The restaurant is located at Ben-Yehuda Street 228 in Tel Aviv, and in Japanese 228 translates as nini hachi. The owners are seasoned restaurateurs Yoav Levin and Udi Romonovski, who have been in the eating business for years now.
Every so often one of them flies off to the Far East to bring back rare ingredients not available in Israel and sometimes even foreign workers to help in the kitchen.
Since our last visit, the place has expanded to include the next-door restaurant, which handles all the take-away, making Nini Hachi a more tranquil and relaxing place for an authentic Japanese meal.
While waiting for our starters, we chatted with Levin about the increasing number of kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv.
“It’s a trend,” he says. “There’s a lot more competition than before, but with the aliyah from France and other places, there’s a demand for kosher eateries. People come in two or three times a week sometimes, as we have a very varied menu.”
Since we are omnivores (when it comes to kosher food, anyway) we left the choice of menu to our hosts.
Before describing the food, I have to say that presentation is very important at Nini Hachi, and every dish was a work of art. The most original garnishes appeared, which displayed both artistic talent and infinite patience – for example, a butterfly, complete with antennae, carved from a piece of sweet potato.
The first course was sashimi, small pieces of raw fish that are dipped in soy sauce before eating. The three fish we tried were tuna, salmon and sea bass, all with different flavors and all ultra-fresh (NIS 65).
Only chopsticks were supplied on the table, and if you are not an experienced chopstick user, you can always ask for a fork, which is a bit infra dig and not something I wanted to do. A sharp-eyed waitress who saw me struggling took pity on me and brought me chopstick holders, which helped a little.
A plate of red tuna tataki appeared, slices of lightly seared fish served with what was described as watercress and sesame. On tasting the herb, it was what we call mustard and cress, but a welcome and unexpected flavor nonetheless (NIS 64).
The next dish was chicken gyoza, a kind of dumpling filled with chopped chicken. It was very reminiscent of the kreplach we traditionally eat on Rosh Hashanah, the dough being very similar, but they were fried, not boiled. (NIS 37 for five).
After all the foregoing spicy food, the arrival of fresh asparagus and mushroom teppanyaki was more than welcome. They arrived in the hot pan they were cooked in, were deliciously al dente, and the strong flavor of the veggies was unadulterated, giving the feeling that the whole dish was healthy and dietetic (NIS 52).
Next up was a sashimi salad – a bowl of very fresh salad vegetables, which included cucumber, carrot, radishes, scallions and hot chili pepper, the whole flavored with mint and coriander. Chunks of raw fish, enhanced with spices and soy sauce, were embedded in the salad (NIS 52).
My dining companion had an urge to try one of the curry dishes on offer, and chose bamboo curry, made from bamboo shoots, eggplant and basil, in a red curry sauce, with a bowl of steaming balsamic rice on the side. It was very good and as salty as a good curry should be.
Finally, in the savory department, the sushi and nigiri arrived, but we had to have it packaged to take home, as we needed some space for desserts. Eaten the next day, they were as good as expected.
Although I knew the crème brulée wouldn’t be authentic, I decided to give it a try. Well, it looked right, with a caramelized burnt topping on a coconut egg custard, and it tasted fine (NIS 43). My companion had chocolate fondant, a hot chocolate cake drowned in ganache with coconut sorbet. He seemed very happy with it.
Two hot sweet glasses of lemongrass tea brought this extraordinary meal to an end.
Ben-Yehuda Street 228
Tel: (03) 624-9228
Friday: Noon-4 p.m.
Saturday: 6:30 p.m.-12
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.