Dining with Culture

The Dining Hall revises its menu and shakes things up

Cafe Europa (photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
Cafe Europa
(photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
In a dual sense, Tel Aviv’s The Dining Hall (Hadar Ha’ochel) is in an enviable position. It has become a fixture not only of the city’s culinary scene but also of the metropolis’s arts milieu by virtue of its strategic location in the expansive plaza of the Golda Meir Performing Arts Complex, which the restaurant shares with the Israel Opera House, the Cameri Theater and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the mainstay of the restaurant’s clientele is a steady stream of theater-goers – a discerning population who would not suffer mediocre food lightly. Thus, owner Steven Lobel has a track record of recruiting talented chefs – most recently Guy Malka, who formerly helmed West Side, the fine dining restaurant of the Royal Beach Hotel.
Not content to rely solely on the never-ending flow of consumers of culture, Lobel has recently introduced several innovations designed to expand his “base,” to borrow a phrase from politics. To attract families, there are activities for children on Saturday afternoons (between noon and 4 p.m.); and the restaurant now offers delivery service, even coming up with a specially priced package. Naturally, there is also a traditional “business lunch,” called Lunch Break.
The Dining Hall’s recently revised menu, meanwhile, features several conceptual changes to the food menu, as well as new individual dishes. There are now two novel meal options named after Lobel: one is Steven’s Fixed (NIS 256), a fixed price-sharing menu for two, comprising a tray loaded with six starters, followed by two main courses and one dessert.
More radical is Steven’s Choice: A tasting menu where you trust the chef to bring to your table what he recommends that evening. You eat what you want and send back what you don’t, and pay just for what you eat (minimum NIS 120 per person). 
One major improvement is that a cocktail menu now exists in print, whereas previously one did not. There are five specialty cocktails (NIS 42-44), from which we selected the Passion 1 (citron vodka, Campari, passion fruit, orange and lemon) and the Spicy Green (gin, Cinzano Bianco, lemon and basil). Both refreshing drinks were excellent, the former fruity, the latter herbal.
The cocktail list shares an alcohol menu with a very limited, exclusively Israeli wine list; in fact, there are practically as many craft and bottled beers as wines by the glass.
As we perused the completely English menu, we tasted the seeded house bread, which turned out to be the same recipe as the former version, transformed from its previous oblong mini-loaf shape to slices from a rustic loaf. Served with paprika butter and oregano pesto, it is all too easy to ruin your appetite with this great bread.
THE FOOD menu now consists of three sections: Classics (NIS 38), Starters (NIS 42-78) and Mains (NIS 68-146). There are symbols for menu items that are vegan and gluten-free, plus a children’s menu.
The Classics are actually three appetizers that have become popular with regular customers over the years. The Starters contain a number of interesting salads, while the Mains include pasta, chicken, beef and fish.
We began our meal with the intriguingly named Asado cabbage – a large wedge of white cabbage seasoned with herbs and roasted, like meat, in the manner suggested by the Spanish adjective. Moistened by a sauce of white wine and silan (date honey), and accompanied by pine-nut crumble, this was a hearty, satisfying and healthy dish.
Next came the fish tartare, which the waitress informed us when we ordered was tuna. She reiterated this information when the raw fish arrived, even though it was white. Further investigation revealed that it was actually drum fish. The good news is this means the fish rotates daily to ensure maximum freshness. On the other hand, while the tartare was perfectly good, it was not exactly what we had in mind. (To the waitress’s credit, she immediately offered a replacement starter.)
We stayed with fish as a main course as well, not least because of the tantalizing name: stone-baked salmon with lemon-grass toffee. The fish was cooked just right, with a crust that imparted a nice touch of sweetness. My companion was more impressed with the underlying basil-ginger sauce.
Among the meats listed among the main courses, the locally sourced Ramat Hagolan fillet was easily our first choice. Not only was the tender medallion of filet mignon pleasantly succulent, its accompanying side dishes were also superb: creamed sweet potato and zucchini spaghetti with chili and parsley butter.
We were happy to see that the new dessert menu has now also been committed to paper, saving us the recital of a list by the waitress. From the tempting list of five desserts (NIS 44-48), Steven himself recommended the Apple Rose, which has replaced the former apple crumble. We were happy he steered us in this direction: The luscious fruit baked into the flaky, buttery crust redolent with cinnamon, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, was delicious.
Finally, the citrus brulée – crême brulée on a bed of crunch and citrus jam – was another outstanding finale to our enjoyable meal.
The Dining Hall
Not kosher
Shaul Hamelech 23, Tel Aviv
Tel: 03-696-6188
Open 6 days from 12 noon, Friday from 11:30 a.m.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.