It is eight o’clock in the evening at the Le Relais Jaffa restaurant near the Noga Theater in Jaffa. The prestigious restaurant is filled with diners. A well known public figure dines together with a large group of American donators, a young man makes a marriage proposal to his excited girlfriend, a couple changes loving words in Russian while finishing off a bottle of white wine, and while two glasses of Kir Royal are being served to our table just before our meal, the owner of the Le Relais Jaffa restaurant, Hanni Bitton, an impressive and very charismatic woman, passes between the tables, makes sure that all of her guests are comfortable, greets the new arrivers with a smile, parts warmly with those who leave and rules over the staff of waiters like a maestro conducting a symphonic orchestra – she marks the entries, sets the tempo and directs the whole evening with skill and precision, just like as if it was a festive, elegant and profound classical concert.
And the word "classical” describes the Le Relais Jaffa restaurant well. The well established Le Relais Jaffa restaurant, which has been open since 1989, is housed inside a building which dates to the 1930s, in the days in which the British Mandate ruled in this country. And as befitting the time in which it was built, this building has six meters high ceilings and the arched windows that are typical to Jaffa and to the Jerusalem Avenue area. With such opening specifications one enters the Jaffa atmosphere right away. Inside the elegant leather bound menus, which present classic and kosher French gourmet dishes, it is told that once in its past, this building which houses the Le Relais Jaffa restaurant has served as a station for carriages which traveled from Jaffa to the city of Jerusalem and as the first khan of Jaffa, which certainly fits well with the restaurant’s name, Le Relais Jaffa, which means "Jaffa’s Khan” (Jaffa’s Inn). The Le Relais Jaffa restaurant is decorated in a Moroccan style in warm colors, featuring carpets, chairs with metal fixtures, large vases, ceiling fans and designed lighting fixtures which give a low and romantic light, and there is even a German piano in the corner of the room to contribute to the ambiance. Besides the main hall of Le Relais Jaffa the restaurant also offers a private room on its gallery floor that is suitable for the hosting of groups of diners and for holding family or business events.
We started our dinner with the soups – a wonderful tomato soup with a hint of sweetness, which was made out of fresh tomatoes and root vegetables and a sweet potato soup with pesto, ginger and chicken stock with an unmistakable oriental touch. In between the dishes we snacked on an olive tapenade and a garlic spread, which were served to us together with warm and delicious home made bread rolls. We continued with a carpaccio of sinta preserved in a balsamic vinegar of sunflower sprouts, which combined well between the salty flavor and the balsamic vinegar. For our main course we ordered the moullard breast with root vegetables in honey and an entrecote steak in a pepper sauce which was served with a mix of grilled vegetables. The steak was just as juicy as an excellent steak should be, and it melted in the mouth. The juicy dish of moullard breast was just as wonderful and softly melted on the palate as well. In short, those who think that kosher food cannot be as good and as tasty as a non kosher one, must come to dine at Le Relais Jaffa in order to understand that when you work with the right materials and in the right way, kosher food can also be excellent.
We finished off our meal with a variety of desserts which included a vodka sorbet, a chocolate charlotte with English cream, a lemon parfait with a fruits coulis and a halva parfait with caramel. And when Hanni joined us at our table and we embarked on a long women’s talk, we felt that this was as well just like an additional dessert. Hanni is famous as an especially warm and friendly host and in addition to the excellent food that is served at Le Relais Jaffa there is no doubt that it is her who makes this place so unique by giving it that additional personal touch which you cannot find anywhere else. Hanni was born in Morocco and grew up in the city of Ashdod. She met her husband, David Bitton, through her work in the hotels business. David, a French citizen who was born in Marrakesh, who came to Israel as a tourist, and who was a well sought after bachelor, fell in love with Hanni on first sight (and who wouldn’t?). Hanni and David got married and opened together Le Relais Jaffa. At first Le Relais Jaffa was located on HaDolphin Street and only ten years later it was moved to its current location at the Bat Ami pedestrian street. Up until a year ago, when David passed away, Hanni and David ran Le Relais Jaffa as a team. Today Hanni runs the restaurant on her own, but as someone who seems to have been born to host and does everything out of a great love for the restaurant and for her guests, Hanni does it admirably. The list of public figures that come here is long and impressive. But if until not that long ago the restaurant’s clientele was fairly conservative, Hanni happily points out to the fact that today more and more young people come here as well. And it is not surprising. After all, it is not a matter of age, as what this wonderful host provides her customers with at Le Relais Jaffa is sought after by people of all ages.