The only problem with dining at the Olive Leaf is that the waiters bring so many complimentary dishes before the actual order, that one tends to have less appetite by the time the main course arrives. But for diners with the right capacity, one can’t find a more pleasant place in Tel Aviv to spend an evening.
A popular enclave in the Tel Aviv Sheraton for many years, the Olive Leaf, presided over by celebrity chef Charlie Fadida, is a medium sized intimate restaurant with a charming ambiance. Overlooking the Tel Aviv promenade, the place is beautifully decorated with gorgeous flower arrangements of flaming orange and white chrysanthemums. The olive wood tables are covered in beige linen runners that create an informal look.
We were shown to a wonderful table for two in front of a pillar, so it felt almost like a private room separated from the rest of the diners, and right in front of the large picture windows where, even at night, one could discern the waves breaking on the shore.
The restaurant manager, Matan Hutman, was so helpful and enthusiastic, that we left all our food choices to him, with only a slight prodding from us to veer it in the right general direction.
For the initial assuaging of the hunger pangs, Udi, our helpful waiter, brought three dips and marvelous crispy whole grain bread studded with generous amounts of black olives. The coriander pesto, bright green and smooth, was very good, the olives were usual, but the garlic confit was superb. Even garlic cloves stewed for two hours in olive oil must leave traces on the breath, but it was so good that we elected to be social pariahs the next day, threw caution to the wind and devoured the lot.
We were also offered a tasty amuse-bouche – a bruschetta of cubed fish on julienned vegetables, an interesting mouthful. Then we had to try the small glass of very thick mushroom soup, spicy and warming on a stormy night.
We began the actual meal with two salads, both interesting and different. The green salad (NIS 40) came with steamed asparagus, citrus segments (called fillets on the menu) and Chinese pecan sauce. The second was beetroot carpaccio, (NIS 39) – paper-thin slices of red beets marinated in apple vinegar, brown sugar and date honey, served with apple and celery julienne in hazelnut vinaigrette. Both were imaginative and left no doubt that a sweet dressing always adds an extra dimension to a dish.
Before starting our hors d’oeuvres, a palate cleanser in the form of a small stemmed glass of purple granita appeared on the table. It was made of wild berries and champagne and certainly made a change from the more usual lemon sorbet.
Among the starters we sampled were small red mullet, deep fried and served on a bed of greens with a very tasty vinegary and herb dressing; and an unusual baklava of goose liver (NIS 70) with fresh raspberries, which neutralized the excessive fattiness of the liver by encasing it in crispy filo pastry. We also sampled the soup of the day – a puree of frozen peas (NIS 40), which contrived to be very creamy though parve. Finally yet another starter, ceviche of salmon (NIS 45) – cubes of raw fish with assorted salad vegetables served in a curling lettuce leaf. Very pretty, with a tangy dressing.
The main course arrived and both were excellent, although I wished the food had been hot, not lukewarm.
The kitchen should consider warming the plates before starting to decorate them with food and garnishes. The beef tenderloin (NIS 140) was superb – crispy and brown on the outside, and tender and juicy within, with a wonderful flavor. Accompanying this was a sweet potato puree, mushroom sauce and roasted bok choy. The crispy mallard breast (NIS 75) was also excellent, served with caramelized fruits and crisp sweet potato tempura.
The paired wine was a very interesting choice – a bottle of 2010 Gva’ot blended Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer (NIS 140). The two grapes complemented each other brilliantly, each taking the edge off the rather pungent flavors of the wines in their single state, and we enjoyed every drop.
After a brief rest, we tried the desserts. We sampled halva cigars with pistachio ice cream and hot chocolate sauce (NIS 42), all excellent. I chose fruit salad in the vain hope I might not add too many calories to a feast of an evening (NIS 39). This came with chocolate crème brûlée, which had a crispy top as it should, but can’t really work in a non-dairy version, since all the taste of a brûlée is in the fresh cream of the real thing.
The Olive Leaf restaurant is currently holding an olive oil festival in conjunction with Eretz Gshur olive oil producers from the southern Golan Heights. Chef Fadida has prepared special dishes at much lower prices than usual to showcase the various oils. Diners are given a bottle of top-quality olive oil as a take-home gift.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
The Olive Leaf
115 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv
Sunday to Thursday, 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.