The first of my misconceptions was swept away. Sitting in the restaurant of the urbane Hotel Montefiore I assumed that pig meat in Israel would be a no-no. Although this is true for some parts of the country, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv delights in breaking the rules. Flush from my discovery I decided on beautifully succulent spare ribs and ‘crispy chicken Vietnam.’ The waitress later suggested that we share a pudding, a chocolate mille feuille as big as my head. Tel Aviv is a city where size definitely matters. Yet it’s rarely to the detriment of quality. We spent most lunchtimes wandering through the flea markets, shovelling down gorgeously smooth gelato, snacking on fabled hummus and getting to grips with luridly coloured and delicious tasty doughnuts. I love Tel Aviv.
Chilled and languid in the day, come night time Tel Aviv gets rather sophisticated. Start with a street-side spritzer then head to any number of dinning spots. Boutique hotels have landed in a big way and with them come some of the best eating places in town. If you want to do a bit of ‘sleb watching with your starter, the very ‘now’ Hotel Norman caters for the jet-set and international pop star crowd. And if you don’t spot Kanye, Kim and the kids, you can bury your sorrows in a hearty portion of goose confit followed by a deliciously British bread and butter pudding. I’d rather the pudding myself.
For a casual but memorable experience, the much lauded Shulchan is a good bet. It’s run by Omer Miller, a darling of social media; he has around 35,000 Instagram followers who obsessively document each new menu item. Much of the food is tapas inspired but in keeping with the Israeli approach to food, portions are generous to say the least. Whether you order beef, calamari skewers or the modest sounding but epic cherry tomato salad, a couple of dishes are enough to feed a small family.
If you really want a feast and change from £15 it would be hard to find anywhere better than the Old Man and The Sea. In the Jaffa port area of town, it’s a big, airy, Arab-run restaurant. There are meat and fish options, but the salads are top notch and a series of 20 dishes arrive at your table. Soon after sitting down, a waiter appears, labouring bravely under a tray supporting the double digit salad combo. Each portion is starter sized; a big dollop of hummus, vivid green falafel balls, aubergine with tahini and lemon… Inevitably some things are better than others, but taken as a whole, the restaurant is the perfect place for an adventurous soul who wants to try a bit of everything and has a spare hour to walk it off later.
Breakfast is a big deal and one that stands out is Meshek Barzilay. Sit outside on the terrace among the orange trees and savour a traditional shakshuka dish of baked eggs in a roast pepper and tomato sauce or go for the inventive ‘farm breakfast’ of chickpea omelette with greens, breads, muffins, spreads and basically everything else you’d need for a great morning meal. It’s so good that even carnivores will not resent the lack of animal flesh.
If you’re looking for something lighter, try Albulafia, one of the oldest bakeries in town, on the edge of the Jaffa flea market. Its beautifully displayed tarts, breads and pastries are some of the best around.
The food in Tel Aviv is a highlight but the bar scene is also vibrant, from groups of rowdy young things ordering bottles of Grey Goose at street side cafes to world class cocktails, you’re not going to go thirsty. The pick of the bunch is Imperial Craft, named the best bar in Africa and the Middle East in the world’s 50 best bars list. It’s housed in an oddly shabby hotel, on your first visit you’ll probably stand confused outside the door, peering at the dim red glow emanating from the small window. Once inside It’s reminiscent of a trendy Shoreditch faux-peeling-paint-chic drinking den, it’s the real deal. Choose from a mind blowing menu of exotics like K-rush; Ketel One vodka shaken with Campari, pineapple lime and cardamom, sprayed with Mezcal or why not go for Pirate’s delight; Don Julio tequila, Meyer’s Jamaican rum and Cynar shaken with banana cream and cacao powder. Hell, order a gin and tonic, they probably work magic with that too. Best of all, everything is half price in the 6-8pm happy hour.
After all that booze you might need somewhere to sleep. There are plenty of Air B n B options and the usual chains but the aforementioned boutique hotels are all the rage at the moment. Well placed and surrounded by the city’s night life is the Brown TLV Hotel, notable for its rooftop spa and sun deck and help-yourself lambrusco bar. It’s perfect for anyone who has ever dreamed of sitting outside in a jacuzzi whilst indulging in a never ending pink fizz happy hour. The rooms are well appointed with a complimentary bottle of wine (a pattern seems to be emerging) and very comfy beds. But what really stands out is the service. The young, enthusiastic team are full of helpful recommendations and some decent banter. They are more than happy to ply you with bubbles from the chilled bottle of fizz at reception.
They’ve also got a newly opened sister hotel, the Tel Aviv Beach House, which as its name suggests is close to the sand. Service is just as friendly but the added bonus is the double, possibly triple height bar which will delight any Instagrammer worth their salt. I will definitely be going back to Tel Aviv as there were at least half a dozen frozen yoghurt places and martini bars that I didn’t try. If you want sun, great food and non stop fizz, it’s definitely the place to go.