70 Ibn Gvirol
If you’ve ever doubted Tel Aviv as a culinary hotspot able to hold its own next to top culinary destinations, then it’s time you had a meal at Brasserie. Owned by the impressive hospitality group, R2M, Brasserie and its Parisian-style dishes, cosmopolitan vibe, and round-the-clock filled seats brings the best of Tel Aviv to the tabletop.
In 2002 Brasserie opened on the city’s “front stage” across from Kikar Rabin and was an instant success. From its conception the bistro was open 24/7, served classic French dishes, and had a line of hungry locals wrapped around the block. “We weren’t prepared for it, we didn’t know there would be such a big buzz,” said R2M’s General Manager Oren Schnabel, upon reflecting on Brasserie’s earliest days. “We just wanted to open a good traditional brasserie. We felt Tel Aviv deserved such a thing, and the crowd loved it.”
The menu took nearly a year to perfect. Owners Ruti and Mati, and chef Guy Pollak, who has collaborated on all the menus of R2M’s restaurants, focused on staple brasserie dishes: beef bourguignon, nicoise salad, Cordon Bleu, French onion soup, and frites that come wrapped in French newspaper. Each dish, both in flavor and presentation, unfolds layers of refined detail. In the steak tartare, for example, finely minced raw steak with a subtle hint of mustard and wasabi, play off the chopped onions, capers, and parsley, which are plated alongside it. The tri-color Saumon Marine Blinis – a lightly dressed green salad of dill, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and basil that sit on a layer of pink graved lox that have been cured and thinly carved atop a slender yellow potato pancake – is almost too beautiful to slice into.
Today Brasserie’s menu is in the hands of head chef, Etai Sobel. The culinary arts accidentally fell into Sobel’s lap when the chef of his former catering company failed to show up for work and he had to take command of the kitchen. Today, Sobel oversees Brasserie’s three kitchens with a rotating staff of thirty-six, and he ensures the dishes and their respective flavors are kept at the highest level of quality. If that isn’t enough to digest, Sobel must make certain everything runs smoothly for the 1,200 diners who eat at Brasserie each day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
So to fully understand your experience when you sit down at one of Brasserie’s tables you must know that Brasserie is not an easy restaurant. The food you are eating has been cut, peeled, chopped, cured, sliced, de-boned, minced, fried, and baked to perfection. The onions in the onion soup have already been sautéing for 24 hours by the time they are scooped into a bowl. Potatoes – six tons of them a month – are hand-cut and fried twice in order to reach their prized crispiness. And almost all the ingredients are local and fresh with the intention of utilizing the whole product, a staple in classic in French cooking. “The bread of today is served as bread, and tomorrow it may used as a toast for the steak tartare, and the next day it will be the croutons in the onion soup”, Sobel explained. “That’s how we built the menu.”
While the kitchen turns out dish after dish Brasserie’s dining room, a detailed Art Deco interior with mirrored walls and a stained-tiled ceiling, is anything but the pretentious atmosphere often associated with such refined food. Those who come to fill its 120 seats are changing by the hour and equally welcomed to dine. This place serves everyone from the old lady in the neighborhood who drinks her coffee and eats a croissant in the morning to her grandson who comes for a hamburger at 3 a.m. Businessmen meet clients for a midday bite, couples share elegant long meals over tables for two, families bring their kids for weekend brunch, and young hipsters crowd into the booth for a late-night snack into the early morning hours. There is a place for everyone at Brasserie, and it is guaranteed, no matter the hour, you will be professionally waited on and dine like a king.
Brasserie is one of four restaurants, a hotel, and two bakeries owned by R2M, a company that has clearly mastered how to please its customers’ palate. Their first restaurant, Coffee Bar, is often credited as helping jumpstart the city’s now thriving food scene. Coffee Bar created a niche for restaurants with good, high-quality food and service that didn’t exist in Tel Aviv before the early 1990s. “They decided to open a café with things that weren’t so familiar to Tel Aviv. Good antipasti, good sandwiches, quality coffee, design, music,” said Schnabel. “It was a small café in a very deserted area, but it got bigger and bigger and really became one of the first good bistros in Tel Aviv.”
Coffee Bar transformed into a well-known establishment in southeast Tel Aviv, and it was eight years later when R2M unveiled its second restaurant, Brasserie, but this time in the heart of the city. They have since opened Café 12 and Hotel Montefiore, and continue to shape the Tel Aviv food scene with their innovative approach to dining.
But as for R2M’s French gem, Brasserie’s success is most deserving. Ninety percent of the dishes on the menu are the same from when it first debuted nine years ago, a testament to its delicious food and to the idea of a traditional French brasserie.
“Brasserie has always been known as not just a place to eat but to come and have a good time,” said Sobel. “People like to come and stand in line, they like to be a part of something. It causes a feeling…of something else.” So the next time you are hungry, whichever hour of the day it may be, Brasserie and its exquisite food awaits you. Here lies the pulse of Tel Aviv, that “x-factor”, one that I guarantee you don’t want to miss out on.
Written by Shira Nanus