Exploring the gems of Tel Aviv
Photography by Darina Granik and courtesy of Manta Ray restaurant
Tel Aviv is a very vibrant, eclectic and lively city. Despite what you might see in the news, it is actually very safe, cosmopolitan and modern. At the same time, the city boasts a rich history and culture.
The starting point
When you’re in the mood for long and inspiring walks, park your car at The Station (the Jaffa Railway Station). This used to be the first railway station in the Middle East that connected Jaffa to Jerusalem. Today, it is a leisure venue with plenty of boutiques, design shops cafes and restaurants. Flea, vegan and farmer’s markets can be found here on different days.
If you turn left at The Station, you will end up in Neve Tzedek: the oldest quarter of the city of Tel Aviv.
If you go right, you will end up in Jaffa: an ancient port city that resulted in the megapolis of Tel Aviv-Yafo.
And if you go towards the sea, you can have dinner at the Manta Ray restaurant, which has been included in the renowned 1,000 Outstanding Restaurants of the world list for the last couple of years.
The art intersections
Neve Tzedek is a bohemian quarter of Tel Aviv, from which the city started to grow. It was the first Jewish neighbourhood out of the Arabic town of Jaffa. Today, it is the artsy soul of the city.
The first floors of all buildings are occupied by boutiques, small galleries, designer studios, and stores or cafes. Renowned Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater is also located here.
Despite the shabby conditions of the buildings, it is considered to be one of the most expensive real-estate neighbourhoods in the country.
Jaffa is an ancient port city, and a historical town with plethora of legends that go back to Biblical times and ancient Greek myths about Andromeda and Perseus. Every stone and every corner here has thousands of stories to tell.
Today, it is also home to many art galleries, artist studios, flea markets, cafes and restaurants. In particular, you will be fascinated by the gallery of Frank Meisler, a notable Israeli architect and sculptor, whose major works include monuments around the world.
To get to many cafes and restaurants in Jaffa Port, you will need to take the ancient steps in the Old City, as they are located down in the old port. It’s a truly enjoyable walk through the old alleyways and passages.
The dining gem
Manta Ray has been operating for 18 years, between Neve Tzedek and the Old City of Jaffa, right on the sea shore. As owner Ofra Ganor told us, “We are located in the middle of old and new, rich and poor, sea and land.”
On the day we visited the restaurant, we enjoyed a band of local jazz musicians, who played a mix of Jewish, Arabic and Turkish melodies.
What is notable about this venue is that it takes a modern and creative approach to traditional dishes. For example, for Mezze — which is a Mediterranean tradition of small, shareable fresh salads — we had seven very creative items. I specifically enjoyed the salad with spinach, mango and shrimp, as well as steamed broccoli in a sweet soy sauce.
The Balkan bread was baked in-house and was extremely aromatic! It was served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and kosher salt.
For the main course, we tried various seafood dishes, although the menu boasts a large selection of fish, meat and poultry as well. We opted for mussels in fish broth and beetroot, topped with farmer’s toast with gruyere cheese; a delicious shrimp and calamari risotto paired with Manchego cheese and macadamia nuts; and a roasted whole calamari, served with Chimichurri, cherry tomato and feta cheese. That was the most original shrimp risotto I have ever had and, probably, the best one. Shrimps were very thick and flavourful, while macadamia nuts added a savoury touch, making it exceptionally delicious.
For dessert, we were served a deconstructed creme brûlée, which looked very unconventional, with a berry jam on a side and a chocolate ganache.
A memory collection
I have been to Israel many times and I enjoy going back to these places. They are unique in their own ways. While ancient Jaffa hasn’t transformed for centuries, it’s a nice change from the backdrop of a big city and its concrete, “everyday” views. You get a feeling of stability, something almost eternal. In Neve Tzedek, on the contrary, the street art is constantly changing, new boutiques are popping up like mushrooms, and reconstruction is taking place on a daily basis.
It’s never the same when you come to visit. And it inspires you to catch life at its best.