Entering the warm, bright lobby of the Carlton Hotel on a cold, rainy March morning in Tel Aviv, Yossi Navi, manager of the five-star hotel, smiles at me and says, “There is a certain secret charm here.” He explains that while the hotel’s minimalist exterior architectural style is rather unassuming, the Carlton, both in terms of the quality of its facilities and its level of service, has few peers.
The Carlton Hotel has a well-deserved reputation as a haven for international business travelers seeking an upscale, five-star hotel with top-quality service. Ninety-seven percent of the hotel’s guests, says Navi, are international travelers, and English is the most frequently spoken language that one hears throughout the hotel. He adds that Israeli guests of the hotel have remarked that the Carlton’s elegant and calm atmosphere is more akin to that of a hotel in a foreign country than one in Israel.
Navi mentions that the Carlton motto is “Where the city meets the sea,” and indeed, the hotel is just a few short steps from the beach. The Carlton is close to many of Tel Aviv’s attractions, including the Tel Aviv Port, Old Jaffa, Dizengoff Street, the Carmel Market, and much more.
Our tour of the hotel’s facilities begins at its very top, where an outdoor heated pool area offers a 360-degree view of the Tel Aviv skyline. The rooftop includes an outdoor Jacuzzi pool, bar, and a soon-to-be-opened Asian restaurant that will be operated by the Pitmaster Group.
Navi then shows off the hotel’s executive-style hotel rooms, which are located on floors 12 through 14, and include a spacious business center, complete with a concierge. Next on our tour is the fifth floor, which features a gym, wet and dry saunas, shower and massage facilities.
Business events are held on the hotel’s second floor, and we pass through several busy conferences occurring at that moment. The hotel offers food and cocktails any time of day or night, in the lobby lounge or via room service.Navi terms the hotel’s first floor the “food court.” The current hotel restaurant on that floor will be replaced with an upscale steakhouse that will be opening in June, also to be operated by Pitmaster. Smaller, private dining rooms are located near the restaurant area.
If the outdoor pool is Navi’s pride and joy, the nearby breakfast facility building, which sits on the Mediterranean, ranks a close second. “Eating here is like sitting on a yacht,” he exults. “There is no other hotel in Israel that serves on the sea.” In the summer, the building also hosts a tapas and cocktail bar. As we walk through the hotel, I am struck by the sheer variety of meeting rooms and interesting spaces that seem to appear out of nowhere, all impeccably furnished and maintained.
There are numerous five-star hotels in Israel that boast top-drawer facilities, but what sets the Carlton Hotel apart from the others, says Navi, is its level of service. “Service is paramount to us,” he says. “Over time, all hotels are refurbished and renewed, but our human capital is our most precious resource.”
The Carlton Hotel invests a great deal in its staff, providing them with seminars and instruction on delivering the very best level of service to its clients. Moreover, he adds, virtually all of the senior staff at the hotel have had years of experience at the Carlton. Some have been working at the Carlton for as many as 30 and 40 years. Navi himself, who has been the manager for the past eight years, began working at the Carlton 14 years ago and held a number of positions at the hotel before assuming the top spot.
Additionally, he points out, the Carlton is independently owned and operated and is not part of a national or international chain of hotels. Should hotel guests encounter difficulties, they can speak directly with the manager, who can solve the issue immediately without having to check with international management as so often happens with large hotel chains. “We are a standalone hotel,” Navi says. “We can do what we need to improve our service.”
The hotel's high standard of service begins even before guests arrive. Travelers who have reserved a room at the Carlton receive an email from the hotel before their departure, inquiring if they have any special needs or requests. When they arrive, they are seated in the lobby and greeted by hotel staff who check them in using an iPad. After the check-in is speedily completed, they are taken to their room, preceded by their luggage. Hotel staff regularly circulate among the guests at breakfast to ask if they need anything.
Reflecting the extra level of care that the Carlton provides, guests are given small but thoughtful gifts, placed on their pillow each night, designed to make their stay more enjoyable, such as foot cream, stain remover and sunscreen. Navi adds that every month, he and his team meet to brainstorm and come up with new ideas to surprise and delight their guests.
While the hotel is principally known much of the year as a haven for business travelers, during the holidays the Carlton becomes more of a family-oriented center. The hotel conducts a group Seder for guests and also hosts many private Seders for families, many of whom have celebrated their Seders there for years.
Executive chef Eran Nachshon heads the kitchen at the Carlton and, like many of its senior staff members, has been working there for 27 years. “The fact that we have a veteran organization says a great deal about the hotel,” he says.The food prepared in the Carlton kitchens is Israeli-style food adapted to the standards of five-star hotel cuisine. Nachshon searches out authentic ethnic foods and says that he visited one of his Persian aunts to learn to prepare Persian cuisine. “I found an Iraqi grandmother who taught me all the different kubbeh recipes,” he says with a chuckle. “I learn whatever I can and bring it to the hotel.”
Nachshon has served as the executive chef at the Carlton for the past 10 years and is well versed in the extensive preparations underway for Passover. For starters, he is a stickler for cleanliness in the hotel kitchen throughout the year and welcomes the opportunity to clean for Passover.
“For our kitchen, preparing for Passover is like a military operation,” he says briskly. The kitchen team at the Carlton begins Passover preparations in January. Nachshon orders new tableware and begins planning new recipes for Passover that will meet the exacting standards of kashrut to which the hotel adheres. Together with the team of kashrut supervisors from the Rabbinate, the kitchen’s special “koshering” process begins in March, and Nachshon begins the Passover cooking a week before the holiday.
This Passover, the hotel will host a main Seder for hundreds of guests and, in addition, will host 15 private Seder gatherings, held in the numerous meeting rooms throughout the hotel. Unlike many hotels that serve a limited menu at the Seder, the Carlton offers a wide variety of choices at its Seder buffet. Many of the guests staying at the hotel for Passover have spent previous Passover holidays there, and chef Nachshon will be adding new recipes and making changes to keep things fresh for the clientele.
“Our magic at the Carlton,” Navi says, “is that we always surprise the customer.” Whether placing gifts in the rooms at the end of the day, inquiring about the clients’ well-being at breakfast, or modifying menus to benefit repeat customers, the Carlton Hotel continues to make magical moments for its guests.