I had the honor to be invited on a food tour of Downtown Haifa (The Lower City) by Jessica Halfin, CEO of Haifa Street Food Tours and ambassador of #TheNewHaifa. Jessica invited a group of 20 journalists, food bloggers and others related to the industry to visit a selection of Haifa’s restaurants and bars to showcase the growing foodie culture in the city. Most of us were not familiar with the Haifa restaurant scene and we were pleasantly surprised at what we discovered.
As in many cities around the world, the area surrounding the port of Haifa used to be very industrial but in the past few years it has been renovated and it is now full of bars, cafes and restaurants. We started the tour at Hanamal 24, one of the first restaurants to open when there was nothing else in the area. We were hosted by Guy Avital, one of the restaurant owners, who along with his business partner chef Ran Rosh, previously owned Recital Danya for 13 years until the building they were in was sold. Like many Israeli chefs, Rosh trained in France for many years and at one time owned a Michelin star restaurant near Paris, before moving back to Israel. The menu is very much a traditional French bistro but the design of the restaurant itself is more rural and although it holds a total of 80 people, the dining area is spread out across a number of small rooms so there is a very intimate feel to the space.
We sampled the Whipped Cream of Onion Soup (NIS 38) which was rich and creamy and unlike any other onion soup (according to a trusted source, they made me a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup instead). Next, we were presented with a beautifully plated dish with white chocolate, liver pate and chili – at first, it was unclear if it was a starter or a dessert but we all agreed it was decadent and delicious. It was confirmed that it was a starter and my favorite part of the dish was the perfect tiny chili flavored macaron with just the right amount of warmth.
Our next stop was directly across the street to newly opened Morel Worldwide Tapas and Wine. Unlike a typical Spanish tapas bar, as the name suggests the dishes are from all over the world and to cater to Israeli palettes they are medium size sharing dishes rather than the small tapas you find in Spain. The restaurant itself is bright and airy and has a European bistro feel to it. We sampled the Tuna Tartar (NIS 39) mini tacos which were tasty but lacked punch and the Reggiano Eggplant which was deliciously rich and comforting.
Lastly, the Carpaccio Sinta (NIS 42) was tasty if not slightly predictable. The chef/owner at Morel was an incredibly friendly generous host and it was clear that his goal is to deliver what his customers want. Morel prides themselves on their vast selection of affordable wine, including several local Israeli wines that are only NIS 20 a glass.
We were fortunate to taste some great wines from Vortman’s Winery and the owner Hai Vortman spoke to us about his critically acclaimed wines. The Fume Blanc 2015 from the nearby Shfeya Valley is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and was a surprising delight as I don’t normally favor white wines. It was much fruitier than European Sauvignon Blanc wines, while still being a dry wine. Hai explained that an increasing number of wineries are growing grapes in this area as it produces flavors that differ from the Golan and the Galil.
Down the same street is Chang Ba, a wonderfully authentic Thai street food restaurant. The chef who originates from the party island of Koh Phangan serves his favorite Thai street food dishes at a slightly elevated level. Some of the Thai herbs that are the base of these dishes are hard to find in Israel but chef Dam simply grows his own. He did say that some vary slightly in taste due to the difference in climates between Israel and Thailand but he manages to get pretty close to the real deal.
Chang Ba started in a smaller location with space for just 20 people and recently moved to Rehov Hanamal to bigger premises in the heart of the action. We started with a deliciously spicy Som Tum (NIS 36) – green papaya salad and we were then presented with a bowl of white rice and a buffet of all their most popular dishes. My clear favorite was the Pla Thot (NIS 94), a whole sea bass which was lightly fried and served with a spicy Thai herb sauce. The green curry was also delicious and most of the dishes on the menu have the option of tofu, chicken, beef, shrimps or fish so there really is something for everyone.
Our final stop was the Libira BrewPub which serves a selection of dishes that pair well with their own brand craft beers. There were a number of pork-based dishes on offer which I declined to taste like sausages with sauerkraut and meatloaf, as well as some salads and fresh bread.
The highlight of the night for many of us was a delivery of pastries from Gal Gavrieli of Gal’s Bakery. At one time Gal’s creations were available up and down the country, but now they can only be found at his bakery and café in Merkaz Hacarmel and for delivery within Haifa. Gal brought us a selection of both his savory and sweet pastries which were all incredibly buttery, flaky and addictive!
Jessica did a great job showcasing the Haifa culinary scene and we have already discussed a return visit to enjoy full meals at Hanamal 24 and Chang Ba and to visit Gal’s Bakery to try more of his incredible delicacies and eat in the café.