After the major criticism leveled at it last year — both for its choices and for the way it described them — it looked as though the Gault & Millau guide might leave Israel as it had done before (it had taken a 15-year hiatus, which ended last year). But at a festive ceremony on Sunday night in Tel Aviv, the French restaurant guide, the second most-important after Michelin, announced the best restaurants and chef of the year, in Israel. The guide includes a list of the 147 best restaurants in Tel Aviv, and another 57 recommended street eateries.
In Gault & Millau guides the world over, restaurants are rated by professional reviewers on a scale of between 10 to 20 points (12 points and above = a good restaurant), based on various parameters; each score is equated to a hat rating, whereby the very best receive four hats. Although no Israeli restaurant has received a perfect grade of 20, apparently Gault & Millau listened carefully to the criticism.
Restaurant of the year: Alena, in The Norman Hotel in Tel Aviv, under chef Barak Aharoni. Alena received the highest rating in the country: 16 points, after receiving 13 points last year.
The big surprise of the evening was in the category of chef of the year, which was awarded to David “Dudu” Biton, executive chef of La Regence at the iconic King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Biton, who in the past worked at the Noma restaurant, has presided over the prestigious, kosher chef’s restaurant at the hotel for the past 12 years. His restaurant also received a grade of 16 in the guide (among the three restaurants with the highest grade).
The title of most promising chef went to chef Tomer Tal of the George & John restaurant in the Drisco Hotel, in south Tel Aviv. Tomer spread his wings and moved to center stage after years as the sous chef of Haim Cohen in the Yaffo-Tel Aviv restaurant.
The best pastry chef is Shahar Peleg, also from the Yaffo-Tel Aviv restaurant. The restaurant itself received a high grade of 14.5 points.
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The best vegan-vegetarian restaurant is chef Shirel Berger’s Opa, in Tel Aviv, which is continuing its trajectory of garnering achievements and awards from the moment it opened. The restaurant also received an impressive grade of 14.5 points.
The restaurant with the best local cuisine is chef Aner Ben Refael’s Igra Rama, in Tel Aviv; it also received 14.5 points. The award for best wine menu went to HaBasta, in Tel Aviv’s Nahlat Binyamin quarter, this year, after being awarded last year to the Zuk Farm restaurant.
The best food bar is Kab Kem, owned by Yariv Melili of Thai House.
The culinary institution with the best atmosphere is the Yudale Bar, part of the popular Machneyuda group in Jerusalem.
In the category of best street food in Israel there was a big surprise. The winner is Shawarma Emil in Haifa.
The award for best service went to Meir Adoni’s Blue Sky in the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, which received 15 points.
Following are the best restaurants in Israel, according to Gault & Millau:
Along with Elena and La Regence, chef Raz Rahav’s OCD, in Tel Aviv, also received 15 points this year (Rahav was named chef of the year in 2018). They are followed by Dinings, also in The Norman Hotel, with 15 points.
The following Tel Aviv eateries received 14.5 points: Eyal Shani’s HaSalon (a decline of half a point from last year), Mashya in the Mendeli Street Hotel, which went up by half a point, as did chef Sharon Cohen’s Shila, Zepra and Abie – and the Michael Local Bistro in Moshav Liman, in northern Israel.
In addition, 12 anonymous researchers surveyed over 290 restaurants around the country for Gault & Millau, of which 204 were listed in the guide, including some more “popular” restaurants – although they did not receive a grade or a chef’s hat, only a warm recommendation. There are 147 restaurants that received a grade higher than 10 points, the cut-off for appearing in the book.
“We heard all the criticism from last year and did everything possible to invest in the content of the present guide,” Kevin Sellem, one of Gault & Millau’s executives, told Haaretz. “Our focus was mainly on content – the quality, the number of restaurants examined and the number of cities that will be included in the guide. We want to be in Israel for a long time to come and therefore it’s important for us to improve from one guide to the next. That’s why we assembled a new team of reviewers, which is composed of food columnists, foodies and experts who came to the restaurants anonymously and paid the full bill.
“The choice of reviewers was meticulous, in order to give different and varied profiles,” notes Sellem. “The reviewers underwent training by Gault & Millau international in order for there to be standardization. Anyone who opens the guide in Australia, Israel, Morocco and Russia will discover the same parameters and the same standard of inspection. The main complaints against us were that we didn’t include restaurants with local cuisine, and that we went for touristy choices. I think that this year you can see that the choices are different.”
How do you choose a category like chef of the year or best restaurant?
Sellem: “The restaurants were examined several times by different critics and the restaurant that achieved the highest grades was examined repeatedly in order to ascertain whether it’s [the ratings are] consistent. The parameters were not only related to the food, which is important of course, but also to the design, the service, the wine menu and the overall experience. For the choice of chef, we also added innovation and consistency.”
The Gault & Millau guide was first published in 1972 by two French food columnists, Henri Gault and Christian Millau, and since then has been considered second only to Michelin.