Fine dining in picturesque Neve Tzedek

Chef Orel Kimchi offers a new and very exciting menu at Popina

Popina (photo credit: HAIM YOSEF)
Popina
(photo credit: HAIM YOSEF)
Located in a beautiful space in picturesque Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv, Popina is a restaurant you go to for special occasions. For us, the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown was a specail occasion, and the first place we really wanted to go to was Popina, where fine dining and elegance mix with warm welcome and informality. Opened seven years ago, Popina is one of the most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants in Tel Aviv and for good reason. Granted, it is not cheap – but such establishments never are.
There is a vast open kitchen that lets you see the chef and his happy staff juggling dishes, and you may even pick a cooking tip or two if you so choose, especially if you sit at the bar, as we always like to do.
On the evening we went there, less than a week after the restaurant was reopened, the place was humming with diners, despite the fact that there are still no tourists. Chef Orel Kimchi welcomed his guests, most of them returning clients.
“For me, success is not me being famous or turning into a celebrity chef. For me, it is the returning guests. If they choose to come here again and again, then I know I must be doing something right,” he says and smiles timidly.
 “The close-down had its good sides – for a while it was fun to relax at home and cook for my family,” Kimchi says, “but I missed this energy, the electricity in the air, the staff and of course my clients, many of whom have become friends over time.”
Chef Kimchi opened Popina seven years ago, and it instantly became a place for those in the know. He is innovative, imaginative and creative, but above all he knows the flavors will bring his clients back.
Now, still considered one of the top fine-dining restaurants of Tel Aviv, the chef decided to change his menu. For seven years the menu here was divided in a very original way. “The menu was divided into seven techniques, and the idea was to take our guests on a tour, let them experience the ingredients in various ways,” Kimchi explains. Then the chef wanted a change, a venue in which to express his new ideas, but without losing his favorites. “My head is always exploding with ideas I wish to try,” he says. “So now the menu is divided into two sections – signature dishes, that we simply could not leave out, and seasonal dishes that allow me to experiment more.”
Popina is also always famous for finding solutions to even the most particular diners. “We always offered half size dishes and our best-seller is the tasting menu,” says the chef. Adding that since his wife became vegan he now offers a whole vegan tasting menu, which a vegan family member claims to be the best she ever tasted.
POPINA IS an inclusive experience. From the moment you enter the restaurant you feel as if they were waiting just for you. The cooks in the open kitchen seem to have a lot of fun, and watching them is a real treat, but the moment you think you need something, they are there offering their suggestions and recommendations, or a refill, a change of a dish or whatever you may think of. And they seem to insist on making sure you enjoy yourself.
CORN DOG - A Perfect biteCORN DOG - A Perfect bite
Using only the best ingredients he can get his hands on, Kimchi’s dishes are a celebration of layered flavors, aromas, colors and textures. They virtually explode in your mouth with every bite.
We know Kimchi and suspected that he was planning on giving us too much food (he did), so we decided to take half portions. Letting him and his kitchen manager choose for us, we started with a few dishes from the Signature menu. The prices quoted are for full-size dishes.
First came a stunning vegan root vegetable tartar. Seasoned with five-year aged balsamic vinegar, and rich with textures and flavors, this dish is stunning.
“I love this dish because I created it for my wife,” he tells us with a big smile. I loved it because it is perfect. (NIS 68)
Next was the Gin & Tonic Tartar: fresh fish cubes with wasabi and G & T based gel. The small dish had very delicate flavors we absolutely loved.
Another old favorite was the shrimp burger served in a small steamed bun with yuzu aioli. Delicious! (NIS 78).
The sous chef said we simply had to taste his favorite dish, the Corn Dog. “It is the perfect bite!” he said. He was right. The small scallop and shrimp handmade “sausage” with sweet corn polenta, kale and smoked popcorn was indeed the perfect bite.
TUNA SASHIMI with citrus vinaigretteTUNA SASHIMI with citrus vinaigrette
From the seasonal menu, we tried the tuna sashimi with citrus vinaigrette, crispy quinoa and soy glaze (NIS 76), and the beef tartar served with king oyster mushroom, asparagus, demi-glace and truffle cream (NIS 82).
One of the most popular ways of eating here is ordering half-size dishes, which we did. The tasting menu of seven dishes is NIS 305 per person, and it is a fantastic way to experience chef Kimchi’s innovative cuisine.
The chef and his crew are all about making your time at Popina a success, so they are more than willing to tailor the dishes to the diners’ needs and wishes.
Too full to even think of desserts, we again promised ourselves to return very soon to Popina for another tasting of Orel Kimchi’s creations.
Popina
Not kosher
3 Ahad Haam, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-575-7477; www.popina.co.il
Sun-Thur and Sat: 6:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Fri: 6 p.m. – 11 p.m.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant