When I visit restaurants, I invariably study the wine list, looking for balance. It has to match the restaurant in style, size and price. I want to see a list that caters for all and that challenges and entices. Wine is an integral part of a good restaurant, but it does not have to be more than that. The difference between being merely interesting and providing good service to showing off in a pretentious way, is not so great. Wine may often be the focal point of what is best and worst in any restaurant. Balance and suitability is the key. I always value those that take wine seriously, but in the right context, which brings me to R2M.
My introduction to R2M was Coffee Bar. It swiftly became one of my favorite restaurants in Israel maintaining standards year in year out. Don’t be confused by the name…..or the area where it is situated.
It is a restaurant that understands the theatre of the restaurant business combining hospitality and quality food with fiercely good service. Everything is in the right proportion, but not too much. The menu and wine list are always interesting without being pretentious and the service is always tip top without arrogance. It will never be the absolutely the best quality in Israel, but the overall package gives a fight to any other establishment in Israel. To use a boxing term, it is one of the best pound for pound restaurants in Israel. Opened in 1994, it still maintains a high minimum standard and consistency, which is the envy of its competitors.
My children and I are notoriously ‘hard to please’ customers. We don’t only delight in eating, but also in analyzing and discussing each course, the wines and service, ad nauseum. The dissecting of the whole experience is part of the fun for us. We have all been in this business, so we do admire standards in others. We can drive our dining companions crazy with this obsession, sometimes even other family members, including my late wife. “Don’t talk about it….just eat” they would say. I digress simply to make the point I am pretty demanding, but even so, it is pretty difficult to leave Coffee Bar without positive feelings.
R2M is arguably the number one restaurant group in Israel. Apart from Coffee Bar, they own other outlets which are close to the best of their type in Israel. There is the Montefiore Hotel (great name by the way!), a pioneering boutique hotel in Israel; Then The Brasserie, a 24/7 operation which imports the French brasserie style as if directly from Paris; The Bakery, the place where you can spoil yourself with something delicious and fattening; Rothschild 12,a hip bar where music and hospitality combine; Finally Delicatessen, where you can enjoy one of the best breakfasts in the city or purchase some of the quality ingredients that make the group what it is. No outlet replicates the other. Each venue is a totally different concept, but each has set the standards for others to try and emulate.
However I write about wine not restaurants and it is their attitude to wine which I respect so much. The wine selection and style of wine list at every venue matches the concept and price, and the variety available is as up to date as tomorrow. The choice reflects both the needs and perception of the customers. They are not wines lists solely to impress but also fit seamlessly into the objectives and theme of the restaurant.
Now there are no famous sommeliers serving these wines. Wine service is done by the servicing waiter. It is all about efficiency and hospitality, but this is not to imply wine service is not of a high standard at all levels. However R2M is built on service not just for the sake of it or to draw attention to themselves. They don’t aim to be pretentious because they can justify higher prices. No, the service is inbuilt in the culture in order to enhance the overall dining experience.
The R2M Group does not have superstars, or PR companies pumping out press releases. The owners and chefs are remarkably low key. The outlet is the brand. However the person in charge of beverages is a kind of superstar.
I am referring to Elad Shoham. He is lean and lanky, balding with a newish ginger beard and a permanent quizzical look. Once I was served by him at the Montefiore Hotel, and no doubt he has the languid, fluid, economy of movement of someone born to give service. Those who are gifted, glide unobtrusively. Do you remember Muhammed Ali floating like a butterfly or have you ever watched Roger Federer’s footwork? If you have admired them, you will know what I mean.
I remember the first great restaurants I visited were Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons in England, Trotters in the USA and Les Crayères in France. The difference between these cathedrals of gastronomy and all the other good & successful places was an elevated, almost uncanny level of service. In Israel I often think the food reaches high international standards, but the overall dining experience falls down on service issues.
Now, Elad Shoham is someone who his hyper active and likes doing. He can barely sit still long enough to speak to me. He is fidgeting, desperate to get back to the action. He tells me he started at McDonalds as a 15 year old. This was his entry into the pressure cooker of food service. His introduction to fine dining which changed his outlook and gave him his career, was at Aioli Restaurant. There the foodie in him came out. The world of fine wine and the culinary possibilities opened a window in his mind. At the same time he did everything and anything in the kitchen or on the floor, just to soak up the knowledge and atmosphere of the restaurant business.
At this stage he was not sure whether he wanted to be in the kitchen, but he began to be entranced by the world of bars, cocktails and wines
Then he joined the R2M and developed along with the group. He was part of the kitchen staff of Hotel Montefiore for a while and floor manager of the Coffee Bar. Eventually the theatre of the restaurant floor, contact with the customer and buzz of service won the day and wine became his new passion. He had the urge to taste, learn about wine, visit wineries, meet winemakers and develop his knowledge. He eventually became the sommelier of the Hotel Montefiore, then wine manager for the group and more recently was put in charge of all Beverages too.
The wine list at Hotel Montefiore maybe is not as grand or as long as some. Awards were recently awarded to The Norman Hotel for the best wine list in the country and to Toto Restaurant for the best range of wines by the glass. Chloelys Restaurant received the prize for the best cellar and King David Hotel’s La Regence was given the award for the best kosher wine list. However, no wine lover will complain about the choice, range, price or service of wine at Montefiore. The oligarch looking for the expensive wine, or business lunch customer looking for wine by the glass, will be satisfied. It is one of the outstanding wine venues in Tel Aviv. At the other end of the scale, Delicatessen lists interesting wines at great value prices to purchase.
Apart from the wine selection and variety by bottle, glass and magnum, there are three other reasons why I single out R2M has having an enviable wine program. Firstly the level of wine service is very good and staff knowledge his high. This shows an excellent and ongoing wine training with tastings thrown in.
Secondly, there are very few restaurants that have the budgets to buy wines for long term aging. Everything is immediate. Wine lists change by the day and the days of the telephone book sized wine list is disappearing. Yet, visit Hotel Montefiore and you have the opportunity to buy different mini verticals (different vintages) of Castel Grand Vin, Clos de Gat Ayalon, Flam Noble, Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon and Yatir Forest. This is virtually unique because the restaurant has to buy wine and store it for the future. In today’s restaurant world, fewer and fewer restaurants are prepared to do this.
Then there is Haruzim. This is the house wine of the group. Most restaurants searching for a house wine would select something off the shelf and slap a special personalized label on the bottle. Those with higher standards would go to the trouble to taste existing wines and choose their own blend. You would think the energizer bunny of sommeliers would choose the easier route because it is quicker. No, R2M is different. They choose the fruit from the vineyard, make their own red, white and rosé wine at the Soreq Winery Wine School. They then age it, blend it and the wine experts at each particular outlet will sit together and democratically select the final restaurant wine.
It is typical of R2M, to take the longest, most painstaking route to produce the entry level wine. Talking about caring about ingredients and success through people. It is because of this approach and the investment cellar that the group caught my eye from a wine point of you.
So what is the secret? Elad Shoham is not a shrinking violet and has bundles of self-confidence. He is knowledgeable yet curious and dynamic, and most significantly he has the absolute backing of the R2M management. A recipe for success. Visiting any R2M outlet is a delight for the wine lover and connoisseur. Bravo!
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years. He is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine’ and the ‘English voice of Israeli wine’.