I truly like this country and especially the city of Tel Aviv. Out of all the places I have lived it is the youngest and most vibrant. Partially this is due to its combination of the small size (I can walk to almost all the city from my central location) and partly the influx of young people who live out their dreams in what is called the Israeli bubble.
While I have so far been unfulfilled with my culinary experiences I believe I am an eternal optimist (who else would continue to subject themselves to continued burger torture). The blog is not just to remark on restaurant quality but also to tell the unique and sometimes unusual Israeli social norms and behaviour.
Today it is the turn of the ‘Guest from Abroad’. At first I didn’t pay much attention to this phenomenon but the longer I live in this country the more I realise the importance of the ‘guest’. Basically it is the need to prove that Israel is the most amazing place in the world. In culinary terms it is to take the ‘guest’ to the best ‘restaurant’. One only has to read through restaurant reviews about how the ‘guest’ enjoyed or not his/her experience (usually it has nothing to do with the ‘guest’ but a psychological projection of their own view).
I find this behaviour intriguing as I started having visions of restaurants filled with each table having a special ‘guest’ a UN representative – somebody from abroad. Almost as if an upper class badge – ‘I have a special guest from abroad!’ and I am taking him to the best and most expensive restaurant. It is the next level up from Israeli’s who mix several words of English into their Hebrew dialogue. Also, why would a special ‘guest’ from abroad want to go to an Israeli version of a gourmet or international restaurant? We all know we can’t yet compete with top restaurants in the US, UK or France so why even try it. Maybe we have some kind of inferior complex from our special international ‘guests’ and are trying to prove something?
I guess some explanations to this phenomenon are a mixture of genuine hospitality, position of Israel in the world arena, arrogance and/or an excuse to go to an expensive restaurant. But I can tell you I would be far more impressed as an international ‘guest’ to be taken to something ‘Israeli’ like – lunch in the Yemenite quarter, Humus in the old city of Jerusalem or Acco and not fancy (I have it too much of that in my home country).
This brings me to Herbert Samuel a ‘chef restaurant’ on the Tel Aviv seaside. In one of the next entries I will elaborate further on the concept of the Israeli ‘chef restaurant’
Herbert Samuel - 6th Koifman St. Bet Gibor Tel Aviv
The brunette and I were invited to join a small party which included a ‘Guest from Abroad’. Naturally the hosts in question had intensely researched the best restaurants in Tel Aviv to take their distinguished European guest and Herbert Samuel was chosen.
Herbert Samuel can be found in the complex of buildings which houses the Dan Panorama hotel and overlooks the sea. The restaurant itself has two floors of eating space with an open viewing working kitchen on the second floor and the bar and more cramped seating on the first floor. I would personally recommend eating on the second floor next to the kitchen and overlooking the sea in the evening, especially if you are entertaining the ‘guest’.
This restaurant is basically a gourmet style establishment and the menu did look enticing with lots of interestingly detailed courses a mixture of seafood and meat. Service was attentive if somewhat lacking in information. Every dish I questioned was amazing and recommended (sort of seems pointless to ask) and worse was when I asked where the beef was sourced was answered I don’t know but it is amazing (only the tap water wasn’t quoted as ‘amazing’ here). Meat as you all know is a personal peeve of mine as I maintain it is not of good quality in Israel. Regardless the brunette and I ordered the Butchers cut (I have really come to hate this so Israeli term for meat) and fillet mignon.
A variety was ordered and included beef carpaccio (tasty), different types of cherry tomato salad with sheep cheese and oregano (very tasty), tuna belly (very tasty) and shrimps (very tasty).
The starters were all very good, almost excellent; each course was vibrant, well balanced and brimming with flavours. To accompany the starters we had ordered bread which was also fresh and tasty. So far this is one of tastiest Israeli restaurants for international starters yet still pales into comparison (in my opinion) to an equivalent well regarded gourmet restaurant in London or Paris.
Unfortunately out of the four main courses ordered only one was very good. I had ordered the butchers cut and received several ‘bits’ of steak. The sear had a nice flavour but couldn’t mask the only ok piece of meat. The brunette’s fillet did not have much flavour, if tender, and arrived with bone marrow (I suspect to add the fatty flavour needed to accompany this dish). One other guest ordered spare ribs which was fine if nothing exciting.
The dish which was very tasty was the young grouper (which was costed per weight and was very expensive or at least that is what the person who was paying said afterwards). I think it may have been one of the best whole fishes I have ever tasted and luckily it was the ‘guest’ who had ordered it (‘face’ of the host was saved!).
Two desserts were ordered – the apple pie and cheesecake. The apple pie looked the part but the butter flavour was slightly overpowering to my taste. The cheese cake was fine with some of the guests saying it was excellent.
Overall, the restaurant offers great starters which are let down by only average main courses (bar the fish) all of this priced at 1,500nis for 5 including Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 or 2007 I believe – not cheap.
And what did the ‘guest’ think of it all? He immensely enjoyed the food and commented that this restaurant was as good as home. The hosts were very happy but I couldn’t stop thinking what was the point of taking a special ‘guest’ to something which is like at home?
3.5 stars out 5
The Disgruntled Diner.