My husband, and I recently made our way into Tel Aviv to one of the country’s hippest restaurants, Artel Formal.
Achingly cool, this new eatery is situated on the outskirts of the Florentin District on Shocken St. The softly lit, stylish interior design is surpassed only by the innovative cuisine and meticulously chosen wines on offer.
We arrived a few minutes late, owing to Tel Aviv’s legendary traffic congestion, to be greeted by Marina, our warm, friendly host. Unphased by our tardiness, she immediately showed us to a window table and handed us over to our waitress. I was immediately struck by the dazzling-white linen tablecloths, and matching bone china crockery sets adorning each table, all from the owner’s personal collection.
What's to eat at Israel's hip restaurant?
First, a drink. With an extensive wine and cocktail menu to hand, our waitress guided us expertly through the various options. I started with a cocktail – but not just any cocktail. Having expressed a preference for something fruity and refreshing, I was treated to a tailor-made cocktail with gin, Campari, and fruit, which was absolutely delicious. My husband opted for a glass of light, fruity rose wine (Cuvee Prestige, Greece ‘22), which was equally quaffable.
As the evening drew in, the lights dimmed and the place began to fill up. Fortunately for me, as I’d already started sampling the various wines on offer – more on that later – the food magically appeared.
While the tapas-style, mix-and-match menu is simple, unfussy, and minimalistic, there are a wide variety of dishes from which to choose, catering to all tastes and preferences.
For the more adventurous, the crab and octopus dishes are a must. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the crab bisque – a smooth, warming soup that went nicely with the crusty, homemade brown bread and whipped butter – my husband, not a seafood lover, took one sip and left the rest for me. Instead, he started with the borscht consomme with sour cream dumpling, which appealed more to his plain Ashkenazi palate.
We then enjoyed a couple of salads recommended by our waitress: watercress, za’atar, and fresh herbs for me; spicy tuna, aoili, and sesame tuile for him. On this occasion, I drew the short straw, as the dressing was rather sharp for my liking. Jeff’s on the other hand was fabulous and went down a treat.
More quirky, mouthwatering dishes arrived, one after another, leaving us both sated and happy. A second crab dish, comprising crab, corn, celery, and chili was an exquisite riot of flavors and a particular favorite of mine. Jeff grew quite partial to the sausage with mashed potatoes, served with chicken broth: “I’m not normally a fan of mashed potato, but this is really good,” he enthused.
Another winner was a vegetarian dish of padron peppers, salmorejo, and brinza goat cheese. The second vegetarian dish we ordered was cabbage pierogi, dill, and fried onion. While also tasty, a minor criticism perhaps, is that it was a little heavy on the dill which masked some of the other flavors to a degree.
Other vegetarian options on the menu include mushroom risotto with chives; gnocchi, collared greens stew, and risotto; kadosh cheese tortellini with black pepper butter; and okra with burnt tomato and onion, topped with yogurt.
Probably the most memorable dish for me was the croquette, octopus, prosciutto, and aioli. I was a little apprehensive about trying this as it was the first time I’d eaten octopus and expected it to be like chewing on a rubber band. To my surprise, however, it was both soft and tasty.
We ended our meal with two fabulous desserts – zabaglione and chocolate mousse – both prepared with the chef’s individual twist.
As mentioned earlier, the wine menu at this restaurant is as impressive as it is extensive. Carefully selected European wines, as well as homegrown, Israeli varieties, are offered, some by the glass, others by the bottle. In another first for me, I tried a glass of “orange” wine. As this wine is a fairly new kid on the block, I was interested to see what all the fuss was about. I chose the “E Orange,” Poderi Cellario, Piedmont, Italy ‘22, described as citrusy, slightly aromatic, and smooth. While I enjoyed it, I found it rather heavy and could only manage one glass. I soon switched my allegiance to a rather lovely white Austrian ‘21 Gemischter Satz, which paired beautifully with each and every dish, including the desserts.
While there are many wonderful restaurants in Tel Aviv, Artel Formal stands out with its eclectic, innovative menu, sourced by the chef himself through his extensive travels. Such was the relaxed, easy vibe in the restaurant, the time simply flew by. Before we knew it, we’d whiled away almost three hours, eating, drinking, and enjoying the atmosphere.
Prices range from NIS 33 to NIS 86, although it’s advisable to order a few dishes each and share. Wines range from NIS135 for a bottle of Spanish white, to NIS 498 for a French Pouilly-Loche ‘17. Cocktails are all around NIS 50.
Artel Formal23 Shocken St., Tel AvivHours: Sun-Thu, 8-11 a.m., 12-3 p.m., 6-11 p.m; Fri, 6-11 p.m Not kosher
The writer and her husband were guests of the restaurant.