The food served in hotels has gotten a bad rap over the years, largely well deserved.
More recently, however, two phenomena have done a lot to rehabilitate this image: the vaunted Israeli breakfast buffet has gained a worldwide reputation, and hotels have been leasing out space to outside restaurants whose chefs de cuisine are independent from the in-house chefs who oversee the dining room buffets.
What follows is a list of some of the best restaurants not only among those situated in hotel lobbies, courtyards and rooftops but even in the country as a whole.
The list is far from exhaustive, especially since a number of highly acclaimed restaurants have closed since the pandemic struck; several, lamentably, are likely never to open their doors again.
In fact, this roundup was begun B.C. -- Before COVID -- and resumed only recently after a long interruption. Some on the original list have yet to re-open, so replacements had to be found; others were revisited, so that the summaries below would be up-to-date. The entries include one kosher restaurant.
Finally, since hotels are very strict about obeying “purple seal” regulations, diners can be assured that whether seating is outdoors or inside, all precautions against spread of the virus are being taken.
Ambiance: The sprawling, beautifully landscaped grounds of this iconic hotel in East Jerusalem -- our only representative from Israel’s capital -- are the specific location of the property’s “summer restaurant,” an inviting and welcoming innovation that is operating even while the hotel remains closed to overnight guests.
The particular attractions here are the separation of the tables by greenery, and the welcoming cool evening air of Jerusalem.
Hours: Every night of the week, 18.00-23.00.
Beverages: An extensive alcohol menu, including classic, specialty and virgin cocktails; a more than adequate international wine list, although with few vintages available by the glass; imported and domestic --including from a craft brewery in the West Bank -- draft and bottled beers; and soft drinks.
Menu: The food menu is rather limited and straightforward, since the temporary kitchen centers around a large outdoor grill, as well as the hotel’s main taboun. The categories are Starters (actually salads), Focaccias/Pizzas, and Main Courses (with side dishes).
Recommended: Caesar salad, with grilled shrimp (other optional extras include bacon, smoked salmon, or chicken); Focaccia topped with soujouk (Armenian) sausage; Grilled filet of prime beef; and the fresh Catch of the Day (whole fish on the grill). Desserts: Warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream (other choices rotate).
Price range: Expensive.
American Colony. Not kosher. Louis Vincent St. 1, [East] Jerusalem. Tel. (02) 627-9777.
Ambiance: This bar-restaurant complex is part of the vaunted Monkey Business Group, headed up by master mixologist Ariel Leizgold. Fantastic’s two separate dining rooms -- The funky Mad Hatter Tea Room and The Ballroom -- are both rather dimly lit, reflecting the emphasis on a bar atmosphere.
Hours: Every night of the week, 18.00 until the last guest (the kitchen may close around 23.00).
Beverages: An incredibly extensive and varied list of Specialty cocktails; a limited international wine list, with all vintages available by both the glass and bottle; beers and soft drinks. The cocktail list features English names for each drink; frustratingly, however, the specific ingredients are only in Hebrew (which the wait staff will translate).
Menu: The food menu -- in Hebrew only -- is not long, but with enough interesting items to make choosing a bit challenging. The three sections comprise Appetizers, Intermediate Courses and Main Dishes, with a decent selection of vegetarian/vegan options.
Recommended: The charred Beet carpaccio, with blue cheese, walnuts, dill and a balsamic reduction (the intriguing sounding Mushroom Tea was regrettably unavailable); Red tuna sashimi, with aioli and crispy quinoa; Green salad with endive, berries, pecans and St. Maure cheese, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette; Linguini, with sundried tomatoes, spinach, mangold and garlic confit, in a sauce of white wine, lemon and olive oil; Wellington burger, in phyllo dough with smoked goose breast and cherry tomato jam, served with coleslaw and potatoes seasoned with capers. Desserts feature a rotation of many of the usual suspects, so we ordered the imported cheese platter from the appetizer section.
Price range: Moderate.
Fantastic. Not kosher. Port Blue Hotel, Tzidon St. 1, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 516-4700.
George and John
Ambiance: This restaurant in the lobby of the beautiful restored historic boutique hotel on the border of Tel Aviv and Jaffa is one of the most visually interior designs in the city.
The decor is unabashedly elegant, with comfortable seating and white tablecloths. There are a few small alfresco tables in a meticulously landscaped side patio, although outdoor service may not be available at all hours.
George and John is a relative newcomer to the local culinary scene, but under the stewardship of Chef Tomer Tal, by 2019 it began to garner both national and international recognition for excellence.
Hours: Sunday-Saturday, Evenings, 18.00-23.00; Sunday-Thursday, Value lunch, 12.-15.00; Friday-Saturday, Weekend brunch, 08.00-12.00; Sunday-Thursday, Breakfast, 08.00-11.00.
Beverages: In addition to Specialty cocktails, there is a well-curated international wine list, with a knowledgeable house sommelier who is happy to advise patrons. Naturally, there are imported and domestic beers, as well as soft drinks.
