Amazing produce at the bustling Levinsky Market, the endless takes on hummus at Nachmani or the haute experience at Messa - these are some of the flavours and passions of Tel Aviv.
The White City, a Unesco World Heritage Site that calls itself habu'ah, or "the bubble", is home to almost 3,500 restaurants and cafes, with a food scene that is not just dynamic, vibrant and groundbreaking - but is now creating waves around the world. From Paris to New Orleans, chefs are finding inspiration from Tel Aviv and making it their own.
In Southwark, London, chef Eran Tibi has been creating a new restaurant called Bala Baya, based entirely around Tel Aviv and the honesty and simplicity which it brings to food. "A complexity which blows your mind is achieved with just three ingredients," he says. "They've stripped everything back and found a way of bringing pure joy from the innocence of vegetables and meats. It's an honest love between food and people."
He has recently spent time there trying to learn as much as he can from the abundance of influences, of ingredients, of the kind of traditions so valued in Jewish culture - updated, revived and renewed. Places like the tiny hole-in-the-wall M25, in that once forgotten corner of Tel Aviv called Shuk Hacarmel. The owner, he says, set up shop next to the best butcher in the city so he could have ready access to the best meat. "Just a few yards from the butchers, he's opened one of the best restaurants I've tried in years. His simplistic approach to his dishes is amazing."
Nick Balfe, from Brixton's Salon restaurant, had a rather different motivation for visiting Tel Aviv: a classic boy-meets-girl romance which turned into a boy-visits-girl's home city and falls in love with the food there too. He's now working on a new casual dining concept called Shalom, aimed at bringing some of the vibrancy and freshness he discovered there back to London. He's trying to capture not just the flavours - but a certain atmosphere, the relaxed, laid back vibe: "It's almost as if the hospitality industry has evolved on a different plane. Clearly there are business plans and spreadsheets that make it all work, but it feels much less driven by commerce, and more about sharing a specialty, or simply just having fun."
Tibi agrees: he wants his new restaurant to capture the city's soul. "A city breathes, and its character changes throughout the day: that's what makes it unique. Bala Baya is a mirror image of a day in the life of Tel Aviv and its eating habits." This spirit will carry through to the architecture, subtly echoing its Israeli influence, in the somewhat different surroundings of a Southwark railway arch.
At its heart will be a bakery: paying tribute to the bread which Tibi says is the most important part of any Israeli meal. "The humble pita is the foundation for any gathering where food is involved." He'll be baking it in- house, he says, to fill the place with the "intoxicating aroma of freshly baked pitta" - as well as twists on other traditional favourites like challah and babka, like the bread-and-butter rugelach pudding he used to make at the Zest restaurant at JW3. "It excites me as a chef. I'm aiming for this to be my most adventurous and playful menu yet."
The creative pulse of Tel Aviv has got Balfe excited too. He's full of enthusiasm for the grassroots places he discovered, the tiny corners of Shuk Hacarmel turning out uncomplicated food with very little equipment, just the best ingredients he'd ever seen. "One chef who caught my eye was Eyal Shani. He's an ingredients obsessive, slightly bonkers chef in his fifties who has some of the hippest restaurants in the city. The vibe is always informal, with fairly rustic, super tasty food that's all about celebrating just a few ingredients." Shani is the man credited with spawning the whole-roasted cauliflower trend: his mini chain of everything-in-a-pitta Miznon restaurants now have outposts in Paris and Vienna.
Perhaps it's that unique blend of old and new, that diverse fusion of cultures and nationalities, from the Levant to Eastern Europe, from North Africa to New York, which has made Tel Aviv the heart of a culinary world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant. Would that it were so in the real world, too. "Food is in our soul," says Tibi. "When a whole nation is so passionate about eating, then whatever cuisine an Israeli chef takes on, he's going to bring a passion to it. Chefs feed off each others' passion, so when you go to Tel Aviv you become so inspired."
Balfe was inspired by what he describes as "a mishmash of Greek, Arabic and Mediterranean cuisine, filtered through the eyes, minds and taste buds of an incredibly cosmopolitan, young and very hip bunch of young chefs and restaurateurs who take disparate influences and make them into a coherent whole".
All of this, soon to be transported to London, with Balfe's new Shalom project - and at Tibi's Bala Baya, opening in January. It's a lot more than just milk and honey.