New Tel Aviv bars put the focus on creative combinations of food and drink

Emesh and Fantastic are in the forefront of a hot new dining trend

Culinary bars: Gourmet food meets creative cocktails Emesh and Fantastic are in the forefront of a hot new dining trend (photo credit: Courtesy)
Culinary bars: Gourmet food meets creative cocktails Emesh and Fantastic are in the forefront of a hot new dining trend
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Nox Group and Monkey Business are two of the most successful hospitality conglomerates shaping nightlife in Tel Aviv. So it comes as no surprise that one culinary bar from each group are in the vanguard of a welcome recent trend: cocktail bars where the emphasis on innovative mixology is matched only by the expertise of the chef.
Emesh, one of nine Nox nightspots, demonstrated its commitment to good food by recruiting accomplished chef Ortal Rosenberg, formerly of the late, lamented Florentin House. This month Emesh is celebrating its first anniversary with a special menu that showcases Rosenberg’s talent.
Naturally, the anniversary menu also introduces two new specialty cocktails, along with the five on the regular menu (NIS 48-51). The Tropic Goose – Grey Goose vodka, apricot brandy, melon, coconut, pineapple, lemon, grenadine, apple and mint – was a worthy addition to a lineup that already includes the crisp and refreshing Silencio: rum, St. Germaine, ginger, cucumber and dill.
Both the regular and anniversary food menus come in separate English and Hebrew versions. The former comprises three untitled sections – roughly equivalent to house bread with accompaniments (NIS 16-21), Starters (NIS 39-74) and Main Courses (NIS 72-86) – while the latter lists nine dishes of varying sizes (NIS 68-142). There are some vegetarian (and very few vegan) options in the first two categories of the regular menu, and none at all on the anniversary menu.
We started with one appetizer from each menu. The shrimp borek was a pastry “cigar” stuffed with a creamy filling of mascarpone, ricotta, and finely diced shrimp, a combination that was as outstanding as it was unusual. Moreover, it was served with an accompanying honey-mustard vinaigrette dipping sauce that was practically addictive.
Our starter from the anniversary menu was the fish tartare with ajoblanco and almond cream. One again, it was a rare combination of ingredients that added up to something very nice.
Our main course from the anniversary menu was the local sirloin with a salsa of Uzbek raisins, pistachios and white balsamic. The portion was smaller than most steaks, but the beef was tender and succulent, the raisin salsa rich and the accompanying mashed potatoes excellent.
There is a carefully curated international wine list with a reasonable selection available by the glass.
The separate dessert menu lists four desserts (NIS 45), of which we most enjoyed the baked Catalan Cream, uniquely flavored with spiced pumpkin and caramelized pumpkin seeds.
Utterly Fantastic
It would be an understatement to say that Fantastic is different from Emesh – since it is different from any other place in Israel. This bar-cum-restaurant has taken over the entire lobby and ground floor of the Port and Blue Hotel opposite Namal Tel Aviv, leaving just the reception desk and a small seating area whose decor is vintage furniture, with a seasonal touch: a Christmas tree.
Fantastic’s two seating areas – The Ballroom cocktail bar and The Tea Room, the restaurant – are also furnished as if in a bygone era, with the descent into the Mad Hatter-themed latter a kind of “down the rabbit hole” experience leading to a greenhouse with real greenery and a faux Japanese cherry tree in the center. The background music is lively, and the lighting so dim you will need your cellphone flashlight to read the menu.
The Tea Room may be where you come to eat, but there are still no fewer than 12 specialty cocktails, plus an additional five virgin (non-alcoholic) versions – and they are all different from the many more served in the ballroom. To give you an idea of the complexity of the cocktails, the ingredients in each are too numerous to recount – hardly unexpected in an establishment belonging to Monkey Business, the hospitality group helmed by Ariel Leizgold, the undisputed champion of Israeli mixologists. We thoroughly enjoyed the Seasonal Smash and the Tea Room Daiquiri.
The bilingual food menu comprises four sections: Snacks (NIS 22-27), Starters (NIS 48-72), Vegan (NIS 38-56) and Entrées (NIS 72-130), plus daily specials explained by the wait staff.
Our amiable waiter was liberal with his descriptions of dishes and happy to dispense recommendations. Per his suggestion, from the appetizer section we selected the raw yellowtail, which was a winner: extremely fresh fish perked up nicely by a piquant orange marinade.
One of his recommendations of a main course was the goose breast with gratin – but also with cherry sauce, cocoa crumble and even a small dollop of whipped cream. Skeptical as I was of this juxtaposition of contrasting ingredients, it worked phenomenally well: the meat was like a juicy steak, which was enhanced by the slightly tart cherry sauce in concert with the somewhat bitter cocoa powder moderated by the sweet cream. The gratin – a pie of alternating layers of potato and radish – was rather plain, but still satisfying.
The successful chocolate-cherry combo (think Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia) was reprised in one of the only three desserts itemized by the waiter. The delicious chocolate and red fruit mousse was the “soil” for a dark chocolate “tree” whose branches were covered with white cotton candy – a whimsical composition made for Instagram.
Another fun dessert worthy of mention is the cream puffs with shards of dark chocolate and popcorn ice cream.