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?

And why is Israeli food different to other Middle Eastern food? There are two elements of this. When you look at Israel, it’s a very young, 70-something-year-old country. When it was founded, people from all over the world came here and started living together. You had Jews from Poland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and all over Europe. You had a lot of people from Morocco, Nigeria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa. You had Jewish people from America and Asia. And you had people from the Middle East. My grandparents who came from Austria lived next door to a family from Morocco. Next to them was another family from Libya. When you think about it, it’s quite amazing. There’s really an interesting melting pot of cultures.

People started cooking together, exchanging recipes and taking ingredients and cooking techniques from different sides of the world and combining them. It’s a really, really cool thing. And all of this existed with wonderful produce together with the local and delicious Arabic-Middle Eastern cuisine. Now, two or three generations later, we’re starting to see the identity of Israeli cuisine. It’s not that. It’s not this: it’s everything together.

The other thing is that Tel Aviv is super small and we don’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. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to make it. Even the ones that are really good sometimes don’t make it. It’s very competitive. People keep pushing and don’t rest. It makes for really good restaurants and really good concepts.

The One Restaurant You Have To Try In Tel Aviv

If someone tells me, “I have 12 hours in Tel Aviv, where should I go to taste Tel Aviv?” I’d say go to Santa Katarina. Israeli food is different to Middle Eastern food because of all the different backgrounds and heritages and I think this is the best restaurant that showcases that. It’s sort of a chef restaurant, but with a very relaxed, cool atmosphere. Chef Tomer Agay puts his little twists on Middle Eastern classics and it’s brilliant. He has a big wood oven and has a whole section of sort of pizzas and pastries on his menu. You get the Jerusalem bagel as a starter with warm chickpeas: a homage to the streets of Jerusalem. There’s also a raw porcini mushroom pizza bianco which is something he picked up from his Italian grandmother. He makes a beautiful sashimi with tuna, but dresses it with burnt aubergine sauce, so it brings it a little more towards the Middle East. It’s very cool and very successful, but not pretentious. It’s the sort of place you can go with your flip-flops for lunch after the beach, or you can go for a date, all dressed up in the evening. It’s something for everyone. Everyone loves Santa Katarina.

“It’s As If You’re In A Grandmother’s House”

Eating at Azura is like you’re eating in a grandmother’s house where everything is slowly cooked, super homey and super delicious. Things like lamb kebabs, spicy sauce, sofrito, ancient rice, tahini and fresh salads. It’s amazing and only opens for lunch. And whatever they have on the day, you eat, and that’s it. There’s another Azura in Jerusalem too.

The Iraqi-Jewish Sandwich You Need In Your Life

A Sabich is an Iraqi sandwich, traditionally eaten at breakfast, and that’s named after sabah, which means morning. It comes from Iraqi-Jews who would make fried aubergine with hard-boiled eggs and salads like cucumber and tomato and tahini and amba (pickled mango) sauce on Saturdays. It’s super popular in Israel. It’s delicious and healthy and vegetarian. There’s a famous one just outside of Tel Aviv called Oved that I’ve been eating at since I was six. It’s incredible.

An Introduction To Hummus In Israel

When you talk about hummus in Israel, it’s important to know that each region has its own style and way of doing it. Even in a country as small as Israel, you can tell the difference between hummus in Tel Aviv, hummus in Jaffa, hummus in Jerusalem and hummus in the north. Everyone has their favourite place to eat hummus and they swear by it. Some of the best hummussiahs (hummus restaurant) are considered to be in Jaffa which is just south of Tel Aviv. Jaffa is famous for the coexistence of Jews and Arabs, so culinary-wise, magical things have happened there over the years. The most famous hummusiah in Jaffa is Abu Hassan. Everyone’s heard of it. Everyone goes there. In Jaffa, hummus is served cold, and it’s a bit more sour, and it feels lemony and there’s spice. It’s good and people love 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 like a cloud on the plate: a cloud of hummus with warm chickpeas and olive oil.

