The Palomar in Soho: Behind the hype
If you’re a devotee of the London food scene, you’ve probably heard countless times about the Palomar. Set in narrow Rupert Street in Soho, this lively Israeli restaurant has become the darling of critics and foodies alike, currently boasting a plethora of awards. Now that the hype is cooling down, it’s the perfect moment to find out whether the balance is weighted towards substance or trend.
The Palomar should be experienced right by the kitchen counter, at close contact (sometimes too close – I had some sauce spilt over my phone when a glass was dropped during live blending) with the animated team of chefs. At peak times, queuing will be necessary, but that’s something most Soho restaurant regulars are used to by now.
The menu doesn’t offer a clear distinction between starters and mains, as the concept – based on Jerusalem’s eatery Machneyuda – is to order and share multiple courses of a smaller size.
After some appetising Yiddish Bruschetta, with chicken liver pâté, crispy onions and a slightly-too-strong chrain (red horseradish), we consult birthday-chef Thomas Youell to make further decisions about our meal.
Given the use of Middle Eastern and North African spices, we order the Salmon Tartare and Beef Tartare; the delicate tastes of raw fish and meat are very hard to safeguard and heighten, which makes for a very interesting test. Both dishes excel, in particular the rump steak tartare, which benefits from a perfect mixture of burnt aubergine cream and crispy Jerusalem artichoke.
There’s a satisfactory selection of wines by the glass and bottle, and the staff encourages you to taste them before ordering, which is very helpful if you are not familiar with the producers. We opt for a glass of Syrah Har’el Judean Hills 2010 by Clos de Gat, from Israel, and a Spanish Albarino 2013 by Mar de Frades after a failed attempt with the too-sweet Riesling 2012 from French winemaker Rolly Gassman.
Strangely enough, it’s their signature dish that disappoints: the Polenta Jerusalem Style, with asparagus, mushroom ragout, parmesan and truffle oil, is unoriginal, ingratiatory and excessively creamy. Besides, any dish with truffle oil should be banned from a respectable restaurant.
The service is not only fun – hear the chorus of “yes chef” with a bit of irony after each order is called at the pass – but also very efficient, though it should be said that many of the courses are assembled rather than cooked from scratch. As we finish the polenta, we find the Pork Belly Tajine already waiting beside it.
The pork belly is (masterfully) slow-cooked overnight and mixed with parsley, Ras el Hanout, dried apricots and Israeli couscous to form an excellent combination. The tagine is there merely for presentation, but it serves that purpose.
Don’t be surprised if the chef offers you bites of other courses: as we receive the Octo-Hummous – a “josperised” (meaning cooked in the fantastic grill-cum-oven Josper) octopus steak with chickpea masabacha and cherry tomato confit – a little pan with a portion of Cauliflower “Steak”, josperised too, appears on the counter.
It requires the competence and flair of a pastry chef to offer desserts that match the quality of the mains, unless you rely on the classic chocolate fondants, cheesecakes, tiramisus and pannacottas. Both the Malabi (rose-scented milk pudding, raspberry coulis, coconut meringue pistachio crunch, fresh raspberries and kataifi) and the Chocolate Crémeux (with nougat kataifi, passion fruit, whipped cream and coco-hazelnut tuile) are capable of pleasing a wide range of diners.
All in all, the Palomar lives up to the expectations; it brings something new to the food scene and delivers a clear message: you don’t need the skills or the quality raw materials of a fine dining restaurant to deliver a delicious meal.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
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To book a table at Palomar, 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN, call 020 7439 8777 or enquire here.