Israel’s epicurean renaissance is hardly news to foodies. Tel Aviv is one of the world’s great dining destinations, and other Israeli cities are catching up fast.
“Restaurants where the menu changes according to what’s in season used to be rare, even in Tel Aviv; but now we are seeing restaurants actually in the food markets,” says Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel, whose culinary safaris are helping spread the word.
Baum takes visitors to markets and restaurants. And guides like Time Out Israel, which keeps up with a fast-changing dining scene, mean it’s not difficult to find a gourmet experience. But if you are heading there this summer here are a few to watch out for.
Tel Aviv boasts many talented chefs, although surprisingly few have the beach location this city facing the Med cries out for. This makes Manta Ray the restaurant not to miss, with meals served within sight of lapping waves.
“I take inspiration from my Greek roots,” says chef Ronen Skinezes, who also cooks for Manta Ray’s sister restaurant, Yona, in Jaffa port. The Israeli-born chef, who worked for 10 years in a top Sydney restaurant, makes much use of native ingredients like olive oil, tahini and yogurt.
Manta Ray is famous for the dazzling array of mezzes presented on arrival, of which the fish carpaccios simply cannot be beaten. Finely-sliced pieces of raw, firm white fish are layered with diced aubergines .
This combination is also a favourite of Yossi Elad, one of three chefs who have given Jerusalem’s less vibrant dining scene, Machneyuda — a restaurant even Tel Avivites drive an hour to dine at.
Based near the food market, there are no views. Instead of Manta Ray’s relaxed, romantic seaside vibe, there is urban madness — diners packing long counters, a frenetic open kitchen and bar and tables in the crowded interior. The inventive takes on dishes drive custom to this restaurant, beloved by London’s Israeli chef supremo, Yotam Ottolenghi, and featured in his film Jerusalem on a Plate.
Machneyuda is all about earthy flavours. Chef Elad deep-fries his aubergines before making pockets in which to stuff fish fried with onions, garlic and parsley.
A third restaurant to look out for is Akko’s Uri Buri. Here, fish cooked in every way brings diners to the northern tip of Israel. It is arguably Israel’s most expensive restaurant: “We ask people their budget before we serve them because we’ll just bring out dishes till they say stop,” explains chef-proprietor Uri Jeremias.
A simple, basic room with peeling walls, it relies on its inventive dishes to captivate diners. Jeremias, a former diver, serves everything from chermoula-stuffed sardines inspired by travels in north Africa to fish simmered in sumptuous lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk sauces learnt in southern India.
Even cooked dishes take no more than three minutes to bring together. “We just drop fish into our boiling coconut milk casserole and it’s ready by the time it comes to the table,” says Jeremias.
His recipes can be surprisingly simple; it’s the play of one flavour against another which brings the wow factor to dishes like a sashimi of salmon with wasabi sorbet and sea bass in an east-west fusion dressing of butter, Balsamic vinegar and Thai fish sauce.
These three are not the only “must-visit” restaurants in Israel but they are all exciting and easy to reach. Each demonstrates the bounty of Israel’s produce, used to full potential by widely-travelled chefs, and boosts the country’s reputation as a truly gastronomic destination.