A gem to behold
Approaching Bagnolet, located in the rugged, concrete-smeared edges of Neve Sha'anan, feels like finding a freshwater pool in the middle of the desert. Bright, shining, and gleaming with appeal, I was taken aback by the outpouring of energy from its vibrant interior.
The finesse exhibited by the restaurant's extreme urban chic is inarguably a matter of careful planning and clever post-trend vision. Designed in nouveau-retro architectural scheming, if the optical eclectic cool doesn't get you, then the chipper-suave atmosphere and friendly, trilingual (Hebrew, English and French!) service surely will. Upbeat, young, and cultivated, the ambiance at Bagnolet is nearly as seductive as the food.
Cook or chemist?
Fifteen years ago, Kobi Kaatz of Bagnolet (a commune in the Parisian suburbs) moved to the Middle East and settled into a sous-chef position at the highly regarded Rocca, located in Herzeliyah Pituach. Today, he is the artiste and mastermind founder of his own Bagnolet–a veritable world of kitchen wizardry. Some might mistake him for a magician...or, at least I did.
The flavours and ingredients that make up the 15 starters and 16 mains at Bagnolet sound so provocative that the anticipation of seeing and tasting the dishes can easily send someone into a cold sweat. It takes a true food guru to break away from the safety of the typical Mediterranean flavour fashion that Israelis have been supporting, and introduce innovative punches of unconventionality into fine dining.
Everything at Bagnolet surprises the palate. The kimchi-resembling radish salad that's served pre-ordering is a fantastic appetite stimulator, gingery and tart. The homemade pickles are a warm reminder of your Polish grandma, and served with Japanese style sesame oil roasted red peppers, atop sliced hot sourdough bread, make for a perfect finger food aside an Aperitif!
The Bagnolet bar is stocked with superb choices of local and imported wines and alcohols. We opted for a bottle of 2008 Israeli Psagot Merlot (130 NIS a bottle, or 30 NIS a glass). The wine selection is large, so if you're feeling really merry, you can go with a bottle of Calon-Ségur at 1100 NIS!
Besides being delighted at finding scallops (raw and thinly sliced over black sesame oil, lemon rind, micro-cilantro and Atlantic sea salt–69 NIS) on the menu, I was impressed by the generous presence of Eel, otherwise neglected in Israeli restaurants. I also noticed the lack of nuts and seeds in the dishes––a craze in fusion cuisine over the last few years–and personally, this was a relief (I'm nuts for nuts, but, hey! Crunch needn't necessarily accompany everything.)
Mix and magic
Most starters are are large enough for two to share, if separate mains are in question. We sampled several. The Cherry-glazed duck pate with garlic confit, shallots and cherry tomatoes was rich and delicious (67 NIS). The Lamb and pine nut filled cigar, served over sheep's milk yoghurt and white chocolate was scattered with pomegranate seeds, and received a glorious reaction with each bite being an exciting dive into multi-textured appetite happiness (52 NIS).
Although superb, we could have skipped out on the Baby calamari with olive oil, chickpeas, Arak and fire-roasted vegetables (51 NIS) and the Crystal shrimp and eel served with tomatoes, Harissa, roasted eggplant and tahini with lemon and sumac (64 NIS). Simply because the Seafood couscous (one of our mains), packed with shellfish, eel, shrimp and squid (128 NIS) was massive and would have satisfied our sea critter craving. The Seared tuna and salmon sashimi starter, served over sweet sesame-infused glass noodles and micro garden greens (69 NIS), is a dish you'd have to pay me not to ravage.
Along with our Couscous dish, we had the divine Spiced cow's cheek Hot Pot, deeply cooked with the winter-warming likes of tomato, pomegranate, red wine and root vegetables (108 NIS). The melt-in-your-mouth meat and sweet, tender veggies were too irresistible to leave unfinished, despite the above average portion size. After all of that wonderful food, we were only able to consider dessert thanks to a digestif of acai berry flavored vodka.
Last but not least, Bagnolet's magic came to sugarcoat us before we stumbled out into the real world. Valrhona chocolate mousse cake with white and milk chocolate ganache-coated crème brûlée, vanilla sauce and bing cherries (42 NIS) was dangerously delectable, as was the restaurant's haute rendition of the classic Arabic Knaffeh–crispy, warm and not overly sweet.
Putting aside all fear that the evening's rich consumptions might give me high cholesterol, my partner and I were wholly bedazzled...Chef Katz' Bagnolet is a club I'm signing up to join!
14 HaSharon, Neve Shaanan
Corner of HaSharon and HaRakevet
Open Sun-Sat 12:00 to 3:00
English Speaking Staff: YES