Best for funky foodsters
This popular café on leafy Boulevard Rothschild offers fabulous Israeli mezze-style food on the ground floor with a trendy cocktail bar on the second. In the tree-covered front yard, we shared creamy Italian artichoke carpaccio slathered in with piquant balsamic and salty parmesan, while sweet beets paired with sticky, caramelised endive and salty Circassian cheese was a pretty and winning combination.
But the stand out was a trio of soft pita breads stuffed with crumbling, spiced fish patties, slathered in tzatziki, creamy tahina sauce and herbs. Cocktails are a must — the Insta-ready, zingy yellow Vodka Thyme looked as good as it tasted. Lunchtimes are more subdued but evenings are buzzing.
The funky 1920s office block housing the city’s (now disused) first lift shaft, is home to designers and other creatives — hand-picked by the landlord to fit a trendy spec. At street level sit Disco Tokyo and Herzl 16, the latter is the reincarnation of hotspot, Rothschild 12, (closed when its lease ended) and is open all day.
After morning pastries, coffees and brunch favourites, lunchtime and dinner dishes mix European café staples with Asian influences — think crunchy/soft broccoli and cauliflower tempura with garlicky aioli, or arancini (deep fried Italian risotto balls) stuffed with Korean kimchi and chilli. Office workers line up to sip cocktails, listen to music and be seen.
Eyal Shani’s latest Tel Aviv outpost is his first kosher eatery, opened in April, with a social enterprise side helping disadvantaged youth to get jobs. Heading to Dafna Street straight from the airport, the place was jumping at 10pm on a Thursday night with funky music, flaming cocktails and fabulous food.
Charcoal roasted beet carpaccio showered with finely grated horseradish packed a punch, as did the Old Jerusalem Mezze platter. I’d fly to Tel Aviv for the whole-baked sea bass served in the oven tin, surrounded by caramelised chunks of sticky, sweet roasted tomatoes; and a slab of crisp golden schnitzel that oozed molten, creamy mash when you cut into it. Delicious kosher served by friendly staff — with style.
Best market marvels
Food isn’t cheap in Israel. So your best chance of lower cost eating — and a fun foodie experience — is in one of Tel Aviv’s food markets. This open air market is best visited on a Friday ahead of Shabbat, when tables groan with mountains of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.
You can also eat your way around the shuk at some of its fashionable restaurants, including Habasta; in the same vein as Machneyuda (but far more low key), the best of the market’s bounty is cooked up each day.
A purpose-built indoor market hall and totally different to the heat, smells and sounds of Carmel. To me, it felt less authentic but is still a foodie treat, marvelling over endless rows of huge baskets and bins filled with dried fruits, nuts, spices and spice mixes.
Browse (German) boutique olive oil/vinegar/liqueur shop Vom Fass with a hand written label added to your chosen bottle, which can be refilled at a later date, or watch sesame seeds being ground into tahini at Halva Kingdom before tasting flavoured halvas and tahini. Take your treats to pretty Sarona park outside or eat in at one of the 18 eateries around the hall and next door.
The most fabulous food store squirrelled away in the heart of Jaffa’s flea market. Across the street from its sibling, Café Puaa (a gorgeously retro quirky eatery) the deli is a treasure trove of Israeli foodstuffs.
I could have spent hours sampling everything from tangy local goat’s cheeses to big dishes of garlicky olives and interesting savoury pestos and pastes (think sundried tomato, creamy artichoke and chilli-filled jams) — before moving on to coffee halva, plus pistachio, almond and white chocolate cream spread and crumbles of gooey chocolate babka. Worth self-catering for.
Best of the rest
Alena restaurant at The Norman
One of Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants, it’s more formal than many but executive chef, Barak Aharoni — who took me on a tour of his own favourite spots in the city — has a no-fuss ethos, sticking to simple and seasonal dishes. We sipped house cocktails at marble tables while tearing off chunks of still-warm sourdough rolls to dip into peppery olive oil.
Super-friendly staff helped us pick two starters to share — black quinoa packed with fruits, nuts and seeds, and a plate of cubes of watermelon topped with thick slices of raw tuna in Asian-influenced dressing. Bright green asparagus spears sat in a pool of broccoli puree speckled with crunchy sweet potato curls. A highlight was the surprisingly English bread and butter pudding in a mini casserole which was topped (with some theatre) with hot crème anglaise.
Breakfast at The Drisco
The Drisco, which opened in June this year, sits in the calm and leafy American quarter of Tel Aviv. The building — once so decrepit you could see the sky from the basement — has been carefully refurbished. The results are gorgeous, paying homage to a previous incarnation as the German-owned Hotel Jerusalem, and to its previous owners, the unfortunate Drisco brothers, who built the original hotel, but never saw it open.
The glamorous bar is an oasis from the hot sun with its cool marble columns and velvet sofas and armchairs. And Zada by the Drisco in the basement is the place for a seriously good hotel breakfast, the counter laden with smoked fish, a rainbow of crunchy chopped veggies and baked goods. Three savoury tarts — roasted pepper; spinach and cheese and aubergine — were tender and melting.
You must also order off their menu. Crispy, buttery brioche topped with salty cured salmon, a runny poached egg and creamy caper remoulade made us sigh. Another soft poached egg sat on a tomato, pepper and garlic ragout — a smarter cousin to shakshuka. We could have eaten the whole menu.
This unassuming spot hidden in the heart of Levinsky market is more than the sum of its parts. We turned up without a reservation but luckily snagged two seats at their bar. Loud music made for shouty conversation, but the food was so good, who needed to talk?
We dipped warm bread into a dish of creamy Romanian ikra (a creamy/salty taramasalata-esque dip made from fresh fish roe and topped with crunchy onions and herbs); slivers of smooth, roasted aubergine carpaccio were slathered in creamy tahina sauce and scattered with fresh, green herbs. Super-fresh fish ceviche was bursting with juicy chunks of mango and pineapple.
The star dish — five crunchy sardines, heads and tails peeping out either side of their vine leaf wraps, arrived nestling in a pool of thick Greek yoghurt and under a blanket of bright red chilli rings and ribbons of herbs. Desserts — which we couldn’t manage — included semifreddo almond brulee with amarena cherries. A must.
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