"A plate of ever-so-lightly grilled calamari in curry butter and truffle oil arrived. Not only was the calamari ultra soft, but the flavour and contrasting graininess of the green pea and cilantro paste upon which it sat was brilliant…." Rachel Wagner and partner discover why Chef Shaul Ben Aderet's country-style French restaurant Kimmel has become a Tel Aviv classic.
It's not everyday that one pays a visit to a veteran of the Tel Aviv restaurant scene. But with that pesky old recession lurking in every shadow, it's worth being selective when it comes to a high-end meal.
Kimmel has held it's own on for the last 17 years (more than a lifetime in Tel Aviv restaurant time)on Hashachar Street at the entrance to Neve Tzedik under the skillful leadership of Chef Shaul Ben Aderet. The restaurant's charmingly rustic décor – chunky wood tables and chairs, all manner of knick-knacks from the French countryside, large clay salt and pepper shakers, not to mention the excellent wooden rooster – hasn't changed much since opening, and neither has more than 60% of the menu.
What is new at Kimmel is the attention the private event room is receiving. With its own separate entrance and a look in keeping with Kimmel's French countryside theme, the event room has become increasingly popular for corporate, personal or family events of up to 60 people. Diners are treated to 14 unlimited courses of Ben Aderet's spot-on cooking, served family style at the centre of the table.
As for the restaurant diners, in addition to enjoying all the die hard classics, including 3 different pate dishes, Ben Aderet also changes the menu 2-3 times a year, adding or removing a few dishes in accordance with the season, keeping both himself and his loyal following inspired.
Sipping on refreshing frozen lemon and berry margaritas and savouring a pair of flavourful crustinis topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic, capers, sprouts and tapenade, we were overwhelmed with choice while gazing at the ample menu. Idan and I were delighted when it was suggested that we enjoy tastings off a 14 course event room menu instead. And so began the splendid parade of shapes, colours, scents and tastes.
The first dishes to arrive were Kimmel classics: village salad, an addictively fresh combination of chopped vegetables, goat's cheese (I think I also detected some blue) and peanuts, and the chicken live pate in calvados. Not a liver fan myself, the chef was daring me not to love his pate. And sure enough, the sweet crust and silky smoothness of the pate, along with strips of cinnamon spiced carrot jam, won me over.
Moving on from our margaritas to a bottle of one of Kimmel's feature wines, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz from Binyamina Winery's Yogev series, a plate of ever-so-lightly grilled calamari in curry butter and truffle oil arrived. Not only was the calamari ultra soft, but the flavour and contrasting graininess of the green pea and cilantro paste upon which it sat was brilliant. Following the calamari was a fresh beet salad with pine nuts, herbs and a strong St. mor cheese.
The dishes continued with their bursting-with-flavour theme. A rich assorted mushroom risotto with spinach and loads of top-quality parmesan was the first of the hot dishes. Thank goodness for the small scoop or I might have actually dropped dead of a risotto OD. Another creamy vegetarian dish – this time a goat's cheese ravioli topped with tiny sweet potato cubes – made its way over. It was superb, but that risotto already owned me.
Next were meat and fish starters. The grilled sweetbreads in charred eggplant cream were tender and bore the unmistakable flavour of open flame. Kadayif (shredded pastry) wrapped shrimps, simultaneously perfectly crisp and not in the least overcooked, were well paired with saffron aioli and, a personal favourite, delicate little radish sprouts as an added value garnish.
After a short palate cleansing break, it was time for the main events to make their tasting-sized appearance. A corvina filet was covered in melted goat's cheese and black salt. Along with the tender fish, four meat dishes accompanied. Even though Idan, who had not heeded the 'taste, don't eat' warning was ready to burst, he couldn't resist at least a couple bites of juicy lamb kebabs in tomato sauce, tehina and lots of pine nuts, ostrich in berry sauce that inspired a sigh of pleasure, flank steak in saffron aioli and spring chicken topped with truffle paste.
The lovely, polite and pretension free staff cleared away dishes and brought over some much needed espresso to make a little room to sample dessert. A loose form Pavlova of meringues, whipped cream and berry sauce was excellent, and just like the second dessert of rich chocolate fingers, avoided the pitfall of being too sweet.
Phew. There we were, at the end of a feast. Amazingly, I had managed to taste everything but not overeat, and though the same could not be said for Idan (it was he who needed the digestion aiding chamomile tea when we got home), I could tell that we were both already hatching a plan to get everyone we know to throw their next event at Kimmel.
Kimmel6 Hashachar, Tel AvivTel: 03-5105204