Before his death in 2018, star French chef Joël Robuchon dreamed about opening a restaurant in Tel Aviv. He sent people here to investigate but ultimately shelved the idea.
Today his vision has become a reality with the launch of L’Époque in the newly reopened Elkonin Hotel. It's the city’s first hotel, which got its start in the now tony Neveh Tzedek neighborhood in 1913.
The Elkonin, which was in operation for less than 20 years, hosted Albert Einstein and two of Israel's founding greats, David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann. It later became an apartment building, and later rooms were leased as factory space.
In the 1970s the building was completely abandoned. In 2000, French developer Dominique Romano bought the site and would spend nearly 13 years renovating it. The new hotel will have 44 rooms, a rooftop pool and bar, a Clarins luxury spa and of course L’Époque.
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The restaurant is part of the Joël Robuchon International group, which was founded after his death to preserve his legacy. JRI has restaurants in cities including Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and New York.
The group’s roster has won 31 Michelin stars, and if the rumors about that prestigious guide’s arrival in Tel Aviv are true, L’Époque will get a chance to compete for fame with its sister restaurants.
L’Époque's executive chef is Eugene Koval, formerly the chef at Cordero at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, also in Neveh Tzedek. JRI Executive Chef David Alves, who was Robuchon’s right-hand man for 20 years and has led the group since the boss' death, will be on hand during L’Époque’s first weeks.
The menu tilts heavily toward French classics, including some of Robuchon’s legendary dishes, with a few local and Mediterranean twists.
As to be expected, prices are pretty high – in keeping with the venue’s formal atmosphere and service à la française. This includes waiters in formal dress and other gestures that you'll consider either charming and classic or outdated and unnecessary.
The menu features first courses like Jerusalem artichoke salad with goose liver and parmesan (90 shekels [$26.40]), warm shrimp on spinach leaves with tabbouleh salad (75 shekels), and Gillardeau oysters in jelly along with semolina and broccoli (50 shekels).
Main courses include Parisian beef tartare (150 shekels), lamb shoulder confit with medjool dates and whole chickpeas (320 shekels for two people or more), Coquille Saint-Jacques with ginger, coriander and green-curry-coated walnuts (150 shekels), and sweetbreads on a bed of spicy lemon jam, steamed peas and mint (160 shekels).
One part of the menu features Robuchon classics; several dishes are sure to be hotly debated by Tel Aviv foodies. A crisp poached egg on caviar (320 shekels) probably wins the title of most expensive starter in Israel. This is possibly due to the very generous helping of caviar that accompanies it. Then there’s the caramelized lobster with whipped coconut milk and black pepper sauce (395 shekels), which also scrapes the top of the Israeli price scale.
Is the mini-burger with goose liver and crispy peppers the most expensive hamburger in Israel at 160 shekels? Could be.
And what about Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes? In all its glory – and high butter and fat content – it's served with most of the main courses on the menu. This dish is just as thick, smooth, rich and decadent as the connoisseurs say.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of L’Époque and the great investment in money and thought that made it happen. Is there room in Israel for a somewhat snooty French restaurant? In the current economic climate, can a restaurant with these prices succeed? These are the questions.
9 Lilienblum St., Tel Aviv. The phone number and opening hours will be published soon.