Celebrity chef Israel Aharoni’s first eating establishment, Hiro, consists of a ramen bar in Sarona Market, with a limited menu.
Now his Hiro brand has grown to comprise a second restaurant, on Tel Aviv’s Levontin Street, with greatly expanded offerings of both food and drink.
The name of the second Hiro reflects these additions – Hiro Freestyle Ramen Bar & Asian Kitchen – although the menu was predominantly Japanese, with a nod to pan-Asian cuisine (in the form of buns). The casual décor of the restaurant as well was reminiscent of a simpler ramen bar, with seating that favors stools and benches, and a limited number of chairs with full backs.
Hiro the restaurant boasts an augmented alcohol menu, including sake, red and white wine, two imported beers and three specially cocktails (NIS 34). According to our waiter, the most popular cocktail is the Sakura Sour, a blend of gin, lychee, pomegranate and lemon, garnished with a large sprig of rosemary. Even more potent is the intriguingly named Old Smoky Bastard -- mezcal with ginger syrup, ginger beer and kaffir lime, garnished with lemon and flower buds.
The food menu encompasses seven categories, with plenty of vegan options throughout. Several sections feature dishes made with duck or pork – two popular meats in Asia – neither of which is available at the ramen bar in Sarona.
Starters (NIS 19-28) feature mostly pickled vegetables or salads with dressings that perk up appetites by stimulating the taste buds. The chef’s recommendations for us were the chicken and cucumber salad – cubes of diced chicken breast, wakame seaweed, cucumber and wasabi peas in an orange ponzu dressing; and the green vegetable salad – lightly steamed assorted seasonal vegetables with pralined cashews in a miso dressing.
Both delicious salads benefited from the crunch provided by the roasted peas and cashew nuts, respectively – the former spicy, and the latter sweet.
There are five options in the Ramen category (NIS 58-66), noodle soups that are practically a meal in a bowl. Hiro’s signature dish is the gochu ramen – thick noodles, bok choy, shiitake mushroom, daikon radish, spring onion, nori seaweed, marinated egg and a choice of chicken or beef in a rich duck broth seasoned with Korean fermented chili paste. This exceptional dish, served with a ladle and smaller bowls, is meant for sharing – and for taking home any soup left over, where the flavors continue to meld.
Equally complex and satisfying was the duck ramen, in which the highlights were generous slices of the succulent poultry, earthy chestnuts, and savory tamago and apricot chutney.
There is a more than adequate selection of buns (NIS 23-26) -- small sandwiches made with steamed rolls -- two varieties of which are vegan. The chicken bun with greens and chutney left a pleasantly sweet tingle of heat in the mouth, while the duck bun was enhanced by takuan (pickled radish) and a creamy, mellow, hoisin-flavored mayonnaise.
The presentation of Hiro’s gyoza (NIS 30-35) -- Japanese dumplings -- is unusually attractive. After steaming, they are fried in quartets to produce a lacy lattice of golden-brown crust. After steaming, they were fried in quartets to produce a lacy lattice of goldenbrown crust. The surprisingly tasty entry here was the plump pocket of Japanese pasta stuffed with a vegan mixture of bok choy, spinach and shiitake mushrooms. All gyoza were served with a slightly acidic soy-yuzu dipping sauce.
Interestingly, there is only one dessert (NIS 21): apricot and yuzu ice cream, with ginger marmalade. The soft-serve ice cream represented a nice balance of sweet and tart, accented with thin strands of exquisite candied ginger.
Another nice finishing touch was the geisha tea, a floral herbal blend that cleansed the palate and went down easily.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Hiro Ramen Bar & Asian Kitchen Not kosher 19 Levontin St., Tel Aviv Tel: *3721