From trailblazers like Ottolenghi and Moro to buzzy newer joints Bala Baya and Shuk, London’s love affair with Middle Eastern food is burning hotter than ever right now. So, when small plates spot Bubala – an endearing term in Yiddish for ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ – joined the scene, popping up in one-off supper clubs and restaurant takeovers around the city, its competition was stiff.
Where the restaurant sets itself apart, is its focus on vegetables. Bubala is essentially a vegetarian restaurant – not that it’s showy about it, mind. You won’t find it branded or singled out as such. Instead, founder Marc Summers (ex-general manager of Berber & Q) and head chef Helen Graham (formally of The Palomar, The Barbary and The Good Egg) give vegetables the limelight on their menus and let the good quality, fresh ingredients do the talking. The result is a smorgasbord of vegetable dishes that zing with surprising-but-delicious flavours to please any dietary persuasion, including staunch meat-eaters.
Since opening its first permanent restaurant in Spitalfields in 2019, some of these meat-free small plates have become legendary, like the honey-drenched half moons of halloumi sprinkled with nigella seeds, the brown butter humous and crunchy cubes of confit potato latkes. This is veg lovingly grilled, roasted, charred and expertly laced with spice to make even the blandest of plants hum with lively flavour. It’s not surprising a second Soho restaurant quickly followed this year.
While there are influences of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines through the menu, its heart remains solidly in Israel. Even the restaurants’ decor – terracotta-stained walls and jewel-bright tiles – is inspired by Tel-Aviv’s modern cafes and the Israeli city is close to Marc’s heart being where his family spent their annual summer holidays growing up.
Here, Marc gives us his insider tips for where to eat like a pro in Tel-Aviv.
✈ Fly to Tel Aviv – book flights
Romano: "I'll start by saying this is my favourite restaurant in Tel Aviv. Romano encompasses what eating in Tel Aviv is all about; vibrant cooking, great energy and a setting that cannot be matched. Picture an old, derelict-looking building from the outside that opens up to a magical courtyard, with Romano sitting beautifully on the top floor. I have not experienced a vibe anywhere like it in the world. Go with a big group, order the majority of the menu and just soak up the atmosphere."
Derech Jaffa 9
Hashomer 1: “This was a gem of a food van I stumbled upon in Shuk Carmel. It really is the best street food in Tel Aviv with the freshest challah bread. Take a walk in the market, get a boreka to snack on and then head to Hashomer 1 for lunch. Sit on the food truck and just marvel at what can be done from a tiny truck kitchen.”
Carmel Market, HaShomer St 2
Port Said: “... is the first place I go to whenever I land in Tel Aviv as I instantly feel relaxed and in holiday mode. There's always a buzz that I crave from eating out. I must admit the chicken livers and tahini are on my mind all year round, there’s nothing quite like it. Sat with a cold beer, overlooking the historic Great Synagogue and sharing some of the best food in Tel Aviv is a dream and I already can’t wait to go back.”
Har Sinai 5
Abie: “... is an incredible restaurant from brothers Asaf and Yotam Doktor who also own Dok and Ha’achim (which are amazing too!). The brothers showcase some seriously innovative cooking and there is nowhere better to enjoy the best and freshest fish and seafood in Tel Aviv. I love an open kitchen so I get a seat at the bar and watch the chefs all night.”
Lincoln St 16
Hakosem: “Tel Aviv has some of the best falafel you will ever have in your life and nowhere sums this up more than Hakosem. The ‘magician’ Ariel Rosenthal has created the best falafel pita I’ve had in Israel. The crispy aubergine takes it to another level!. Beware, the pita will leave you covered in tahini.”
Shlomo HaMelekh St 1