At least once a week, Yaron Liberman, general manager of The Norman Hotel Tel Aviv, checks in as a guest at the 50-room property. He experiences the happenings at the hotel first-hand, making notes for anything that needs attention, be it the art collection, décor, the uniforms and beyond. “We repaint each room twice a year,” he tells us, noting one of the ways that he and the entire team work to maintain and update the historic property, built in the 1920s in the heart of Tel Aviv.
During the lockdowns of 2020, Liberman utilized the time for an even more detailed refresh of The Norman—when the hotel took on renovation projects, improved technology and established new health protocols.
As it got closer to its full reopening, The Norman debuted a new restaurant concept, Alena, with a young talented culinary duo. Chefs Omer Shadmi Muller and Daniel Zur not only revamped the breakfast menu into a served concept from the original breakfast buffet, but they also created new lunch and dinner menus that celebrate local ingredients and flavors, while weaving in global influences. Their zesty shakshuka, served in a red skillet with house-baked bread, provides a perfect start to the day, while the dinner menu features standouts like charred octopus cooked in lamb fat and mulukhiyah tortelli with za’atar butter.
This focus on local creations extends to the wine program, for which head sommelier and wine director Shira Tsiddon sources her favorite wines from around the world, while also highlighting wines made in Israel—from the Golan Heights, the Judean Hills, the Upper Galilee and the Negev. Tsiddon’s passion for wine began in Israel and inspired a journey throughout Europe’s wine regions. She studied in London (where she qualified for sommelier at The Wine & Spirit Education Trust) before traveling across France from Normandy and Brittany through Paris, the Loire Valley and Burgundy to the Rhone—where she staged at three-Michelin-star restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon—and continued to Provence and the Cote D’azur.
“After months of studying and visiting those wine regions, I wanted to go back home and start practicing everything I learned and create a space and a list which I would enjoy myself as a guest and a wine lover,” she says. In Israel, Tsiddon worked at the waterfront Mul-Yam restaurant in Tel Aviv as head sommelièr before joining The Norman team in 2015.
“I immediately saw the passion in her eyes and asked her to be the head sommelier of The Norman,” says Liberman. In a quest to learn as much as she could about wine, spirits and hospitality, Tsiddon had also studied and qualified as a sake sommelièr with the Sake Sommelier Association. This allowed her to form a body of knowledge that helps her choose the sake list for The Norman’s upstairs Japanese restaurant and lounge, which will reopen soon.
In her informational journey through the wine world, Tsiddon has earned an Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator magazine and won the distinction of Best Wine List in Israel for six consecutive years. As Tsiddon pours each glass of wine, she tells stories of the terroir and winemaking techniques of each vintage. “This is one of the most varied terrains you can imagine, from volcanic basalt soils 1000+ meters above sea level, through the limestone of the Galilee, the Carmel range proximity to the sea, Judean Hills’s morning mist and down to growing grapes in the Negev—a total desert,” she explains, swirling the glass in her hand.
“Also you must take into account that it’s a warm country, so you must use a lot of different practices in order to maintain the natural acidity in the grape, and the potential freshness of the wine, while trying to avoid overripe berries and jammy flavors. Whether it’s complex irrigation systems or different vine training systems that keep the bunches under leafy shade.”
Explaining her approach to filling the hotel’s cellar, Tsiddon says, “The main pillar in the wine list, or actually the spine of it, would be somewhat similar to The Norman interior design.” In a hotel that celebrates architecture and interior design as well as fine art and the culinary arts, the wine list complements the overall feeling of dining and staying there. “The art collection in the hotel celebrates modern Israeli art,” she says. “And the wine list features Israel’s relatively young wine industry and its rising stars. It’s our pleasure to expose people to wines they may have never encountered before.”
Walking through the Alena dining room toward the outdoor terrace, the glass doors to the wine refrigerators reveal bottles of a Geshem blend from Chateau Golan in the Southern Golan Heights, a White Signature blend from Sphera in The Judean Hills, and The Norman Hotel collaboration rosé that Tsiddon created with Amphorae in the Upper Galilee. Israeli winemakers are planting Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling, Grenache, Mourvedre and many other grape varieties in volcanic soil, limestone and terra rosa in a fairly new wine community on land where winemaking has ancient roots. This theme returns again and again: ancient and contemporary, historic and high-tech, all existing in the same space.
At The Norman, artist Sasha Serber’s bronze Batman greets guests walking into The Library Bar, where they can sit at a table by Sigalit Landau’s Salt-Crystal violin and order a glass of wine or a signature drink from the cocktail program created by Karin Tayar. The bartenders craft their house gin and tonic with a spirit distilled locally for The Norman—by Jullius Craft Distillery—with Mahjul dates, licorice root, almonds and rose petals.
It’s these nuances that reflect Liberman’s careful attention to detail. After checking in with the front desk and making notes on what he wants to streamline or update, Liberman sits with us on the patio with a mimosa in hand. He surveys the scene to make sure everything for his meal is progressing smoothly. A staff member sets a plate of golden-brown French toast topped with caramelized bananas and figs in front of him—one of his favorites. As he enjoys the dish, he knows that whatever arises next that needs attention, he and his team will take on the challenge and embrace the change.
Hero image courtesy of Sivan Askayo / The Norman