Classic French dining in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv's 'Le Central' is open seven days a week and offers a limited menu with good prices.

chicken breast 88 (photo credit: )
chicken breast 88
(photo credit: )
Last Tuesday, as we walked into the elegant French restaurant Le Central on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd., we were greeted warmly by Yafi Barhar, who bought the establishment a year ago. She sat down with us at our table, and started by telling us something about the restaurant - and herself. "I've worked hard for a year," she said, "and now I'm enjoying the fruits of my labor." Barhar, an attractive middle-aged woman, takes her job as maitre'd seriously, and does all she can to please her guests. "I'm a perfectionist," she said. "I see each customer as my personal guest, and I want my guests to eat well, drink well and have fun at a reasonable price." The restaurant is open seven days a week and offers a limited menu with good prices: a steak or fish dish at night costs less than NIS 100. Barhar said she targets a clientele over the age of 28 and counts Knesset members, ministers, security officials and businessmen among her most valued customers. Chef Amit Ben-Tov jokingly boasts that he studied at Tadmor and the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America). Ben-Tov has worked for 16 years at top restaurants in New York and Europe and shares Barhar's passion for excellence. "It's the best!" he said, when asked about the food. "What we're trying to do is offer food from the best restaurant in Manhattan here in Tel Aviv. Our prices are not too high. We use very fresh products and very fresh sauces." Ben-Tov prides himself on his rich and original sauces. Mouths watering, we started with an excellent but rich pate on red-onion jam served with toast, a generous helping of double-layered beef carpaccio, spiced meatballs and a house focaccia. All were delicious, especially the carpaccio and focaccia, which were light, but be be careful not to fill up on too many. For the main course, we had a medium entrecote in a wine sauce, which was outstanding, and a grilled catfish in a pesto sauce which was a little too flavorful and rich. "I make steak the basic, classic way," said Ben-Tov. "I don't like sauces with too much butter or cream. I prefer wine sauce." Besides, he added, "the French classic sauce is too heavy. I make sauces with a Mediterranean twist, which is perfect for the Israeli climate." Ben-Tov said he buys his meat in Israel aged three weeks, and then ages it in the restaurant for another two weeks before serving it. As side dishes, don't miss the home-made mashed potatoes, which were fresh and fluffy. Ben-Tov said he refuses to make french fries and fried fish (he doesn't like oil). For dessert, we tried white chocolate cake with passion fruit (tangy and just right after a heavy meal), and another chocolate cake with forest berries that was a bit too rich. The desserts, foccacio and rolls are all made on the second-floor bakery of the restaurant, which was once famous for its cakes and breads. The cakes can also be bought whole to take home. All in all, it was a superb culinary experience, highly recommended for a special lunch or dinner (Le Central is also known by locals for its excellent breakfasts and sandwiches). "There's more awareness nowadays about food," said Barhar. "Today many young people want to eat out on a date at a good restaurant. And I don't think you'll find a better place than this for such good food at such reasonable prices." Le Central, Sderot Rothschild 29, (03) 566-7822