Coffee shop Italian style

The Espresso Bar Mandarin in Tel Aviv has a stand-out menu.

Dish 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dish 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With Tel Aviv filled to the brim with generic coffee shop chains, it’s hard to differentiate between them and find something special. This was always my attitude until I was lucky enough to check out Espresso Bar Mandarin at the Mandarin Hotel on Hatzuk Beach in north Tel Aviv. While Espresso Bar is one of the chains that I actually prefer the most, this particular branch offers an Italian menu that singles it out from the rest.
While we were intending to sample the new winter menu that is available at all Espresso Bar chains throughout the country, we decided to order from the Italian menu that is specific to this branch. It’s not that the winter menu wasn’t inviting and didn’t have endless options, it’s just that the selection of warming pasta dishes looked too good to pass up on a chilly winter’s evening.
While most branches of Espresso Bar are modern and well designed, this particular branch has a certain flair and sophistication that differentiates itself.
When it came to the food, I did something that I rarely do. I left the decision-making of what to order up to the very friendly and knowledgeable waiter. We left everything up to him, from wine to dessert, and we were not disappointed.
For starters, we shared bruschetta (NIS 30) with a mix of toppings that included fresh tomatoes and smoked eggplant with feta cheese, as well as ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta served with garlic butter sauce (NIS 32). While the tomato topping was rather average, the smoked eggplant with feta was simply delicious. The portion size was perfect and was a great option for sharing.
The starter that really stole the show for me was the ravioli. Again, the portion size was just right and lent itself very well to sharing. This was a very simple dish, but the freshness of the ingredients shone through, and we both found ourselves using the bread from the bruschetta to sop up the sauce.
For the main course I went for tortellini with tomatoes, black olives, smoked eggplant, feta cheese and oregano (NIS 64). I don’t usually order pasta in a restaurant because I always say it is one of those things that you can make at home. If only I was able to make pasta that tasted like this at home! The overriding taste of the smoked eggplant was dominant but was complemented by the other ingredients.
My friend went for tagliatelle with minced beef (NIS 66). I am not usually a big fan of meat with pasta, but this dish outdid itself with fresh flavors and interesting seasoning.
One thing that I noticed about both our pasta dishes was that they remained hot throughout the meal.
Usually after a couple of mouthfuls, the pasta is at best lukewarm, but in this instance I even commented to the waiter how pleasant it was to enjoy the pasta at the right temperature throughout the meal.
By the time dessert came around, we were pretty full but our waiter convinced us to try the tiramsu (NIS 36). We did not regret the decision for a second. This modern take on the Italian classic was very well presented and had just the right balance of coffee flavor and creamy texture.
Espresso Bar at the Mandarin Hotel is part of a coffee shop chain, but don’t let that put you off. Once inside, you could believe that you are in an upmarket Italian restaurant with some of the freshest and tastiest dishes around. While it is a little more expensive than the average coffee shop, it offers very good value for money and a complete dining experience all round.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Espresso Bar Mandarin
Not kosher
21 Yonitzman Street
Mandarin Hotel, Hatzuk Beach, Tel Aviv
Open Sunday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight