Few restaurants in Israel generate significant buzz beyond its narrow borders. However, Raphael, located off the Tel Aviv coastline, is deservedly one of them. Situated in the city’s high-end hotel district and featuring breathtaking views of the sea, Raphael has become a major draw for tourists and foodies seeking an evening of fine dining.
Young head chef and owner Raphael Cohen, who was trained by his Moroccan parents, has created a name for himself among jet-setters and Sabras alike by elevating traditional Moroccan and Mediterranean dishes into an inspired fusion of flavors and unconventional styles. And it doesn’t hurt that the restaurant’s dimly lit, elegant and modern/chic décor is the perfect setting to sample his succulent offerings.
The selection of appetizers includes Brittany oysters (NIS 28 per oyster); grouper tartare with yellow tomato gazpacho, and green chili peppers (NIS 75); calamari salad with white beans, red onions and mint (NIS 65); kebabs of grouper and toro tuna with hot vinaigrette of capers, shallots and parmesan (NIS 85); goose liver glazed with sherry vinegar, chestnut and truffle cream (NIS 85); and Moroccan cigars with veal and tehina (NIS 58).
My dining companion and I started with open lasagna with blue crabs (NIS 75) and salt cod salad with semisoft egg, ratte potatoes, anchovy and bottarga (NIS 58). The lasagna was as fragrant as it was delicious, melting in my mouth with each buttery bite. Meanwhile, my companion savored every ounce of her salad, and we both enjoyed some of the best fresh-baked raisin and wheat breads we’d ever had.
Both dishes were accompanied by excellent glasses of Israeli and French red wines, recommended by our waitress. The impressive wine list includes reds and whites from across the globe. Depending on the vintage, a glass ranges from NIS 37 to NIS 75. Bottles vary from a reasonable NIS 220 for a 2010 Chardonnay from the Golan Heights, to NIS 3,850 for a 1997 bottle of Tuscan red wine. A list of high-end champagnes is also available.
For the main course, Raphael offers a selection of fresh fish, meat and pasta. Some stand-outs include white grouper with spinach and artichoke in a yellow tomato butter (NIS 145); roasted duck breast with grilled vegetables (NIS 135); lamb shoulder couscous with chickpeas and vegetables (NIS 105); linguini with tiger shrimps (NIS 145); and the most expensive dish is grilled entrecote for two (NIS 365).
I ordered the sirloin with vegetables (NIS 145), and my companion had the grouper. Both courses exceeded our expectations, leaving us wanting more. The sirloin was tender, juicy and rich, while the grouper was marinated in just the right amount of butter to bring out its full flavor.
After sipping our cappuccinos upon finishing our entrees, we soldiered on to dessert, which proved to be the perfect capstone to our culinary odyssey.
The menu included baba au rum with pineapple salad and rum vanilla (NIS 48); raspberry and yogurt tart (NIS 54); Italian cappuccino with an espresso granita, Jivara chocolate and mascarpone (NIS 58); Guanaja chocolate with crispy hazelnuts and caramel ice cream (NIS 58); fresh fruit sorbets (NIS 48); and meringue with a vanilla parfait and strawberry sorbet (NIS 54).
I ordered the Guanaja chocolate which, while relatively thinly sliced, packed a perfect punch of rich chocolate decadence without going overboard. My friend went with the meringue, which she said was as refreshing as it was sweet.
Following our meal, Raphael’s manager, Mika Golan, took us on a tour of the sizable kitchen, staffed with more than 30 cooks, all of whom clearly took great pride in every aspect of preparation and presentation.
Next, we peeked into the adjoining cigar bar, called Hamara, which was filled with dozens of stylish, cosmopolitan 20 and 30-somethings. All were enjoying smaller portions of the fare offered in the main restaurant, puffing away on cigarettes or homemade Moroccan cigars, or simply nursing cocktails.
As we exited the cigar bar, we passed the private party room, which can accommodate 27 people. There is also an outdoor seating area facing the ocean, which is a wonderful space during the warmer months.
Upon leaving the restaurant, feeling exquisitely satiated, my friend and I agreed that Raphael more than lived up to the hype. Indeed, for luxury and world-class cuisine at a reasonable price, Raphael is a must.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Raphael Restaurant and Bar
87 Hayarkon St., Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 522 – 6464
Sunday – Saturday, noon – 3:30 p.m; 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.