Tel Aviv eating fest

Anyone who is in to food should seriously consider a little food trip to Tel Aviv.

I spent five days there and ate some of the best food I’ve had all year – and it’s been a pretty good year for my stomach (if not my thighs.)

First off, Israelis really know how to start their day.  How’s this for breakfast?

Fresh juice, mint tea, coffee, eggs any style, and also this ridiculously generous bread basket:

which, among the fresh focaccia and oven-warm rolls, harbours this perfect little pesto and sesame savoury pastry:

and this selection of tuna salad, sundried tomato tapenade, sour cream, and cheese:

and this fresh chopped salad with cucumber and tomato, in a lemony olive oil dressing:

As well as delicious, sweet home made strawberry jam:

Not quite that hungry first thing? Then how about some shakshuka, the Ottolenghi fave – served at Dr. Shakshuka’s cafe in a ramshackle old Ottoman warehouse in Jaffa

(I suspect he’s not actually a real doctor…)

Though of course breakfast is never just a frying pan of shakshuka, but so much more – an assortment of tripolitan salads, fresh vegetable salad, couscous with cholent, lemonade, coffee and cake – just for good measure. Still, sustenance is needed to tackle all the old tut in the flea market:

and then a trip around the super-groovy Brooklyn-esque boutiques and coffee shops in the area, as well as the San Franciscan style food market in Jaffa port.

Need a little drink before lunch?  Tel Aviv is AWESOME for fresh juices:

(and hot men)

and lovely, refreshing drinks such as mint lemonade:

Time for a little lunch – at Orna and Ella, a hip cafe on fashionable Shenkin Street, again one of Ottolenghi’s favourites.  The food there is simple and full of flavour.  These yam cakes with sour cream and chives make you ponder why you don’t eat sour cream and chives alongside everything savoury:

Not to mention the lush corn bread.  And this simple grilled chicken salad (with rosemary and thyme) served with a chopped cucumber salad with coriander, tarragon and parsley – was just killer, killer, killer:

Or if you want more volume, how about a shipudim lunch (meat on skewers + loads of awesome sides)  at Al Diwan – an arab restaurant in the unfortunately named town of Gaash. Vibrant, fresh salads:

Giant, warm, soft sesame sprinkled flatbreads

Crunchy falafel and delicate, crispy lamb cigars:

Perfectly tender, grilled meats

And some perfect roast cauliflower:

Feast!

*

I would like to think that I’d be healthy if I lived in Tel Aviv.

If I could shop in a market like Shuk Ha Carmel, in south Tel Aviv, I’d eat fresh fruit and veg all day every day:

The produce is so bountiful…

The smell of fresh herbs lush:

And there’s a world of spices to play with too:

But then I’d probably undo all the good work by troughing on lush ice cream, like this phenomenal banana, toasted almond and dark chocolate from Vaniglia:

Or some of the amazing pastries:

and breads – which this city excels at:

Even on the beach you can eat like a king.

Watermelon and salty Bulgarian cheese (trust me – it works.)

A darn site better than a hot dog on Brighton Beach, that’s for sure.

Tel Aviv’s restaurant scene is having a moment.  The two mega-highlights were at Rama’s Kitchen, in Nataf, above the hills of the Arab village Abu Ghosh, 20 minutes from Jerusalem.

The setting couldn’t be prettier:

with a stunning view across the hills, and a beautiful and extensive herb and vegetable farm:

And the food itself was a revelation, showcasing all the fresh, organic veg grown on the farm.

So for example, that is freshly baked Taboon bread (a Taboon = a clay oven), covered in sour cream with a parsley, garlic and coriander pesto – divine.  The pesto on its own was one of those vibrant, simple dips that is theoretically super easy to make at home, and yet I never would. But I should.

Meanwhile, when bread is warm and oven-fresh and looks like this, how can you not eat it all in one swoop?

Here’s sprouted seeds, roast red papper, labneh, caperberry and star of the show kohl rabi – a stunning combo of sharp, creamy, sweet and fresh – as fine a balanced dish as you could hope for:

On to some simple tomato salad on top of green tahini with black olive crisp bread:

And a lush minced lamb on bread with more sour cream:

And finally, the very best meal of the trip, at Tzfon Abraxas, aka North Abraxas, near Rothschild, back in Tel Aviv.

Everyone I know who’s been to Tel Aviv in the last year has raved about this restaurant and it didn’t disappoint.

It’s all very casual and hip – they even dump a little pile of salt on your brown paper mat, rather than having anything as square as a salt cellar.

Again, it was an example of perfect ingredients treated with a lot of respect and love – like these tomatoes:

Or creme fraiche, with tomato seeds and olive oil, served with fresh bread:

And the unexpected highlight of the entire trip – a jacket potato.  Yes, a jacket potato, with a hardboiled egg, creme fraiche, and chopped salad of tomato and cucumber, with a lemon and olive dressing.  Who knew a humble potato could steal the entire show?

One more thing!  One of the internet’s primary functions is to host pictures of cats.  Tel Aviv has loads of cats, and as I am a cat person, I thought I’d introduce you to two of my favourites:

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Tate – rehung, A Wong – re-hungry

You know when you go on holiday to a foreign city and you do so much when you’re there – visit galleries and architecturally significant Bauhaus buildings, track down random things you’ve read about online, make an effort to go and look at an abandoned train station? (Tel Aviv, I’m talking about you!  More on this in a subsequent post…)

And then you come back to your home city and watch a lot of iPlayer, go to your local drinking haunts and never make the most of where you actually live?

I’ve been making a bit more effort to do stuff in London this year – and when I can combine ‘culture’ with some awesome food in the environs, all the better.

There’ve been a lot of glowing reviews in the press about the Tate Britain rehang (hung vs. hanged btw – hanged is purely for murder by the neck – I never knew that.)  I went the other day – and while I can safely say that I know less than nothing about art (or rather I instantly forget any art fact as soon as I’ve read it) – the rehung main collection was brilliant (well, up until about the 1980s when I think it all goes to shit.)

There were so many paintings that struck me – but for the sake of brevity, check out my three faves:

I am SO putting those two ladies in my next book.

And this:

And this:

Still, there’s only so much art a dilettante can take – and so the really good news is that less than 15 minutes walk from the gallery is A Wong, a Chinese restaurant that has been getting rave reviews.  It was so great I took my mum and dad back there the following week for lunch.

They do fantastic dim sum – only at lunch – and a regular menu at dinner.  Highlights of what we ate are as follows:

An epic prawn cracker, that didn’t look like any other prawn cracker I’ve encountered in my many years of hanging out with prawn crackers:

A luscious, delicate, smokey sesame buttered chicken and cucumber salad:

An amazing hot, salty yet mild Yunnan style fried cheese served with Sichuan pepper salt:

(Does your heart sing when you see the phrase ‘fried cheese?’ Mine does, though perhaps it’s the first signs of cardiovascular disease.)

A very sweet yet deeply savoury crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy on the inside barbeque pork bun:

Killer Scottish beef rump fried noodles:

Something I forget the name of, I was so transfixed by its prettiness:

And a magical melting pudding.  I was so high on food happiness that again I forget the exact description – I think it was tobacco smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel sauce.  Either way – now you see it:

Still there, just about:

Now you don’t:

A hot mess – a very very fine hot mess indeed.

The service was excellent too – and the prices were nowhere near as expensive as the food looks. A total find in the backwaters of Victoria – and the perfect reward following a self-improvement session at The Tate…