Eyal Jagermann

“Israelis don’t, pardon my French, take shit,” insists Eyal Jagermann, the Israeli-born chef and co-founder of popular London Middle Eastern restaurant, The Barbary. “If it’s not good, they won’t come back.” This explains why, when he’s not in London championing the food of his homeland, he’s so often back in Tel Aviv – researching dishes and tracking food trends and openings around the Israeli capital. These are the venues that inspire him – and those he looks forward to returning to - the most.

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What Is Israeli Food?

Why is Israeli food different to other Middle Eastern food? There are two branches to the answer. Israel is a very young country (70-something years old). When it was founded, Jews from all over the world came to live here: from Poland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and all over Europe; from Morocco, Nigeria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East; and from America and Asia. My grandparents came from Austria and lived next-door to a family from Morocco and another from Libya. It’s quite an interesting melting pot of cultures when you think about it. People started cooking together; exchanging recipes, ingredients and cooking techniques from different sides of the world; and combining them. Now, two or three generations later, we’re starting to see the identity of an Israeli cuisine that combines everything together. All of this exists because of the wonderful produce we have here and the delicious local Arabic-Middle Eastern cuisine. The other thing is that Tel Aviv is super small and doesn’t get many tourists, which makes the restaurants really good. Why? Because Israelis don’t – pardon my French – take shit. If it’s not good, they won’t come back. You have to be really good and you have to always raise the standards with both the service and the food. If you don’t; you’re not going to make it. Even the ones that are really good sometimes don’t make it because of how competitive it is here. People keep pushing and don’t rest. It makes for really good restaurants and really good concepts.

One of the Best Places To Eat in Tel Aviv Right Now

Magazinno is an Italian-inspired eatery in an old warehouse in south Tel Aviv and is one of the best places to eat in the city right now. It’s also a great place to drink and enjoy Tel Aviv’s hospitality. It’s got a massive fire oven and has a simple, natural and produce-led menu. The pastry department is notorious for its incredible cakes and pastries. During the pandemic, it has set itself up as the number one delivery restaurant in the city. It has now reopened and is buzzing! It’s beautiful and a must-visit address.

One Night Out in Tel Aviv

Pereh is a new restaurant-slash-wine bar run by four incredibly talented and passionate young chefs and restaurateurs. You can feel the love and attention to detail in every aspect of the experience. It’s a place to try new wines and drinks, and enjoy a beautiful evening in the city. It’s so cool and so Tel Aviv. Chef Aviad Peled and his team are cooking some of the best food in the city. The inspiration for the dishes comes from the diverse origins that make up Israeli cuisine today: Middle Eastern, North African, Italian, Asian, and so on.  The small plates to share are delicate, intelligent, sophisticated and, above all, delicious. The front of house team is so knowledgeable and leads you through an amazing experience of food and drink.

“It’s Like Eating in a Grandmother’s House”

Eating at Azura is like eating in a grandmother’s house. Everything is slowly cooked, super homey and super delicious. Things like lamb kebabs, spicy sauce, sofrito, ancient rice, tahini and fresh salads. It’s only open for lunch, and you eat whatever is on the daily menu and that’s it. There’s another Azura in Jerusalem too.

The Iraqi-Jewish Sandwich You Need in Your Life

Sabich is an Iraqi sandwich traditionally eaten at breakfast. The name comes from the word for “morning” in Arabic, which is “sabah”. On Saturdays, Iraqi-Jews fry aubergine and serve it with hard-boiled eggs, cucumber and tomato salad, tahini and amba (pickled mango) sauce. It’s super popular in Israel and is delicious, healthy and vegetarian. There’s a famous place that does it just outside of Tel Aviv called Oved. I’ve been eating there since I was six – it’s incredible.

An Introduction to Hummus in Israel

Each region in Israel has its own style and way of doing hummus. Even in a country so small, you can tell the difference between hummus made in Tel Aviv, hummus made in Jaffa, hummus made in Jerusalem and hummus made in the north. Everyone has their favourite place and swears by it. Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, is said to have some of the best hummussiahs (hummus restaurant). The city is famous for the coexistence of Jews and Arabs, so culinary-wise, magical things have happened there over the years. Abu Hassan is the most famous hummusiah in Jaffa – everyone’s heard of it and everyone goes there. Hummus in Jaffa is served cold, is a bit more sour and has spices in it. But I prefer the fresher northern style, which is served warm. It’s a bit more delicate and creamy. I like to think of it as a cloud on a plate: a cloud of warm chickpeas and olive oil.

