‘Jerusalem’s the city to pray; Tel Aviv’s the city to play.’ So goes the mantra of Israel’s two major conurbations.
Only established as a nation in 1948, Israel’s food culture is heavily influenced by the Middle-Eastern cuisines of its immediate neighbours, as well as from the generations of Jewish immigrants who have settled here from all around the world. Tel Aviv, founded in 1909 as an overspill settlement from the ancient port of Jaffa immediately to the south, is now a high-octane modern city whose dynamic eating and drinking scene draws on the richness of all of these cultures and ranges from top-end fine dining to great-value street food.
That aforementioned ‘play’ is very much an emphasis for locals and visitors alike. While cocktail lovers are spoilt for choice with many well-established bars, adventurous wine drinking is a newer trend, given a fillip by Covid travel restrictions that saw Israel’s younger residents expand their drinking horizons – and shown at its very best at Basta, whose world-class wine list, excellent food and brilliant service embody Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan, vibrant and hospitable spirit…
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN TEL AVIV
Tel Aviv is architecturally interesting rather than beautiful. Its many famed 1930s Bauhaus-inspired buildings rub shoulders with gleaming skyscrapers and a hodge-podge of more modest structures, all criss-crossed by busy roads. But its wide boulevards, leafy squares and bustling street life make it an enjoyable place to wander around, and the coast is never far away if you want to chill out on a beach.
Follow the Independence Trail, marked by a 1km brass pathway, which links 10 historical sites that tell the story of Israel’s history via signage along the way, or head to pretty Neve Zedek, one of Tel Aviv’s oldest districts, to find trendy boutiques, artisan shops and cool cafés – don’t miss Anita ice cream parlour on Shabazi St. Israel’s first whisky producer M&H Distillery is also worth a visit.
When it’s time to feed your soul, visit the spectacular Museum of Art, which is a work of art in itself. Part of a complex that includes the Opera House and the Camera Theatre, as well as the highly regarded Pastel restaurant, its Brutalist-but-beautiful main building dates from the early 70s, with a stunning extension added in 2011.
Where to eat and drink in Tel Aviv
The Carmel Market is unmissable. Begin with a health-giving juice at the famous Uzi-Eli’s stall at the entrance on Allenby St, then jostle your way through the crowds to find colourful piles of produce and plenty of pit-stop snacking. Try the Yemeni flatbread mallawah right at the centre of the market or the wonderful herb-heavy falafel at a stall right opposite, then quench your thirst at nearby Beerbazaar, which sells Israeli craft beers.
If three-hour tasting menus are your thing, try OCD’s dazzling, cutting-edge food. More low-key Santa Katarina serves fresh, modern sharing plates along with a short but well-chosen wine list. Hummus is ubiquitous in Tel Aviv; Ha’kosem at 1 Shlomo HaMelekh St is widely credited with serving the best in town.
For drinking, get down with the cool kids at Sputnik 122 Allenby (it’s hard to find; look for two horizontal red neon lights above the graffiti-clad entrance) or at Teder (9 Derech Jaffa; no website), which also serves brilliant pizza in its colonnaded courtyard. The Bushwick Bar, part of the fancy Fabric Hotel, is rightly lauded for its top-notch cocktails, as is Bicicletta.
Where to stay in Tel Aviv
Accommodation (like most things) in Tel Aviv is expensive, and Airbnbs are thin on the ground. Expect to pay around £200 a night at places such as the historic Herbert Hotel – right on the seafront, and with a good wine bar downstairs – or the chic Poli House, while the Shenkin Hotel is a little cheaper but equally well situated.
If money’s no object, splash out on the Norman Hotel. Recently restored to its art deco glory, their drop-dead-gorgeous Library Bar is also open to non-residents. The Setai on the edge of Jaffa is another glamorous choice.
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The Ultimate Drinking Destination
Basta (also called HaBasta), on the edge of Carmel Market, is laid-back and buzzy with a scruffy hand-written menu that belies the quality of the eclectic dishes, while its wine list would hold its own in any international city, featuring Israeli wine as well as Burgundian hard-hitters and plenty more besides. Brunch is served every Friday from 8.30am – expect Bloody Marys, oysters and classical music.