Sitting in Lulu Kitchen and Bar in Neveh Tzedek on a warm spring evening with a glass of chilled Israeli wine and delicious bistro food, it’s easy to understand why owner Amnon Ben-Yaakov gave up a successful career as an account to follow his dream of opening a restaurant.
My companion and I had the pleasure of the charming restaurateur’s company as he talked to us about the mythical French prostitute that inspired the name and logo of the place, as well as the life decisions he made that saw him preparing sandwiches and washing dishes for minimum wage as he worked his way up to becoming a successful restaurant owner.
Ben-Yaakov has spent a lot of time traveling around Europe, and this is reflected in the atmosphere of the restaurant, which he designed. The intimate space is complete with tables and chairs inspired by those found in French cafes, Italian style red-and-white napkins, as well as Spanish style sausages hanging near the kitchen.
Originally from Acre, Ben-Yaakov decided nine years ago to quit his office job and get his hands dirty in order to realize his dream of owning a restaurant, so he started working in a sandwich shop.
“I believe that when I do something with love, it really shows. Even if it’s just making a sandwich,” he says.
After working hard making sandwiches for eight months, he opened a coffee shop in the Bazel area of north Tel Aviv and named it Lulu, after a mythical French prostitute.
The coffee shop was a success, but instead of opening another chain offering the same style, Ben- Yaakov decided to open a bistro- style restaurant in the quaint Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. Lulu Kitchen and Bar is like a classy older sister, with an equally interesting logo to match.
“It’s not the same French prostitute as the one from the coffee shop – this one is more modern, from the 1950s,” he explains.
He realizes that while Neveh Tzedek is a popular area among locals and tourists, it is quiet for many months of the year and is not as popular as the Rothschild area nearby. While he understands the hardships of creating and maintaining a quality dining experience for his customers and is willing to work extremely hard to provide it, he is also a dedicated family man. “Between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., I am first and foremost a father,” he says.
Ben-Yaakov speaks very highly of his “young and ambitious” chef, Itzik Asulin, who has worked at some of the best restaurants in the city, such as Catit and Forelin.
While the menu has a heavy European influence, Ben-Yaakov is a proud patriot and explains that the wine list features only Israeli offerings. We started our meal with a glass of lovely and light Midbar Chardonnay (NIS 34).
For starters we shared smoked eggplant carpaccio (NIS 38) with cheese, berries, roasted almonds, cress leaves and balsamic vinegar, as well as fresh fish ceviche (NIS 38) with tomatoes, coriander, garlic, chili and pepper. The eggplant itself was full of flavor, and all the extras on top made it a very special dish. The ceviche was simpler, but tasty nonetheless.
Despite the warm weather and the desire to have something light, I couldn’t resist the gnocchi (NIS 88) when I saw it on the menu. As if the gnocchi itself wasn’t heavy enough, it was served with select cuts of beef, wild mushrooms, spinach, onion, Parmesan and meat broth. I didn’t regret the decision for a second. The meat was perfectly cooked, and all the rich flavors worked well together.
My companion opted for the lighter fillet choice of sea bream served with chopped shrimp in butter and white wine with tomatoes, onion, garlic and coriander (NIS 52). The garlicy butter sauce was an excellent accompaniment to the well- cooked fish.
While many restaurants in Israel tend to exaggerate on portion size, leaving diners feeling too full after the main course, at Lulu the portions are just about right, which meant that we had enough room for some dessert. We shared the crème brûlée (NIS 38) and a small selection of handmade chocolates (NIS 38). Both hit the spot and made for a sweet end to an excellent meal.
Our very bubbly waitress was outstanding throughout. She took care of our every need and always had a smile on her face. She even complimented our sense of style as we were leaving; always a good way to make sure someone leaves feeling good about themselves.
Lulu Kitchen and Bar is not just another Tel Aviv bistro. Ben-Yaakov, with his attention to detail and inspirational level of motivation, works hard to ensure that diners have a unique experience. I will certainly be returning some time in the near future, and not just for the excellent soundtrack playing the background.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Lulu Kitchen and Bar
Not kosher 55 Shabazi, Neveh Tzedek, Tel Aviv
Open every day from 8 a.m. to midnight
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