Manara: Great food, beautiful setting in Tel Aviv - review

Manara is a new dairy and fish restaurant in the Sheraton Tel Aviv hotel right on the beach. Try to come before sunset so you can watch the daily spectacle.

 Manara (photo credit: ASSAF KERALA)
Manara
(photo credit: ASSAF KERALA)

The word “manara” in Arabic means “lighthouse,” hence the headline. Manara is a new dairy and fish restaurant in the Sheraton Tel Aviv hotel right on the beach. Try to come before sunset so you can watch the daily spectacle.

The design of the restaurant is beautiful. The entrance has an archway of hundreds of wine bottles, so just walking in puts you in a good mood. The design of the restaurant is lovely, with a lot of turquoise and unique dishes and silverware.

A menu unlike any I've ever seen

I have to admit that the menu is different from any I’ve ever seen, with the dishes divided into four sections: Islands (meant to be small dishes), Land, Sea and Main (courses). There was also a separate menu of “Specials.” The experience of ordering was also unique.

“We want you to order a few dishes from each of the first three categories and then we check back and see if you really want a main course.”

Noa the friendly server

“We want you to order a few dishes from each of the first three categories and then we check back and see if you really want a main course,” our friendly server Noa said.

Hmm. Don’t restaurants usually want you to order as much as possible? And don’t servers want the bill (and the resultant tip) to be as high as possible?

The Sheraton in Tel Aviv (credit: Courtesy)The Sheraton in Tel Aviv (credit: Courtesy)

“I don’t want people walking out of here stuffed. I’d rather you leave feeling satisfied but wanting more.”

chef Nimrod Hadas

“I don’t want people walking out of here stuffed,” chef Nimrod Hadas told us when he stopped by our table. “I’d rather you leave feeling satisfied but wanting more.”

Hadas has 15 years of experience as a chef and kitchen manager at several top Israeli restaurants, including Toto, Raphael and Turquoise, but this is the first time he is in charge of the menu.

I often like to ask the server or the chef to order for me. I get to taste the dishes that the restaurant is most proud of, and it’s fun getting surprised. Here it was especially welcome, as I couldn’t quite figure out how to combine the dishes the way they wanted.

Note: Prices at Manara re high, portions are small to medium

A note here about prices at Manara. The prices are relatively high, and the portions for most dishes are small to medium. However, if you focus on the first three categories, you can design a meal for two for NIS 300-400, not outrageous in Tel Aviv, where prices are clearly higher than in Jerusalem.

Enjoying the food at Manara

We began our meal with cocktails. I chose the mango crush (NIS 56), which was white rum, mango and a flower-syrup topped with two edible flowers. My husband chose the Kardadeh (NIS 56), which was rum, hibiscus liqueur and hawayej (a Yemenite spice). Both were very well made.

The dishes then started arriving, and each one was both aesthetically pleasing and delicious. We started with a warm focaccia (NIS 32) that came with homemade tomato salsa and olives made in-house. From the Islands was Roasted Goat Feta cheese (NIS 42) with citrus honey and olive oil. It was delicious. From the Specials menu we tasted the Mackerel Bruschetta (NIS 16 each) with crème fraîche and potatoes.

There was a fantastic zucchini flower in Tempura (NIS 48) in a chipotle sauce, and unbelievable Jerusalem artichoke tortellini (NIS 44 for three pieces, NIS 86 for five pieces) in a za’atar butter sauce that had us dueling for the third tortellini.

There was also a salad in there somewhere that was good but unremarkable.

From the Sea we tried the tartare (NIS 84), which was amberjack fish in a jalapeno vinaigrette. I am a big fan of raw fish, and this did not disappoint. The jalapeno had a kick, but even my Ashkenazi palate could handle it.

At this point Noa came to our table and asked if we wanted a main course. I was just about full, but I take my duty to you, my readers, seriously. So, I manned up (or woman-ed up!) and said, “Sure! But just one to share.”

What we received was really special. Called “Fried Fish” on the menu (NIS 152), it was a whole sea bream fish (denis) that had been deep-fried, head and all. It was served with two types of lettuce, green onions, sliced red chili peppers, fried onion pieces and several sauces.

The idea was that you grab a lettuce leaf, wrap it around a chunk of fish that you break off using your hands and customize your little fish and lettuce package with the toppings, then dip it in the sauce and eat it. The fish was crunchy but moist, and the toppings made it a fun main dish to eat.

At this point I was really full, but my husband loves desserts in dairy restaurants, so he ordered the only chocolate-type dessert on the menu which also had hazelnut. It was also interactive, as the server poured espresso on top of it. We ate it with decaf espressos, which were a perfect closing to the meal.

Quite full (despite the chef’s instructions), we rolled out of Manara and began the trek back to Jerusalem. The bus to the train didn’t come, and we didn’t get home until 11:30 p.m., but just thinking about the great meal we had just finished made all the tiredness disappear and put a smile on my face.

ManaraSheraton Tel Aviv, 115 HayarkonHours: Sunday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-midnight (they plan to extend the opening hours)Reservations: Manaratlv.comKashrut: Tel Aviv Rabbinate

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.