Emerging from the culinary deep

Whale offers visitors to Eilat a unique dining experience

A dish at Whale restaurant in Eilat (photo credit: Courtesy)
A dish at Whale restaurant in Eilat
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Set in a tranquil corner just off the sea, Whale, a restaurant owned by local chefs Lior Raphael and Inbar Shapira, manages to break most clichés embedded in the Eilat dining experience. In a city that is awash with tourists, hotels and chains, it is a relief to come upon such a special restaurant, whose chefs manage to reify their international culinary experiences into a local one.
As my companion and I entered Whale, we immediately appreciated the restaurant’s unique interior, its friendly staff and the relaxed look of the diners. Among the wooden furniture were elements of a comfortable beachfront home – cloth napkins, calm shades of blue and a personalized decor featuring accessories like a vintage record player, photographs and potted succulents.
After being presented with Whale’s ambitious menu, we relied on the guidance of our server to order our meal. We opened the meal with two red wine recommendations from a very curated international wine menu – a glass of an Israeli blend from Shvo Vineyards (NIS 43/glass) and a glass of Italian Passimento (NIS 43/glass).
As we began to sip on our delicious vino, appetizers were laid out: tuna tartare, foie gras parfait and deep-fried lamb brains. The tartare (NIS 74), served with an oh-so-Asian flair, included cucumber and kohlrabi in horseradish. The combination felt uber trendy, but it was implemented well and was a satisfying starter.
Served with toasted bread, the foie gras (NIS 84) was a more original experience. Presented as a parfait and paired with berry and red wine jelly, the dish embodied creativity with an applause-worthy execution and taste.
The lamb brains starter (NIS 43) was a bold addition to the menu. We perceived it as one of those sought- after, adventurous culinary experiences, but the dish itself did not live up to those expectations. Served with a lemon, chipotle and garlic mayonnaise, the fried coating was underwhelming, leaving little palpable flavor of the delicate brains.
Soon enough, the duo of main courses arrived: Le Big Mess (NIS 85), which was a gourmet hamburger on steroids; and a traditional sea stew (NIS 115). Le Big Mess was le big perfection. The sandwich was made with 8 oz. of entrecote, fillet and lamb fat patties, topped with cheddar cheese. It was every bit as fun to eat as it sounds, served with all the necessary toppings – lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. The specialty fries underwent a serious prep. The potatoes were soaked overnight before they were fried, and the technique paid off in subtlety.
The sea stew had all the right ingredients and proportions to start – a generous amount of mussels, shrimp and sea bream. However, something was lost in the execution. Perhaps a simple tweak to the sun- dried tomato sauce would have helped the dish live up to its potential.
We chose to end our meal by indulging in three desserts. The lemon Pavlova (NIS 45) was a delicious homage to the citrusy fruit. The meringue-based dessert was topped with lemon cream, vanilla ice cream, lemon, lemon caramel and lemon jelly. Our banana & dulce de leche pie was served with vanilla ice cream, walnuts and bitter chocolate shavings (NIS 42). And we sampled a spread of lemon and mint truffles, malakoff, brownies and pecans (NIS 26).
The seasonal Whale menu is a reflection of Raphael and Shapira’s personable culinary philosophy. In fact, the name Whale alludes to this quite well. The pair has likened their relationship with food to a subconscious experience manifested in the kitchen.
“Whenever we travel, we like to see whales. There is something about the animal coming from the deep ocean to the surface that we as chefs can relate to,” they explain.
Indeed, their ideas come from the depths of the chefs’ souls. The balanced creativity-cum-spirit makes this restaurant thoroughly enjoyable to dine in, and the menu has the potential to be on par with the greats of Israel’s culinary scene.
“Our hope is for the restaurant and the people around us to be happy. We want it to be a place where people can be detached from what is happening in their everyday lives,” Raphael told us after the meal.
If that is their hope for Whale, then the restaurant is already a success.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
Herods Palace Hotel 6 Hayam Street, Eilat
Tel: (08) 920-9393
Sunday to Friday, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.