Happy Cow lists almost 30 vegan establishments in Tel Aviv. So if you were there for just three nights, why would you go to the same place twice? The answer is simple – it is because the food is so mindblowingly good.
The VB had never heard of Four One Six, but a brief article in the Tel Aviv Time Out read on the flight across mentioned it and also mentioned something called steak in a pan that apparently everyone was taking about. The VB needed to investigate.
Four One Six is located in located on Ha’arba’a and backs onto Kikar Gibon, a new plaza between that street and Hahashmonaim, created from a former car park. The area is adjacent to trendy Sarona, a 15 minute walk from the Azrielli Tower where the VB was staying.
It is a smart place, only recently opened. This is not the hipster kind of place like most of the newer vegan establishments in Tel Aviv, but neither it is fine dining. The vibe is quite unique: upscale and quirky with plants growing from the ceiling and walls. Decor is clean and modern and the music is perfectly suited and actually, really good.
But, never mind the decor, the VB was there to eat. The menu is simple: four starters; four salads; four sandwiches and four main courses. The VB was keen to try the aforementioned steak and ordered this preceded by some polenta fries. Citrus-infused water was generously served by waiting staff carrying jugs.
Of course polenta fries are ten a penny, but these were something else. Four large fries, perfect angles at the edges, very crispy and tasty too. These were served with a vegan aioli and a spicy ketchup – both home made. The VB remembers mentioning to the waiter that these were the best polenta fries he had ever had and with a knowing smile the steak in a pan was placed on the table.
This was a seitan derived meat substitute, but these words do not do it justice. It was served in a cast iron pan with roast potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and some chilli. It was topped with a spicy chimichurri sauce.
The seitan is home made using a special technique and it is then cooked using a unique an unconventional method to slightly char the surface. The result is a sensation the VB has not experienced since eating a piece of a dead cow as a child. It was chewy, very chewy – served with a steak knife and fork – and the robust flavour just kept coming. This was as near to eating a steak as you could be without actually eating a steak. Perhaps a little salty for the VB – but otherwise totally amazing. It was after the first bite of this revolutionary food that the VB realised that this was no ordinary establishment.
Most vegan restaurants fail on deserts. Could this place pull if off? The VB ordered Truffle Trail – a collection of rich chocolate truffles in mint flavour, peanut topped with halva that looked a bit like candy floss and hazelnut nougat. Two of each were served with vanilla cream, coffee cream, cookie crumbs, vegan merengue and fresh pea shoots. Fail on deserts? Not here. This was a stunning pudding by anyone’s account.
So when the chance came to go out again in Tel Aviv, this time with 3 friends, there really was no doubt where we were all going. Another one of the party was vegan and had not tried this establishment before and the other two were open minded. Going with a group was a good idea as the staff suggested we might share courses, thereby being able to try many more dishes. Four starters and four mains were swiftly ordered and this time cocktails too.
Four One Six is also a first-class cocktail bar, not only dehydrating fruit in house for garnishes but also making its own concentrates for an upmarket kind of Sodastream when fizzy drinks are ordered. Mojitos were described as the best ever, the VB had a sour Mocktail which was an interesting mix of citrus flavours, very tart – a seriously grown up drink.
Our came the starters. First up, Lebanese Cream Cheese. A generous dollop of home made vegan cream cheese was dressed with oregano and olive oil and topped with a fresh and tangy tomato salsa, two artichoke hearts and a warm, grilled tortilla on the side. Everyone tore off some of the tortilla and scooped up cheese and salsa. The slight sourness of a Lebanese cheese was spot on. The consensus was that this was not only delicious but was actually better than the version of this dish derived from cows.
Next up, King Oyster Calamari. Several pieces served in a basket along with vegan tartar sauce and a lemon wedge. The dish is so-called because it is made from oyster mushrooms, specifically the stem of the mushroom, rolled round into a ring-shape. These coated in panko crumbs and deep fried. The VB has never eaten calamari, but two of the party had. They both said this was indiscernible from the animal-based alternative. Each bite made the VB smile.
A dish of seared oyster mushrooms on artichoke cream was a recommendation from the specials menu. The mushrooms had a smoky flavour, nicely balanced by the artichokes. Served with shoots and an edible flower.
Finally, another special. Lentil pate served on bruschetta tasted meaty and delicious. All portions were generous and everyone was able to have a decent amount of each dish.
Further cocktails were ordered. This time a Pina Colada arrived in a whole coconut which was described as dehydrated in house. A Virgin Mojito hit the spot for the VB as the main courses were rolled out.
Firstly Shawarma, served in a cast iron pan as the steak was and drizzled with pesto tahini and curry tahini and with tomato salsa on the side. This was just like the real thing, no … better than the real thing. Completely different from the steak but also made from seitan in house. All the taste and all of the texture with none of the baggage. A huge portion and very delicious.
Steak Salad was exactly what it said on the tin. Strips of the wonderful chewy in-house steak served with lots of lemon-marinated arugula, shallots, fennel and potatoes. This was topped with almond parmesan and chips of dehydrated strawberry, then drizzled with a fig berry balsamic reduction. It was stellar.
Next up was a classic Caesar Salad from the specials menu. It was exactly as one might expect except it was made with tofu cubes and topped with the wonderful almond parmesan – made in house like everything else on this incredible menu.
Finally, Chraime, a Moroccan spicy fish dish. The fish substituted for cutlets – the VB is not sure what they were made of – but with good texture and flavour. The tomato-based sauce had a real kick to it and because this Sephardic dish is usually served on a Friday night, the plate came with its own mini Challah loaf. This was freshly baked, sprinked with sesame seeds and was warm and literally melted in the mouth.
As you might imagine, most of the party could not move by now. The VB was seriously at risk of losing shirt buttons. But, the desert menu had to be sampled. Reluctantly, we ordered just two dishes to share: Cheesecake and Alfajores which had been recommenced to the VB by another vegan friend in the know. However, the owners knew best and four deserts were delivered to the table, in addition Pattiserie Pastries and a plate of the truffles again.
By this point there was little that could surprise us. But the Cheesecake was … well, it was cheesecake, served with a berry compote and vanilla cream. The promised fresh stawberries must have run out, but no matter.
The Alfajores was a kind of trifle, layers of lemon cookie crumble, candid almonds, vegan dulce de leche, coconut whipped cream, lemon zest, white chocolate and toasted coconut all eaten together resulted in a fruity and nutty mix of extravagance. Truffles have already been mentioned but the pastries were a take on a donut. Deep fried and filled with a rush custard cream, they were outstanding.
This was one of the best meals the VB has ever eaten and the place cannot be recommended enough.
However, what they are doing is something truly wonderful. They are not presenting a poor imitation of what one might eat in a regular Israeli upmarket restaurant serving meat or dairy, they are actually improving on it. The steak, the cream cheese, the deserts are all far better than the traditional versions. And far healthier too.
Eat here – it will open your eyes and open your mind. There is a vegan revolution happening in Israel and Four One Six is the most creative and innovative expression of this that the VB has seen to date. It is a vegan food revolution in itself.