Thursday 19 April 2012

Last day in Tel Aviv - fresh fruit, antiques and a bit more Bauhaus

I wrote earlier about Bialik, my favourite street in Tel-Aviv. A close second has to be Ahad Ha'am Street. This very long street runs from Ben-Zion Boulevard parallel to Rothschild Boulevard, crosses Sheinkin Street (amongst others) and runs on across Allenby Street before petering out near Neve Tzedek.

Ahad Ha'am features some of the best Bauhaus buildings in the city as well as retaining some wonderful buildings in the earlier Eclectic, levantine influenced style. I particularly like numbers 120 and 138. Number 120 features several Magen David (Stars of David) as decoration on the front of one wing of the building, whilst 138 is a very large structure, with a recessed entry and barometer window on the staircase. Both have had some restoration and both look truly stunning in the Tel Aviv sunshine. Number 49 was one of the first buildings to be successfully restored on this street and the restoration remains faithful to the original curved frontage, making some of the interior spaces odd shapes. The original architect was Zaki Chelouche and the building went up in 1933.

Ahad Ha'am was an important essayist in the early Zionist movement, but opposed some of the key ideas of Herzl, splitting off from the main movement. Born Asher Ginsberg, near Kiev in 1856, he was a champion of the renaissance of the Hebrew language. Cafe Ginsburg at number 55 is named for him but the street has some other serious literary links too. Number 89 is the former home of Shaul Tchernikowsky. Russian born to a religious family, Tchernikowsky was an accomplished poet and philosopher as well as a doctor and worked for a time in the 1930's as the official doctor of Tel Aviv's municipal schools. It is somehow appropriate that part of number 89 now serves as a doctor's surgery. Sadly the building is somewhat neglected and in need of renovation.

Number 37 is the jewel in the crown of this lovely street. Built in 1924 and designed by architect Dov Hershkowitz, the former Municipal Boys School is one of the last buildings in Tel Aviv to feature original Bezalel ceramic tiles on its exterior. The images include Raban's cities of Eretz Israel (Haifa, Hebron, Jaffa and Tiberias), pomegranates, scenes from Jerusalem, winged lions, menorahs, Tablets of the Law and most strikingly, a vision of Judgment Day over the entrance. That must have concentrated the minds of pupils wonderfully each morning. I understand that restoration work is to be carried out on the building which is good news, but was shocked to see that two tiles from the ceramic sign on the front of the school appear to have been broken off in an act of vandalism.

Ahad Ha'am Street has some great places to eat and drink. The already mentioned Cafe Ginsburg at number 55 is a good coffee and sandwich or cake stop and has a beautiful tiled floor and friendly service. For something more substantial I like Cafe Noir at number 43 which has an "international" menu with good pasta, meat and fish dishes (if you like fish -  I don't) and a fantastic poppy seed strudel on the dessert list. If you are heaving the strudel make sure you either leave enough space for it, or enough time, because its no small matter! According to the most recent edition of the Tel Aviv City Guide, they serve the best schnitzel in Israel. Now that's some claim, but my friend Yonah tells me its good, which is a good recommendation. It comes pounded thin, crisply fried in breadcrumbs and accompanied with mashed potatoes. Viennese style I believe. The restaurant itself is very comfortable with old fashioned decor, good service and warm lighting.

My own favourite is Mezze at number 51a which serves levantine influenced vegetarian food. I like to get a few dishes - the sweet potatoes with herbs and tzatziki is fantastic as are the slightly spiced chick peas and all of the salads. They also have malabi, a delicious middle eastern milk pudding made with vanilla, rosewater, cream and nuts. There are variations on this throughout the middle east, but I like Mezze's take on it the best. You won't be surprised to know I like it with very strong coffee.

Technically not in Ahad Ha'am Street, but right on the corner of the junction with Sheinkin is Cafe Tamar, a Tel-Aviv institution since 1941 and run by the formidable Sara Stern since 1956. Tamar retains its old furnishings - the chairs are said to come from Turkish and Mandate times, the tables are formica covered and the pictures, posters and photographs on the walls date back years, several showing Queen Sara herself as well as the trail of politicians, writers, actors, musicians and other important Tel-Aviv characters from  the last 60 years or so. The clientele is very mixed with artists, writers, business people and politicians rubbing shoulders with local workers and residents. Stern is a bit of a Tel Aviv legend having been born at the original moshav at Nahalal where Moshe Dayan was married, whilst  Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai gave a party for her 85th birthday.

Taking a slight detour from Ahad Ha'am Street to walk down Sheinkin you can find Cafe Sheah (pronounced See-ak) at number 50. Sheah has two meanings - one is a type of bush the other is a conversation. I made my first visit here earlier this week to sample owner Charlie's excellent coffee and one of those very acceptable individual, circular, crumb topped cheesecakes that Israeli cafes specialise in. The cafe is very cosy with a good range of coffees imported from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, etc. and ground on the spot. There is also a good menu of light meals, a selection of books and magazines to pass the time away with and a very impressive coffee grinding machine on display. This is a great place to have a coffee break away from shopping on Sheinkin Street or if you are out for a stroll in this part of town. You can also buy packs of freshly ground coffee to take away. Originally from Jerusalem, Charlie loves Tel Aviv likes a chat and promotes a "green" approach to business. Pay him a visit.

Still on food, Tel-Aviv has hundreds of juice bars - something we don't really have in London.  The idea is very simple - pile up lots of fresh and colourful fruit, invite your customers to choose what they want, squeeze the juice in front of them and send them away happy. Dizengoff and King George streets in particular have many juice bars, but the best one (in my experienced opinion) is the Juice and Smoothies Bar at 99 Dizengoff.

What makes it special? The great choice of fruits (and vegetables) - oranges, mangos, strawberries, bananas, various kinds of melon, papaya and whatever else happens to be in season, but also celery, beetroot, red cabbage, ginger, carrots and several vegetables I don't know the name of! You can have whatever mixture you want, in one of three sizes - at a good price - and its all natural, no junk added, juice.

The Juice and Smoothies Bar at 99 is very well known in this busy part of Tel Aviv as owner Sagi Arnon spins vintage vinyl discs on his drinks counter, entertaining customers waiting to be served as well as passers-by. Sagi's taste is eclectic - Rick James, Bob Marley, Ella Fitzgerald and sometimes old time big band music from the 1950's. He's also very friendly and has links to London (his wife is a north London girl). And, as if all that isn't enough, he has a loyalty card scheme so you can get a free drink after you've bought a few from him. What are you waiting for?

My three weeks in Israel has now drawn to a close - time flies when you are enjoying yourself. I gave myself a final treat - though not involving cake this time. Ben Yehuda Street has many antique and art shops of varying quality. One of the best is the small but beautiful Perry Gallery at number 110. Owned by Israel Perry, the gallery is packed with lamps, metal objects, ceramics, posters and other items of Israeli art. Many of the items are in art deco, art nouveau or the early Israeli arts and crafts style. I went in just to look. I came out with a beautiful Bezalel picture frame. It was a difficult choice between that, the Gur Arie designed ceramic tiles and numerous other delights. The gallery staff are knowledgeable and friendly  and can look out for items that collectors particularly want.

Back to London where the weather has turned wintery again. Where's that hot chocolate I bought in Amsterdam. Wonder what happened to Dudi...

For more photos from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Akko and elsewhere in Israel please visit my flickr account here.

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