European chic in a hotel in Tel Aviv
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European chic in a hotel in Tel Aviv

The flavours of the Middle East have been slowly propagating across the restaurant scene in Europe, and now Europe has spread its tendrils into Tel Aviv at The Norman hotel

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Away from the Tayelet there is another aspect to Tel Aviv – narrow streets with three-storey townhouses, Shoreditch-type enclaves with independent boutiques and art galleries, SoHo-style districts with cafes and restaurants and, scattered among them, a growing number of boutique hotels that are a world away from the high-rise big chain options on the seafront.

To walk into The Norman on Nachmani Street in the White City district is to be transported to 1920s Europe. Having acquired two historic buildings, owner Jonathan Lourie embarked on a restoration that sympathetically preserved the antique heritage while installing the comforts and technologies that 21st century travellers have come to expect at a hotel of this calibre. So high ceilinged bedrooms have Nespresso machines and curtains that close at the press of a button, while hand-painted bathrooms tiles are the background to rain showers and own-brand toiletries. Jonathan’s final flourish was to name the hotel after his filmmaker father, Norman.

With music playing in reception and pretty, young (European) female staff running check-in dressed in coloured lace dresses or floaty pastel jumpsuits, a relaxed ‘this is a hotel in Israel but not as you know it’ vibe pervades.

On arrival we are offered a glass of sparkling water and a quick guided tour. The restaurant and the terrace are full of holidaymakers, locals and business people eating and drinking at 11am. Quieter but no less enticing is The Library Bar. Wall panelling, leather seats in British racing green, crystal glasses and coffee table books render this every inch a London-type space; ceiling fans perhaps the only giveaway that we are in the warm climes of the Middle East and not the rain-soaked streets of W1. There’s an informal meeting taking place in the conservatory lounge overlooking the walled garden at the back of the hotel. I love the informality, the buzz and the ambience.

Our double-aspect room has floor-to-ceiling windows taking up two entire walls, giving us a feeling of light and space despite being in a townhouse on a narrow street. Various lighting settings (full, mood, night etc) are fun to mess around with and the incredibly soft bedsheets are all from Frette. Paperback books and a retro radio on the bedside tables and fresh flowers on an occasional table are a nice touch – it feels like home. The bathroom (shower only) is compact but still has room for fluffy robes, fluffy towels and a magnifying mirror (extra brownie points for any hotel that gives me this).

Fifty stunning rooms and suites are spread across the two buildings, including one of the largest suites in the city, covering 200msq over two floors with its own terrace with a hot tub. Striking Israeli art is displayed all over the hotel, from a Dead Sea salt-encrusted violin in the library bar to oil paintings, prints and photos. There’s a mix of modern and antique furniture, magnificent brass inlaid marquetry and tiles underfoot, beautiful bespoke fabrics, sculptures, plants and flowers. It is, quite simply, gorgeous.

We’ve fallen in love with the Norman and we don’t want to leave, so we spend a peaceful afternoon on the sundeck by the rooftop pool, accessed by a staircase near the small gym. Just high enough to be secluded and not too high to risk vertigo, this is staffed and has a small bar for drinks and light refreshments. The view is of the Tel Aviv’s cityscape, an eclectic mix of high-rise offices, modern apartment blocks and even a huge water tower topped by a menorah. I just love the multitudinous aspects of this city.

As the sun goes down, we descend to the Library Bar for cocktails, of which there is an impressive choice plus a range of whiskies, spirits, champagnes and wines. We then make our way to ALENA, a collaboration by chef duo Omer Shadmi Muller & Daniel Zur, which offers European-inspired favourites with Mediterranean & Galilean flourish. Muller and Zur take inspiration and use techniques from their global experience and fuse them with their childhood knowledge of the local landscape and ingredients, with dishes such as drum fish fillet with roasted fennel, chickpea and salsa verde and olive oil chocolate tart.

Shakshuka at The Norman

Israeli hotels are known for bountiful buffet breakfasts but at The Norman it is a more refined affair with a small but plentiful buffet and cooked-to-order dishes, to be enjoyed inside or on the sun-drenched terrace under pretty white canvas awnings. This feels absolutely like being in Paris; naturellement I had to order the French toast with caramelised bananas. This might just be the best thing I’ve eaten this year!

Although currently closed for renovations, renowned Japanese restaurant Dinings, which originated in London, is a Tel Aviv hotspot on the third floor, fusing Japanese izakaya dishes with modem European cuisine. A spot up at the marble counter is a front row seat for the theatrical chefs as they create platefuls of art to be enjoyed alongside an unrivalled selection of sake. Salmon tartare with jalapeno sauce, horseradish and cucumber caviar is a dish not to be missed.

A long poem by the eponymous Norman is inscribed on an interior wall, and says: ‘In the beginning, there was nothing but the murmur of the sea, sand dunes in Galilee.’ Now, in Tel Aviv, there is everything, even a boutique hotel that brings the past into the present, Europe into the Middle East and 1920s glamour into the city.

Deluxe rooms from £595 per night inclusive of breakfast

thenorman.com

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