Tucked away amid the rundown apartment buildings, after-hours nightspots with black doors and no names and trendy bars of Lilienblum Street is Lili 24, a kosher French bistro that adds a bit of charm to the typically diverse Tel Aviv backdrop.
This is no high-priced exclusive restaurant with nouveau food and a stiff atmosphere in which you’re afraid to use the wrong fork. Instead, proprietor David Adda, an immigrant from Marseille, has created an unpretentious, comfortable ambiance that I imagine a neighborhood French restaurant in Paris would be like without the giant photographic mural of Paris along one of the walls – a quaint, cozy garden dining area with tables adorned with white tablecloths and plentiful, flavorful food.
Adda moved to Israel three years ago and opened Lili 24 in 2012. Since then, the venue has become a magnet for French expats who show up like they’re visiting an old friend, going up to Adda and kissing him on the cheek. And, of course, there’s a varied mix of Tel Avivians, both secular and observant.
“I own three restaurants with my brothers in Marseille,” said Adda, who has been in the business for 20 years.
“I can take over at any position here, whether it’s waiting on tables or working in the kitchen. The owner needs to be able to replace anyone.”
Luckily for Adda, both the wait staff and the chef, Ilan Amal, proved to be more than up to the task the night my wife and I dined at Lili 24. From the menu in Hebrew and French (with a separate translation in English), we ordered two starters from the dozen or so selections.
The baked mushrooms with duck breast and herbs (NIS 32) was outstanding, especially the creamy whipped duck breast stuffed into the caps. Likewise, the roast beef strips baked with Dijon mustard and herbs and served with a tangy green salad (NIS 39) provided a tasty way to begin the meal. The beef, slightly peppery, was sliced thickly, and the meat was chewy without being rubbery.
Among the other starters available were foie gras baked in fig filling and nut candy, and asparagus wrapped with garlic-roasted goose breast.
Along with the starters came fresh, homemade focaccia with two tasty spreads – dill/olive and sun-dried tomatoes (NIS 38).
Chef Amal told us that while he is only 28 years old, he has been working in kitchens since he was 14 and learned the craft from his father, who was a chef with the Hilton hotel chain.
“My father learned French cuisine in Lyon and then spent six years in New York. All the dishes I prepare at Lili 24 are based on his recipes,” he explained.
For the main course, I chose the fillet Rossini (NIS 159), the item Amal said he most enjoyed preparing. And you can tell. The huge 300-gram mound of beef – almost in the shape of a not-so-small hedgehog – was topped with a piquant slice of seared goose liver. The fillet had a smoky, peppery crust; and inside, the meat was delicate and juicy, without an ounce of fat.
My wife ordered the more conventional salmon fillet (NIS 79), served with roasted pepper sauce. It, too, was prepared with care and flair and flaked off the fork. All entrees were served with a choice of huge homemade chips, potatoes baked in basil, garlic and rosemary, mashed potatoes or green salad. The baked potatoes were soft and full of taste, and the green salad wasn’t too shabby, either.
Other specialties on the menu included the entrecote de Paris (NIS 110) and Adda’s favorite, the Marsala foie gras on a bed of creamy potatoes (NIS 126).
Adda insisted we try Amal’s dessert creations – the hot chocolate soufflé and the strawberry mousse parfait.
Both were worth the distress caused by having overeaten.
Lili 24 is open from noon to 4:30 p.m., with a special lunch menu catering to the businesspeople in the area. It reopens as a French bistro at 7 p.m. nightly except Friday. On Saturday night, it opens an hour after Shabbat is over.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
24 Lilienblum St., Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 510-3913