The Palomar: Every reason to go (August 2014)

As a seasoned London restaurant-goer, it is relatively rare, but nonetheless highly pleasurable, that when leaving an establishment after eating I was smiling from ear-to-ear, struggling to find enough superlatives to praise the place and thinking that I needed to make my next reservation as soon as possible. Yet this was the case with the Palomar. Perhaps similar to Yossarian at the start of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, it really felt like ‘love at first sight’. Every aspect of the experience was close to being flawless, especially if you like exceptional food at a decent price in an informal but trendy setting. Diners enter through a curtain and are confronted with a choice of bar seats in front of the working chefs or a relatively small, yet intimate dining room at the back, perhaps not dissimilar to at Bocca di Lupo. We were seated in the latter part, and although only three tables were occupied when we arrived at 12.30, on leaving, the place was packed. Despite the busy and buzzy atmosphere, nothing seemed too much trouble for the waiting staff, who enthusiastically took time to explain the menu, regularly (but not intrusively) topped up our glasses and brought each dish with a smile. The food itself is notionally modelled on the famous Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem, but takes its influences from across the Mediterranean and North Africa and also includes a range of non-kosher pork and shellfish options for those so inclined. As is the current fashion, diners are encouraged to share. And why not, since that way a broader range of dishes can be sampled? My comrade and I began with ‘kubaneh’, a Yemeni pot-baked bread served with tahini and tomatoes. The presentation was superb, with the bread brought in its own mini-loaf tin and the tomato dip was wonderfully unctuous, almost velvety. The bread undoubtedly set the tone for the rest of the meal. We followed this up with ‘the daily six’, a selection of six mini mezze pots (and a bargain at £12). The freshness and intensity of the flavours was amazing and my comrade observed, for example, that he never knew beetroot could taste quite so nice. Our other cold dish of octopus also pleased, with the fish integrating superbly with the spinach and chickpeas, with just a touch of chilli pervading. We noted how rare it was for not a single dish to ‘fail’ and the high standard set at this stage continued with our mains: the chicken liver special of the day was as tender as one could wish for; the deconstructed kebab amazing; and the ‘Jerusalem style’ polenta (with asparagus, mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil) every bit as good as we had been led to believe. Beyond the food, the small touches also are memorable: we liked the presentation of a sardine special at a neighbouring table in an authentic tin; the mismatched crockery kind of works; and we were brought two dishes (a starter and a dessert) on the house and unprompted. The drinks list also deserves mention: great cocktails and good wines at sensible prices. We enjoyed a decent enough Californian Pinot Noir, but it was also pleasing to note four Israeli wines (two white, two red) on the list. I would be hard-pressed to find fault and my simple advice would be to go now, before it becomes impossible to get a table.