It is my first night in Tel Aviv. I arrived less than 24 hours earlier, and I may be staying for the rest of my life. I’m on a date with a handsome and charming man I met on the internet. He takes my hand and pulls me towards M25, in Carmel Market. It is dark and passages are being hosed clean of the day’s debris. It is an unpromising approach.
M25 is a scruffy, hole-in-the-wall that many visitors to Tel Aviv, I’m sure, would rush by if they were even to find themselves anywhere close. They would be making a grave mistake.
Other times I’ve visited Tel Aviv I’ve seen little evidence of the burgeoning Israeli food culture people write about. Restaurants here, I mean ‘good’ restaurants, are often expensive, pretentious and, to a Londoner, old-fashioned. If you’re hoping for a city full of Ottolenghi, Honey & Co, and Palomar-style distinction, you will mostly be disappointed. But M25, an offshoot of a butcher a few metres away, is fresh and very good. There would be a 3-hour queue outside it every night if it was in East London. In Tel Aviv it is busy, noisy and more fun than driving down Diezengof at 130kpm. (Like I’d ever do such a thing)! It is restaurant as theatre of the most entertaining and delicious kind.
The menu is short and there is a glass-fronted fridge holding T-bones and other big cuts of meat. The kitchen is open, busy, and smokey. Flames often flare up thrillingly. There’s a larger room and tables outside, too. The short menu is in Hebrew on a board. The waiter will, of course, translate it for you. There are a couple of salads, and the dressing on ours was the best I’ve ever had in Israel, where a squeeze of lemon is often all you’ll get. We weren’t here for the salad.
A bottle of something Italian is poured, as dark and delicious as my companion. He hugs the owner, waiters, chefs, everyone. This is a good advert for him, wouldn’t you say. We start with arenas, bread rolls baked with minced lamb inside. Several come in a crisp, brown paper bag and are very good. Other plates arrive; a minute steak, ruby within, black without; a dish of tahini with tomatoes, oil and garlic, for a sauce; a skewer of beef. It is all very muscular, unpretty but beautiful, and very butch. I love it. The waiter brings Arak shots.
It is Greek night, which means that a singer performs into a microphone after turning the volume to 11. It is enjoyably terrible. I think we’ve finished, but a plate of chocolate mousse with meringue crushed over it is placed in front of us, with two spoons. I taste it and, not normally someone who swoons at chocolate desserts, I have to close my eyes and let its dark magic work through me. Man, that pud was good.
I can’t imagine a better first night in my new city than this. The area has many interesting-looking food places and I’m now looking for a flat there. The evening continued, but I’m stopping this piece here.
M25, Simtat HaCarmel 30, Tel Aviv
I don’t know how much it cost. My friend paid, but I left a generous tip of around £20, if that helps. I don’t remember thinking the prices looked expensive.