Modern Jerusalem treats for pre/post-theatre and lone diner meals
Despite appearances to the contrary, food from the Middle East has long had a presence in London from the Lebanese restaurants of Edgware Road to the kosher eateries of Golder’s Green. Previous attempts to make Middle Eastern cuisines, or at least food inspired by the Near East, more accessible in the capital have had mixed results at best. The Palomar is the latest attempt, serving up dishes apparently inspired by the cuisines of the Jewish diaspora from North Africa to the Levant and everywhere in between.
All that aside, The Palomar is a very casual, relaxed place. The airy dining room is fine, but the counter surrounding the kitchen is the place to be. Perfect for lone diners and spur of the moment eating if you don’t have a reservation for one of the coveted tables, it also gives you a great view of the small kitchen staff at work. No matter where you sit, service is friendly and efficient.
First things first
It’s always fun inducting a new dining companion. Snaggletooth is new both to London and to eating at places other than his local Harvester so he was content to leave the ordering to me. I like him already, but not as much as I like the Kubaneh. This tin-shaped loaf greatly resembled a croissant in its fluffy butteriness, although it was less flaky than that Gallic favourite. The dipping sauces mixed with oil, a richly umami tomato sauce and a nutty tahini alternative, were distinctly un-French and went beautifully with torn chunks of bread.
The oysters are available in batches of three or six. I couldn’t tell if the thin, lightly briney oysters were really caught off the coast of Morocco, as claimed by the menu, or if they actually originated from waters closer to home as much of their character was drowned out by the dressing. Such smothering usually irritates me, but the zesty, spicy dressing was so good that I’ll overlook it just this once.
It was also hard to appreciate the flavour and texture of the salmon tartare with the raw fish cut into tiny cubes, but for once that didn’t really matter. The fish was merely there to provide some chunky, meaty texture as a counterpoint to the fleshy, hollowed out hunk of aubergine that it was served and the smoky, gritty and creamy baba ganoush-style aubergine dip.
The Kubenia is effectively The Palomar’s version of steak tartare with some inspiration taken from Lebanese kibbeh nayyeh. The hunk of raw, tender, slightly chewy steak had a hint of crisp bulgur wheat to it and proved to be an effective platform for shovelling the distinct flavours of pine nuts and tahini into my ravenous gob.
The only disappointment of my first meal at The Palomar was the butternut squash risotto with a parmesan foam. Despite promises of squash, mangetout, pine nuts and parmesan, the large grained, loosely packed rice was ultimately quite bland and forgettable. The most memorable thing about it was its odd presentation.
Far better were the veal sweetbreads served with agnolotti. The soft ravioli-style pasta filled with a moreish and nutty filling proved to a perfect companion for the chewy, earthy sweetbreads while the slightly sweet onion cream and rich egg yolk added yet another layer of flavour. I could gorge myself on this dish everyday.
Although the asparagus and parmesan layered on top of the polenta were both unremarkable, the nutty earthiness of the mushroom ragout and truffle oil more than made up for this. The earthy flavours of the mushrooms and truffle oil complimented the gentle sweetness of the smooth polenta very well.
There was little of the promised octopus in the seafood stew, but the fresh, punchy mussels and the milky hunk of cod with taut skin more than made up for its absence. Although it wasn’t as spicy as I was expecting, the umami tomato flavours of the thick stew itself shouldn’t be overlooked – it helped bind the various seafood elements together into a warming, very satisfying dish.
The Palomar’s basboussa is far less cloying than other versions of this popular Arab cake. The coarse, loosely packed crumb of the cake had a gentle nutty sweetness that was enhanced by the restrained drizzling of orange syrup which was citrusy sweet without being overpowering. The walnut brittle and yoghurt added little, which was a surprise, but this classy, understated dessert was still a joy to behold.
Going back for seconds
I returned to The Palomar without Snaggletooth for an impromptu second meal, although I do I wish I had had his help in devouring the challah bread. The fluffy sesame-topped bread actually tasted of sesame seed which was enhanced further by the strongly flavoured tahini served on the side.
If you’re in the mood for octopus then the Polpo a la Papi is a better bet than the seafood stew. Firm segments of tentacle were pepped up with a punchy chilli spice that was balanced out by a creamy yoghurt served chilled. The nutty chickpeas and assorted vegetables were blessed with a zesty umaminess that added yet more layers of flavour. It’s a dish that manages to be both spicy, refreshing and satisfying all at the same time.
Although the fattoush salad here looks somewhat different to more traditional versions elsewhere, the umami tomatoes and cool, crisp cucumbers have the unmistakable sour taste of sumac – a very traditional component of fattoush salad. The tart and creamy labneh added another layer of texture and flavour, although I wasn’t fond of the stodgy crouton-like pitta pieces.
A ‘deconstructed’ kebab sounds like an inedible postmodern exercise in needless fussiness, but the dish itself was surprisingly simply and even homely. The hearty and meaty minced beef was very satisfying, especially when taken with the nutty tahini, creamy and tart yoghurt served chilled and the crisp, fluffy and light disc of bread.
Rosewater-scented desserts are often sickly and overpowering, but The Palomar’s pastry chef exercised a lot of restraint when using it in the Malabi. The panna cotta-like milk pudding was light, wispy and only gently scented with rosewater. So gently in fact, that it had gone too far to the point of weakness. The crunchy baklava-like kataifi contrasted nicely with the softness of the pudding, but the fruit was treading water and I could’ve done with more of the delightfully zesty and chewy meringue pieces. Still, a very pleasing dessert overall.
Despite being open for only a few weeks (at the time of writing), The Palomar is already so popular that tables and counter spots are often hard to come by and with good reason. Although not every dish quite hits the spot, the kitchen’s modern twist on Jewish food is nothing short of delectable. It’s pricey, but it’s never boring and it’s worth every penny.
What to order: Agnolotti and veal sweetbreads; Seafood stew; Kebab; Polpo a la Papi
What to avoid: Butternut squash risotto
Name: The Palomar
Address: 34 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DN
Phone: 0207 439 8777
Opening Hours: Lunch – Monday-Saturday noon-14.30 and Sunday noon-17.00. Dinner – Monday-Wednesday 17.30-midnight, Thursday-Saturday 17.30-00.30 (last orders 30 minutes before closing time).
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £50 approx.