Chef Tomer Tal never disappoints at George & John in Tel Aviv

The fun of coming here is also to try what innovations are coming out of Chef Tal’s kitchen.

 Chef Tomer Tal's delicious creations at George & John (photo credit: NITZAN RUBIN)
Chef Tomer Tal's delicious creations at George & John
(photo credit: NITZAN RUBIN)

Following some initial growing pains when the restaurant opened in early 2019, George & John (see Jerusalem Post review of April 21, 2019) has matured in recent years into one of Tel Aviv’s most critically acclaimed restaurants. Not to mention that its elegant bar and dining room rank among the city’s most visually pleasing dining venues. 

Chef Tal is also known for updating the menu seasonally, as well constantly introducing new dishes. In fact, the bilingual menu is printed afresh daily to accommodate the very latest changes. 

Unfortunately, not all the menus receive the same attention as the food menu. Currently, for example, there is no cocktail list, as the previous one is being revised. In the absence of choice, the sommelier proposed an original creation of the bartender, a drink with the quirky name of Salimi. His description of a blend of fino sherry, rum, arugula and black pepper sounded intriguing; and indeed, this spicy, tart and refreshing cocktail more than lived up to that adjective. 

It is also a good idea to start a meal here with a basket of the house bread (NIS 35), if only to dip the generous assortment of focaccia, Jaffa bagel, and sourdough bread into the restaurant’s signature Black & White Eggplant Cream; refills are brought with a smile, although then you run the risk of filling up prematurely. A sizable gluten-free roll is available on request, but it is unremarkable.

The one-page food menu is deceptive: it looks short, but there are more than enough choices to render making final decisions difficult. The main menu comprises four untitled sections: Small Plates (NIS 65-100), Intermediate Dishes (NIS 65-110), Main Courses (NIS 110-180) and two Premium Specials – one fish and one meat – priced by weight. Aside from a couple of salads among the starters, there are very few vegetarian – and hardly any vegan – options. 

 Chef Tomer Tal's delicious creations at George & John (credit: NITZAN RUBIN) Chef Tomer Tal's delicious creations at George & John (credit: NITZAN RUBIN)

It is always tempting to order one of the restaurant’s tried-and-true classics, such as the George & John Crab Pasta or the Goose Liver Terrine with fruit confiture. But the fun of coming here is also to try what innovations are coming out of Chef Tal’s kitchen, so we asked our waitress to point out the most recent additions to the menu. In any event, it is never hard to pick dishes you had never had the chance to try before. 

Our first appetizer – albeit, as is the case of most dishes in the first section, a portion that could easily be classified as intermediate in size – was the Charcoal Grilled Kohlrabi. The amazingly thin discs of the root vegetable were surprisingly crunchy and swimming in a pomegranate vinaigrette accented with chive oil. An additional dimension of this outstanding dish was provided by crumbles of salty feta cheese, which could be overwhelming if not parsed judiciously. 

Next came George & John’s distinctive interpretation of Beef Tartare. Instead of  the traditional quail’s egg, the chopped rump steak incorporates roasted shiitake mushrooms and butter aioli, which impart intense flavor to the already robust impact of the expertly seasoned raw beef. The main even was accompanied by a separate plate of roasted onion, sour pickles and toast points, along with a bone that yielded precious little of its rich marrow.

A new entry in the intermediate category is the Blue Fin Tuna on Coal – three ruby-red morsels of raw tuna meant to be grilled at the table on a glowing lump of coal. Unfortunately, our piece of coal was neither large enough to accommodate more than one slice at a time, nor hot enough to sear even one. My companion dove right into the extremely fresh gleaming raw fish, and pronounced it delicious, especially when dipped into the puckering sauce of cured Persian lemon. I, meanwhile, requested a replacement coal – and for my perseverance, was rewarded with a delectable piece of flavorful tuna grilled exactly to my liking.

Lamb is always on the menu at George & John; and with the memory of an incredible rack of lamb still in my mind from my last visit, I ordered the latest iteration: Lamb Chops, with a skewer of Onion and White Apricot. White apricot was a novelty to me, and it turned out – after a check of the Hebrew menu – actually to be peach. In either case, the onion-and-fruit skewer contributed relatively little to the overall dish. On the other hand, the exceptional celery-zhug salsa came to the rescue, immeasurably enhancing the four succulent lollipop chops.

For her main course, my companion ordered the Grouper Fillet, in a tomato, garlic and spinach cream sauce, with herbed yogurt, rolled spinach, onion, pistachio and fish broth. The large serving of ivory white fish, although a tad overdone for her taste, was still moist and flavorful, while her judgment of the complex red cream sauce was “run-of-the-mill.” 

As befits an establishment of this caliber – and price bracket – the restaurant’s dedicated sommelier will be happy to guide you through the extensive wine list, boasting vintages from the world over. Very few varieties are available by the glass (NIS 49-81), however.

For some reason, the separate dessert menu was in Hebrew only, although an English one is reportedly on the way; meanwhile, the wait staff can explain everything in English – including the daily special, and frequent deviations from the descriptions that appear in print. 

From the list of five desserts (NIS 50), we ordered the Cold Almond Soup with Chocolate-Caramel Truffles, and the Cream Puff with pear poached in red wine. Perplexingly, the former arrived on a flat plate, thus negating the cumulative effect of rich, fudgy truffles, vanilla ice cream and pecan pralines being bathed in a nutty soup. Paradoxically, the cream puff, filled with a bland almond-thyme cream, along with a scoop of ice cream and half a cooked pear, were served in a soup bowl.  

George and John Not kosherThe Drisco Hotel6 Auerbach St., Tel Aviv. (03) 726-9309

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.