Chef Guy Pollak on his love for Japan and what actually keeps Israeli customers satisfied
It’s not only hard to keep up with the R2M Restaurant group opening up new spots all the time, it’s impossible to compare with their service and quality and the fact that they have stood the test of time since 1994. That’s a lifetime in the restaurant world, and with landmark spots like Brasserie, CoffeeBar, Bakery, Hotel Montefiore, Creme and Delicatessen, it's even more commendable.
A few days after the doors of their legendary Rothschild 12 closed, 2018’s most talked about culinary complex, Herzl 16, welcomed the Tel Avivian crowd with open arms.
Rothschild 12 knew that their time was limited when they opened in their original location, so they weren’t surprised when the building was faced with demolition and renovation demands. The R2M group set out in pursuit of a space to replicate the successful place. Their goal was to encourage a kind of natural evolution; a teenager finally accepting adulthood. Herzl 16 (the historical ‘Maaliya’ building, where the first-ever elevator was built in Tel Aviv) turned out to be the ideal place. We caught up with chef Guy Pollak, who manages all the restaurants of this golden restaurant group to talk shop about their newest spot inside Herzl 16, Disco Tokyo.
How did you come up with the concept for Disco Tokyo?
When Ruti Broudo and Mati Broudo, the co-founders of the R2M restaurant group and I first visited Japan, we discovered Izakaya, bars with small plates that go with alcohol. We love the concept, the fact that you can have a bit of everything, and that every dish pairs with your drink. Of course, we went again. We started to get more involved with Japan. It was during the time of the ramen craze. I fell in love with the people, the culture, how they pay attention to the kitchen, and the tastes. Everything was so different, and I was intrigued. We knew we had to open a Japanese restaurant. At the same time, one of our most successful spots, Rothschild 12, closed. The spot was always well loved, but the focus wasn’t the food. We wanted Disco Tokyo to be about the food. We love the concept of Izakaya mostly because essentially there are no rules. We can serve sashimi, tempura, everything. We like it when food goes with alcohol, and when alcohol goes with food. We have a big open kitchen, which means there is constant interaction with the chefs. We want the chefs to connect with the customer.
The details are in everything here. Even the ceramic dishes are gorgeous. Where did you get them?
It was a part of our fantasy to have ceramic dishes with the food to really tighten the concept. Many of the dishes are handmade by my mom, Hannah Pollak, who lives on a Moshav called Aniam. She has been making ceramic dishes for over 35 years.
R2M continues to be the most successful restaurant group in the country. What is the secret?
Service is everything for us. If someone is having a bad day, we try to make it better. Our customer is often a returning customer– the kind of customer that will frequent a place often. Our prices reflect this so that our customer can come back often and come to our spots several times a week.
Who is the Israeli customer?
The Israeli customer is loyal. They like to eat out often and tell us how they feel; they give back to us. When things are bad, they will let us know. When things are good, they are so happy. They become our friend.
What do you eat on your days off?
Believe it or not, I order food from our other spots. We have the main kitchen over at Beit Panorama where some of our food is made. We actually order food home from there! Often, it’s the same food that goes to Delicatessen, our deli and restaurant. We heat up the food at home and test it again and again. We want to see how it tastes when it is warmed up and heated up at home. We’re always checking everything, so we can make sure we get the full experience that the customer is getting.
Disco Tokyo, 16 Herzl St, Tel Aviv (03-5544300) discotokyo.co.il/