by Elyse Glickman
Pausa: a Slow Food-driven resort on the edge of the Golan Heights and Galilee wine production areas.
The paradox that defines Israel—a country just over 60 years old and yet as timeless as human history—makes it an unforgettable destination for those who worship at the altar of fine food, wine and celebration.
On one hand, Israel is a cradle of civilization. On the other, its chefs, winemakers, mixologists and fashion trend-setters are returning to the roots of Israel’s winemaking, farming and culinary legacies, redefining them for the 21st century.
Even if you are more spiritual than religious, there is something profoundly moving about digging deep into human history to connect with traditions you grew up with or read about in your history classes.
However, with the way Israel’s food, wine and spirits tastemakers proudly bring their spins on their country’s bounty, everything you’ve learned can be enjoyed in a new context and with all five senses in real time.
Pausa’s hearty breakfasts and dinners: Great things from the good earth.
From the most affectionately prepared street food and drink to upscale wine and cheese tasting to ambitious Tel Aviv and Jerusalem restaurants, a “family-style” approach to food presentation is one common denominator that connects ways visitors can enjoy food in Israel. People who keep kosher or who have embraced the organic food movement will also be thrilled to discover that Israeli cuisine defies the plethora of stereotypes which may suggest organic and kosher diets are perennially boring. It is for this reason that exploration of Israel’s wineries is the perfect starting point for such a transformational journey.
‘Though there has been a great revolution with Israeli wine in the last 30 years, we cannot talk about that without referring to (the fact) this land has been an ideal place for wine production through the ages,’ informs Haim Gan, founder of the Grape Man Wine & Spirits Center in Tel Aviv, a hidden gem offering professional training courses, wine tasting sessions, food and beverage correlation courses. ‘We have the soils, the knowledge and the determination, plus the legacy of wine consumption for 5,000 years. When we combine these truths with our current knowledge of new wine technologies and consumer buying patterns, the potential for future success is there.’
From the Golan Heights and Galilee to the Negev Desert, perhaps the biggest discovery to be made is that there is far more to Israeli food than just hummus, falafel and kebabs. Miracles are being performed every day, from quaint country inns like Pausa to cooking lesson luncheons at Roburg to ground-breaking destination restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (like Herbert Samuel and Eucalyptus). However, to understand the revolution first hand, one must go to the source of inspiration—in this case, wineries.
‘Although we are a young country of 7,000,000, our people come from over 100 countries,’ Gan points out. ‘This in turn, has lead to our country being a melting pot of different kinds of foods and wine styles. Our food and wine culture is as influenced by Russian immigrants as it is by Ethiopia and its warmer climate and flavours. The potential of that day coming is imminent, as producers become better educated about the global industry and our geography and territory.’
Golan Heights and Château Golan wineries.
Although Israel’s largest wineries, Carmel Winery, Barkan Wine Cellars and Golan Heights Winery are all certified kosher, winemakers admit their long-term plans include getting foodies and wine aficionados interested in specifics that make Israeli wines, whether kosher or not, special, including the varying terrains where different grape varietals are grown. The Golan Heights has a classic Mediterranean climate, while the coast is more subtropical and the south more arid. Soils in Israel range from one million years old to 270 million years old. This, in turn, results in a surprising array of red and white wines.
A Margalit selection
Boutique non-kosher wineries such as Margalit in Ceasarea, Shvo Vineyards and Château Golan in Golan Heights are adopting grass roots’ approaches to bring their message in a bottle to wine enthusiasts overseas. Their visitor centres, relationships with local inns and restaurants and online stores are all specially designed to get word of mouth spreading from continent to continent, encouraging memories that new converts will bring back home and share with friends.
Where to stay
Family-friendly David Citadel Hotel and edgy Mammilla Hotel have location, location, location in their favour with proximity to each other, trendy modern neighbourhoods and Old Jerusalem. They also have the advantage of sprawling terraces that make you feel as if you could touch the peaks, and spires of history. Mammilla also has the Mirror Bar, which is popular with locals.
There nothing is quite as whimsical as Herods Hotel, a beautiful hotel banked on the city’s famous beach boardwalk. It exists in two worlds. One world specifically one that caters to 21st century travellers and the other to the mid-20th-century nostalgia that is reminiscent of when Tel Aviv emerged as the centre of commerce and optimism for a just-born nation.
Built literally from the ground up by Avigdor and Einat Rotherm, Pausa Inn has a “no children” rule that makes it the perfect place for grown-ups to get back to nature, enjoy a glass of fine Israeli wine or the Rotherm’s home-made lemoncello while drinking in the fine points of country inn entertaining.
The 360-degree views from the Villa Galilee Boutique Hotel are epic. However, pair them with Victorian manor house appointments, fresh-from-the-farm breakfast spread, vibrant floral landscaping and a nicely situated pool and you end up with a little slice of heaven.
Mitzpe Hayonym (pictured) balances the timeless (1,000 m of organic hotel garden and fields with livestock) with the new via art gallery shops, classes, soap making, bakery, spa and wine-driven Muscat restaurant. Visitors will also be enchanted by personalities like resident artist Sara Shoval, an earth mother who lives her passion through the artwork and services she provides for hotel guests.