Menu: The bilingual food menu is updated and printed daily, while the menu as a whole is revised seasonally. Year-round, it comprises four sections: small plates, intermediate dishes. Main courses, and Premium cuts of meat or whole fish. There are hardly any vegan options to speak of, and just a very few vegetarian dishes
Recommended: The platter of assorted warm house breads, served with dips of hot peppers and smoky eggplant cream, is a good way to start any meal. Winter menu: Goose liver terrine with quince marmalade; Lamb sirloin; Pici pasta with seafood. Summer menu: Amberjack sashimi with lime jalapeno, avocado-cucumber salad, Israeli caviar and crisp horseradish leaves; Thin egg noodles with blue crab, sweet corn, crab bisque, bottarga, brioche crumbs and sage; Rack of lamb roasted in dry mint, charred zucchini, green garlic cream and smoked onions; Whole fish cooked in a smoker in a white wine sauce, with grilled broccoli and greens in garlic and chili.
Desserts: Of the four listed on a separate menu, Profiteroles with mascarpone cream, fresh pineapple, lemongrass syrup and chocolate ganache; Chocolate cremeux with luz biscotti and caramel cream.
Price range: Expensive.
George and John. Not kosher. The Drisco Hotel, Auerbach St 6, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 726-9309.
Ambiance: This is the one instance where the restaurant and hotel name are one and the same, perhaps as a nod to the fact that the restaurant/dining room take up most of the lobby. The restaurant’s pedigree is impeccable, as it is part of the acclaimed R2M Group. The decor is elegant, with plush leather seating and white tablecloths.
Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Beverages: Specialty cocktails, imported and domestic draft and bottled beers, soft drinks and an extensive international wine list, of which few vintages are available by the glass (although there are half-bottles).
Menu: An updated bilingual dinner menu is printed daily, although most dishes have become a permanent presence. There are basically four untitled categories -- raw fish/seafood, starters/intermediate dishes and main courses -- with several vegetarian (but few vegan) options.
Recommended: The [complimentary] warm, fresh breadsticks served with soft European butter; Truffle ravioli, with beurre blanc and asparagus; Pork chop with bacon, manchego and pear; Duck breast with caramelized beetroot and celery; Desserts: Raspberry pie, chocolate coffee cake.
Price range: Expensive.
Hotel Montefiore. Not kosher. Montefiore St. 36, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 564-6100
Ambiance: This relative newcomer has taken the spot formerly occupied by Blackstone in this upscale boutique hotel near the diamond district.
Kamakura has carved out an exclusive niche among elite Asian restaurants that are not only kosher, but also focus on aspects of Japanese cuisine other than sushi. Seating is indoors only, in a handsome room that may be described as conservatively stylish.
Hours: Open Sunday-Thursday for value lunches (12.00-16.00) and dinner (18.00-23.30).
Beverages: Kamakura has a separate, bound drinks menu that itemizes its offerings in no fewer than 21 categories. The menu is bilingual, with the notable exception of the entire page of Specialty cocktails -- whose names are in English (or transliteration), while the ingredients, bafflingly, are in Hebrew only. Interestingly, there is a whole page dedicated to Japanese alcohol, including of course, sake; the manager will be happy to advise guests on making a selection.
There is also an unusually long, international kosher wine list for a Japanese restaurant, although none are listed as available by the glass. Strangely, there is no mention of beer, even though Japan is known for brewing some popular global brands. The soft drink section includes several brands of sparkling and still mineral water.
Menu: There is actually a plethora of disposable food menus, in a confusing array of bilingual and Hebrew-only configurations. Once again, it is advisable to rely on the guidance of the wait staff.
The sections of the main menu are Starters and Main Courses, while additional pages detail meat, fish and stew dishes, as well as sushi rolls and combinations. We chose to focus on a Kamakura specialty, the Kaiseki tasting menu, featuring seasonal small dishes that rotate monthly.
The excellence of the food here relies on two important factors: the quality of the ingredients -- the glatt kosher beef from an exclusive Golan Heights supplier, for example -- and the talent of the chef, an Israeli who trained and worked in Japan.
Recommended: Beef Tartare and bone marrow -- marrow in a mustard-tartar-miso sauce cooked in a Josper oven with Buchanan charcoal, and served with beef tartare, shiso and chives; Menchi tonkatsu. Ground rare ribeye croquettes with leek and kabucha (Japanse squash) in yakiniku sauce, accompanied by rice seasoned with furikake; Sirloin kabucha -- grilled sirloin with kabucha cream, caramelized chestnut squash, yakiniku and squash-leek jam; Hambagu -- Charcoal-grilled Japanese hamburger in a Japanese barbecue sauce, served with a soft-boiled egg on bok choy in lieu of a bun; and two sushi rolls -- Niko (avocado, cucumber, chives and red sweet potato, wrapped in seared Denver cut and fred leek) and Spicy salmon (avocado, crispy salmon skin and cucumber, wrapped in spicy salmon, tempura chips and micro-sisho leaves); Alcohol: Yuzu-infused sake; Desserts: Yuzu pie -- lemon-yuzu tart, burnt meringue, black sesame tuile (a separate dessert menu itemizes four desserts).
Price range: Moderate to expensive
Kamakura. Kosher. Indigo Hotel, Aholiav Street 5, Ramat Gan. Tel. (073) 275-3807