Dinner for two at the Aubergine restaurant at the David Intercontinental, Tel Aviv is a heady experience.

The restaurant is not large, seating about 50 and the décor is soothingly luxurious – thick carpets underfoot, sparkling chandelier overhead, glasstopped tables well spaced apart, gleaming tableware and, in short, an ambiance filled with the promise of a very special night out.

We were seated at a table for two by the window looking over the Tel Aviv beachfront, with the sea only meters away.

It quickly became apparent that youth reigns at the Aubergine – the manager, Ronen, is 26 and the head chef, Alon Hirtenshtein, is 30. The head waiter, Khaled, although not in the first flush of youth was not handicapped by being in a slightly older age bracket and looked after all our needs.

The evening was devoted to trying out the new “sharing” menu that, at NIS 260 a diner, is very good value. There were several starters, main dishes, salads and desserts all included in the set menu.

We were offered a pre-dinner drink and I chose my perennial gin and tonic that, no matter how fashions change, will always be my favorite. It’s not just the taste and the effect of setting a mood – for me it’s a good way to judge the standard of a restaurant.

This one was impeccable – best quality gin on plenty of ice with a slice of lemon and a small bottle of tonic on the side so one could get the flavor exactly according to one’s taste. My companion was equally happy with his whiskey and ginger ale.

The first sign of food was a basket of thin and crusty baguette-like rolls, served with the obligatory olive oil and balsamic vinegar – just the job to allay the growing pangs of hunger.

The “amuse-bouche” – a slice of deseeded zucchini filled with chopped meat and entrecote sauce did little in that direction being no more than a mouthful – but it was very aesthetically presented.

The real food began to appear. The roasted eggplant in tehina that has become ubiquitous in Israeli restaurants of late, was exceptionally good – smoky with loads of garlic, a topping of diced tomatoes and a generous helping of watercress as a garnish. One does not often come across this pungent herb and it was a welcome taste and reminder of Blighty.

The fish ceviche was wonderful. It consisted of two kinds of very fresh raw fish – salmon and corvina, pink and white, chopped small and shaped into a ring with diced fresh fruit. It was served on a slightly spicy gazpacho sauce that was a beautiful shade of creamy pink. The dish tasted as good as it looked.

A green salad appeared and was very different from the conventional salad. It was half-served in a crispy fried tortilla shell with the rest of it spilling over onto a plate and had endive and rocket leaves as well as regular lettuce. The garnish was thinly sliced green apples and pistachios, and the slightly sweet dressing was made with peach vinegar.

Yet another starter arrived – a generous helping of lamb chops on polenta topped with diced cooked tomatoes. This was pronounced succulent and tasty with a distinctive lamb flavor.

For the main course I chose the grouper that was served on a rich cherry tomato sauce with fluffy herbed quinoa on the side. It was very much a comfort food as was my companion’s veal chops that came accompanied by potato puree enhanced with chopped mushrooms.

The wine that accompanied the meal was a Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (NIS 220), a rich but not too heavy red that complemented every course without being overpowering.

During the course of this exceptional meal, Chef Hirtenshtein came out of the kitchen several times to check that all was well. He told us that from a very early age he had been fascinated by kitchen lore, and learned many things from helping his Tel Aviv born mother cook for the family. After studies at the Tadmor Culinary School in Herzliya and a brief apprenticeship, he began working at the David Intercontinental seven years ago and quickly rose to be head chef.

He insisted we taste his desserts and somehow we managed to consume a very lemony tart topped with crushed meringue and cookies and cream ice cream, and a gooey chocolate layered dessert with raspberry sauce. Both made a fitting sweet end to a great dining experience.An added bonus is that parking at the hotel is free for Aubergine’s guests.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Aubergine David Intercontinental Hotel, Kosher
12 Kaufman St., Tel Aviv.
(03) 795-1111.
The Aubergine is open Sunday to Thursday, 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m.

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