Where to dine with wine
Who would have thought that the sustenance of mankind’s forefathers could also be so progressive? Moshe Basson brings his edible history lesson to Eucalyptus, a restaurant located at the edge of Old Jerusalem. While the restaurant offers a standard menu, to get to Basson’s heart and soul, order the King David’s Feast. Priced at US$50, or 167NIS, it’s a fantastic value for such an expansive, elegant meal, an experience only heightened by his storytelling and discussion of Chefs for Peace, a group comprised of local chefs from all backgrounds and religions.
A contemporary but decidedly not-too-trendy approach (“no foam or seaweed on my watch”) makes Chef Daniel Zach’s romantic, cottage-y Carmella a real jewel. Zach’s outstanding offerings include trout with wine butter sauce on black wild rice and mustard, cured sirloin on arugula and goose liver paté, meant to be paired with some of Israeli’s best boutique wines.
While Herbert Samuel was an early 20th-century British government official and leading Zionist, the restaurant bearing his name charges forward into a new era of Israeli cuisine, everything from its futuristic attic kitchen to unexpected east Asian and European influences to hotshot mixology proving cutting edge. The overall effect is flawless and the waiting staff is super-humanly calm and attentive.
At Roburg in the Galilee village of Livnim, Ilan Roburg and his food-focused family take “family-style” dining to an unexpected place. Not only can your group share flavourful, market-fresh dishes, but his demos and strategically placed cameras and monitors also allow you to learn how to recreate those dishes at home.
Where to nosh (casual dining)
St Raphael Restaurant, ‘The Emperor of Shawarma’, inside the Jaffa gate of the Old City, is just slightly off the path, but despite the location, visitors shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to custom-build their own chicken shawarma or falafel sandwich while mixing it up with Maher Salah, the restaurant’s charismatic manager.
Libyan salads, savoury meats and their signature creation, a saucy love child of an omlet and Mediterranean casserole, are the reasons why the Dr Shakshuka, located at 29 Raziel Street, is always in. Though it takes patience to find among Jaffa’s antique and curio shops, it’s the perfect answer for milder Middle Eastern fare.
If you need a break from hummus and shawarma, Ze Sushi, in Basel Square, is ideal. Several of their items such as the triangular “sandwich”-style sushi is done with a local edge, and when paired with either sake or an Israeli chardonnay, proves delicious.
Here’s one truck stop worth stopping at: Ktze Hanacha (above), located near the Ginosaur Kibbutz in Golan Heights, focuses on Lebanese variations of regional favorites. The velvety hummus alone makes this place worth seeking out.
Where to imbibe
Nana, created by boutique hotelier Golad Dor, offers a taste of upscale neighbourhood Neveh Zedek’s “good life”, offering hand-picked boutique Israeli wines and straightforward cocktails alongside each other.
Nanuchka (28 Lilenblum Street) is a free-wheeling party central alive with energy, karaoke, percussionists, oldies DJs and some unusual but nicely balanced cocktails, where Middle Eastern spirits tango with those of Russia and Mexico.
Rosa Parks (Dizengof 265), is a favorite spot among sophisticated cocktail fans in the know.
While the Givat Ram neighbourhood bustles with young professionals, Adom is an inviting alternative for sophisticated imbibers with original cocktail recipes taking full advantage of fresh local fruit and spirits. Zuni (15 Yoel Salomon Street) attracts similar customers who like their cocktails creative.
Nothing fancy at Glen (Shlomtzion HaMalka Street 18) —just classic rock, quality craft beers, whisky shots and waitresses who know a thing or two about preparing absinthe.
In Jerusalem, start your culture day at the Mount of Olives, which literally allows you to panoramically map out the holy sites. Once back in the city centre, be sure to swing by the Tourist Information Centre (02 628-0382), just inside Jaffa Gate of the Old City for maps and walking tour guides covering different religious and historic points of interest. Outside Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is the standard-bearer of Holocaust memorials and museums. Don’t expect to leave without a dry eye.
Not all treasures are buried, as you will discover in Safed (Tzefat), the highest city in Israel (pictured), in the heart of the Galilee. The compact founding city of Kabbalah is packed with historic landmarks, synagogues, jewellery salons and art galleries, such as the Gallery of Mystical Art and Safed Candles.
An hour out of Tel Aviv, travel back in time in Caesarea. In addition to a few thousand years’ worth of fascinating ruins, its national park also houses shops with beautiful one-of-a-kind fabric paintings and silver serving pieces. The museum facility packs a gee-whiz science museum punch that makes you wish CGI movie technology was around when you were in school.
In addition to Israeli and international fashion boutiques, Mammilla Mall’s narrow corridor is also a thought-provoking outdoor art gallery. Old Jerusalem brims with a blinding swirl of souvenir shops, but for more refined shopping, visit Ethnics. Founded by New York-based David Yom Tov, the shop is a cooperative comprised of Israeli artists making waves in fashion and interior design.
HaTachana, a restored railway station adjacent to historic Jaffa, has eclectic shops such as Israeli designer showcase Razili and Lalo Treasures, a treasure chest which stocks wonderful, affordable one-of-a-kind home and fashion accessories. North Dizengoff Street is where you will find designer clothing and shoe labels by and for Israeli trendsetters. Basel Square is home to Gourmet Shop, owned by the astute Michael Rafael, who is not shy about offering samples of cheese and Israeli wine to wash them down. It is a favourite spot for local event planners.
The Nahlat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall comes alive every Tuesday and Friday when the Arts and Crafts Bazaar vendors set up shop with a seemingly endless buffet of temping silver jewellery, ceramic and home accessory offerings.