And Where To Find My Favourite Hummus

You have a few hummussiahs in Tel Aviv that are really making very good hummus. One of them is Garger Hazahav – “the golden grain” in Hebrew – which is of course named after the chickpea. It’s a small, beautiful place in South Tel Aviv and makes my favourite hummus in Israel. It’s light, creamy, simple and delicate in flavour and not too sour or salty. It’s not boom-in-your-face. It has finesse. The restaurant also does really cool sides like falafel, fried cauliflowers and salads with zucchini and mint and toasted pine nuts. And the pita bread is fluffy and proper. I really respect what they’re doing. And it’s fun. Mabsuta is another northern-style hummus place I really like. It’s a more condensed offering. It does hummus. It does salad. It does rice with fried onions. That’s it. It’s a bit hipster-y, but they know what they’re doing. The hummus is very, very good. It also does masabacha – it’s hummus but a chunkier, crunchier version where the ingredients are crushed together, rather than being ground to a smooth paste. It’s a texture thing.

The City’s Best Shawarma

If I have to choose where to eat shawarma (pita bread meat sandwich), it’s Keter Mizrach which is translated as the “eastern crown”. I’ve been eating here since I was a kid. It’s a hole in the wall and very, very simple. The ingredients just scream out that they’re so fresh and delicious. Another important place is Hakosemhakosem in Herbrew is “the magician”. It started as a falafel place and grew into sort of an empire of Israeli street food. He has falafel. He has shawarma. He has sabich. He is literally doing everything, and everything is really, really good. Like 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. Also note down Jasmino. It is literally a hole in the wall which has the best grilled meat in a pita. It’s a proper kebab, with different grilled meats (my favourite is the sausage), tahini, fresh salad and amba in a fluffy pita. You eat it and it’s wow: it’s really good. 

Ambitious Israeli Cooking From Ambitious Chefs

Dok is a cool, laid-back chef restaurant that only uses local produce. Everything is sourced locally, from the salt to the olive oil, the vegetables and proteins. Asaf Doktor is a really cool chef and he’s doing great things. It’s another one of those places that I recommend to people who want to figure out what Israeli cuisine is. I go for dinner at Port Sa’id a lot. It’s owned by Eyal Shani, a very famous Israeli chef. It’s sort of half bar, half restaurant: you sit and you have a drink and small plates. It’s really good. Yaffo Tel Aviv is a chef restaurant very much at the forefront of Israeli cuisine. It’s quite expensive but it’s really, really good. For my birthday we went here and had a beautiful evening. It’s that kind of venue.

An Impressive New Opening

Bar 51 is a new place that just recently opened, and I enjoy it so much. It serves some of the best food that I’ve had recently: small plates that are really simple but super elegant. Like gnocchi that is made out of ricotta in a very light anchovy sauce, and roasted kohlrabi in Persian lemon stock with tnuva cheese, which is like Israeli feta. The food there is really, really impressive. It’s actually outstanding. The atmosphere is very relaxed, but the restaurant is unbelievable.

Nose-To-Tail, Farm-To-Table

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

A Mediterranean, Middle Eastern Institution

Toto is another institution. What I like about it is that it’s not necessarily Middle Eastern. Chef Yaron Shalev likes to play around with Italian and Spanish cooking. You can get beautiful pastas but you can also get Iberico ham and the menu has Turkish influences. It’s very much Mediterranean. His products are the best on the market. If you’re a young chef and you want to learn about food, you go and work in Toto.

A Restaurant That’s Very Close To My Heart

Café Italia is where I started and, for me, will always be the best restaurant in Tel Aviv. It’s where I learned and 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. It’s a big classic Italian restaurant, and it’s a school of what a proper restaurant should be. They do things properly. 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 in me, and it will always be with me. It’s also where I met my girlfriend and it’s very much our second home. It’s a very solid, consistent restaurant. Running a restaurant successfully in Tel Aviv for 10 years is a major, major thing. It’s an amazing achievement.

Guide last updated March 2020

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