Where To Find My Favourite Hummus

Garger Hazahav (Hebrew for “the golden grain” referring to chickpeas) is one of the few hummussiahs in Tel Aviv that make very good hummus. This small, beautiful place in South Tel Aviv makes my favourite hummus in all of Israel. It’s light, creamy, simple and delicate in flavour – not too sour and not too salty. It’s got finesse. The restaurant also does really cool sides like falafel, fried cauliflowers, and salads with zucchini, mint and toasted pine nuts. The pita bread is fluffy and proper. I really respect what they’re doing there.

The City’s Best Shawarma

If I want shawarma (sandwich of spit-grilled meat), I go to Keter Mizrach. The name translates to “eastern crown” and I’ve been eating there since I was a kid. It’s a very simple hole in the wall. The ingredients scream out freshness and deliciousness. Another important place for shawarma is Hakosem. The name means “the magician” in Hebrew. It started as a falafel place and grew into some sort of an empire of Israeli street food. It has falafel; it has shawarma; it has sabich. It literally does everything and does it really well. As it goes with hummus, people will fight about where the best shawarma is. I think Hakosem has very good shawarma, but don’t go on a Friday – it’s chaos. Jasmino is a hole in the wall that does the best grilled meat in a pita. It’s proper kebab, with different grilled meats (my favourite is the sausage), tahini, fresh salad and amba in fluffy pita. It’s wow!

Ambitious Israeli Cooking From Ambitious Chefs

I go for dinner at Port Sa’id a lot. It’s owned by Eyal Shani, a very famous Israeli chef, and is really good. It’s half-bar, half-restaurant: you have a drink and small plates. Yaffo Tel Aviv is a chef-driven restaurant that’s very much at the forefront of Israeli cuisine. It’s quite expensive but is really, really good. We went there for my birthday and had a beautiful evening. It’s that kind of venue.

An Impressive New Opening

Bar 51 recently opened and I enjoy it so much. It serves some of the best food that I’ve had recently. The food there is actually outstanding. It’s simple yet elegant small plates, like gnocchi made out of ricotta in a very light anchovy sauce, and roasted kohlrabi in Persian lemon stock with tnuva (local cheese similar to feta). The atmosphere is very relaxed, but the restaurant is unbelievable.

Nose-to-Tail, Farm-to-Table

M25 is a meat restaurant inside the market that does very interesting and delicious food. It’s very much nose-to-tail, farm-to-table. The menu combines international and Arabic traditions: there’s a Hungarian-style cured beef tongue with sauerkraut and mustard. They’ll take a whole lamb, break it down and dry-age. It’s a cool place.  

A Mediterranean-Slash-Middle Eastern Institution

If you’re a young chef and want to learn about food, you go and work in Toto. It’s another institution, where chef Yaron Shalev plays around with Italian and Spanish cooking. You can get beautiful pastas but you can also get Iberico ham. The menu even has Turkish influences. It’s very much Mediterranean, and his products are the best on the market.

A Restaurant That’s Very Close to My Heart

Café Italia is where I started and it will always be the best restaurant in Tel Aviv to me. It’s where I fell in love with restaurants. It’s a very special place for me. I’m still very close with the guys running it and I consider them my mentors. The restaurant is classic Italian and is a school of what a proper restaurant should be. They do things right. I learned from them that there are no tricks. If you’re in this business, it’s about honesty. It takes a lot of love and a lot of care. It’s coming in, each and every day, and giving love to the customers, and cooking food with all your heart. That’s in the core values of what restaurants should be. It’s also where I met my girlfriend and it’s very much our second home. Running a restaurant consistently and successfully in Tel Aviv for 10 years is an amazing achievement by itself.

Visit the Culinary Institute

The Asif Culinary Institute of Israel is a very interesting project devoted to the study of Israeli cuisine, its origins and influences. It’s great to visit when in Tel Aviv! In the beautiful building on Lilinblum Street, you can tour a rotating gallery, explore the culinary library with over 1500 titles, visit the rooftop garden where they grow different plants, and explore urban agriculture. It’s a great place to learn about Israeli culture. Cafe Asif on the ground floor offers a changing menu inspired by the project and is great for lunch and dinner. The deli has great products like local olive oil, tahini, wine and much more.

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