Hmm, something new in the neighborhood, I thought to myself one Wednesday afternoon as I wandered along Ben Yehuda past Mapu Street in Tel Aviv. That long dormant little café appears to have new life…
…and Xoho is its name! The small, recently revived corner coffee shop has come alive under the friendly and skilled hands of young, new owners Howard Bick and Xoli Ormut-Durbin, also newcomers to Israel. Bick hails from South Africa, and left his legal career to fulfill his dream of running a neighborhood café. Ormut-Durbin, a Canadian raised in Hong Kong, worked in various well-known spots around Tel Aviv honing the trade before convincing Bick to join her in this new venture.
Together they created Xoho, an intimate, casual and unusually welcoming café cum gallery space cum occasional live music venue, serving a top-notch cup of coffee. Bick is barista and businessman, proving also his skill with coffee as well. The menu, created by Ormut, Durbin and Chef Zoe Komarin, is short yet inspirationally eclectic.
Veering left onto Mapu Street for a closer investigation, I hopped up onto the bar and ordered my standard short espresso with hot milk on the side. Barista Bick had a chuckle as I carefully poured in all the milk. “We actually have that – a short shot of espresso filled to the top of the espresso cup with steamed milk – on the menu; we call it a mini-cappuccino and it’s quite popular.”
I sipped my mini while perusing the menu, as well as the bilingual posting of the daily specials. The first thing to jump out at me was the toasted bagel with “the works.” Could this be what I think it is? Indeed! A delicious chewy bagel topped with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato, capers and lemon zest. I could not resist ordering one and enjoying every perfectly assembled North American bite.
It was on my next visit to Xoho, my new favorite neighborhood café, that I ordered the Deviled Egg Breakfast. An odd, yet entirely appealing plate, consisting of 2 halved deviled eggs (for those who never attended a cocktail party in the 1970s, this is a hard-boiled egg with the yolk scooped out and made into a salad with mayonnaise and pickles and then replaced in the white), a leafy green salad, toasted bread and assorted spreads, which that day included lemon butter, cream cheese, and homemade preserves. Save for the cream cheese, everything is made in house according to inspiration and available ingredients; one day the butter is lemony, the next, spiked with basil. The delightful, cold breakfast proved more filling than it first appeared and was a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous sunny-side-up with tomato and cucumber salad.
In addition to being full of regulars whose names the owners know by heart, Xoho is also shaping up to be quite the ex-patriot hangout and the lingua franca tends mostly towards variously accented English. This spot is also worth visiting for it’s fresh bakery items, from carrot cake to cookies to the muffin or two of the day. There is always a counter full of enticing treats that cannot be found just anywhere. The cheesecakes, thick, rich and properly heavy, are to die for. Xoho is a wonderful and homey new addition to the area helping to change the face of this touristy stretch of Ben Yehuda Street. Highly recommended.
18 Mapu Street, Tel Aviv