & Wine Co. This is one of a small international group of steakhouse restaurants started in South Africa, which has branches in Australia, Bahrain, the Middle East, South Africa, Mozambique and the UK. The emphasis is on ageing the meat correctly and serving it with immaculate presentation. The chain's South African origins are honoured with favourites from that country, such as biltong, a cured meat.
As the restaurant's name suggests, the wine list is extensive. All Israeli, it includes wines from Gamla, Yarden as well as small well-regarded wineries like Bazelet Hagolan.