Monday, 24 November 2014

The Palomar - To Be Determined

When The Palomar opened its doors in June, I was ironically on my way to Israel hoping to check out Machneyuda – except I failed as it was booked out months in advance (its sister restaurant across the road was an excellent alternative). Since then I have been distracted with other new openings I never got round to it. Then Mister gave me free reins for Saturday dinner – why not?

Something wasn’t right that evening. To start, he was early. I should have seen the warning sign flashing except I was distracted by the pink neon lights at the entrance of the restaurant.  What is it with pink neon lights anyway - no one else thinks its looks cheap and downright dodgy? Especially in a very limited space where men were standing way too close to each other... The waiting crowd couldn’t have moved out of the way even if they tried; there was only enough space for 1.5 person behind the bar seats. No wonder chefs had to do shots with the diners at the bar to keep them sidetracked.

The dining room was no bigger. There was no way the table in the corner next to us could get any service without my chair getting shoved / kicked. Someone mentioned the restaurant felt like it was converted from a newsagent. I couldn’t agree more. Mister had questions about the menu (when does he not), and bless our waitress did well to entertain but the oyster mystery remains. I had a fruity Sloe Collins cocktail  with sweet potato crisps with pesto and aioli, which were moreish but also scarily greasy.

Kubaneh Yemeni pot baked bread served with tahini & grated tomatoes
The bread made a theatrical entrance in a tin, from which our server tipped out this steaming small round loaf. It was scrumptious, buttery fragrant and feathery soft, similar to brioche, just not as rich or sweet. The velvet tomato and tahini dips were smooth and luscious, perfect with the airy bread.

Salmon Tartare with aubergine 2 ways, yoghurt, pine nuts & parsley
Small cubes of raw salmon sitting atop a thick disk of aubergine with smears of yoghurt on one side and what tasted like olive puree on the other. The aubergine was poached to podgy softness, which complimented the bouncy sashimi well. The familiar Middle Eastern flavours were balanced, made more current with the addition of tartare infused with a chilli oil based dressing.

I went with salmon tartare instead of the chopped beef filet, only because I thought Mister might be more likely to eat raw fish than beef. It made no difference - he barely touched it.

Seared Scallops with cured lemon beurre blanc, swiss chard easy over, Jerusalem artichoke & hazelnut tuille
The artichokes were looking very similar to the scallops. The scallops were plump and meaty, a tad overcooked for my liking as it had lost that semi-cooked creaminess and succulence but most people would find it just right. The brittle hazelnut tuille was a winning touch as the nutty fragrance drew out the shellfish flavours. Together with the gentle crunch from the artichoke and creamed swiss chard, it was a good dish.

Agnolotti and Veal Sweetbread with onion cream, crispy shallots and burnt egg yolk
Since I had the sweetbread dish at Casa Malevo, I have been ordering it from trusty restaurants. I think the one at Malevo still champs the scene, closely followed by Semilla in Paris.

The agnolotti and lumps of sweetbread were arranged around an egg yolk that was gently charred on top, with swirls of onion cream and crispy deep-fried shallots scattered around. I thought the dish was leaning on the dry side, even after Mister ripped open the runny yolk. The sweetbread had lost its indulgent melty texture and carried more of springy chew, which was okay but I prefer it when it’s rich and wobbly. The agnolotti had a dense filling and I think it would have benefited from more sauce. I like the concept of the dish; it brings a good combination of textures, just wish there was some veloute to gel everything together.

Pork Belly Tajine with Ras el Hanout, dried apricots & Israeli couscous
The spoon sank into the super tender slab of pork with ease; the meat retained its juices while the rind of fat melted in mouth. The flavours were not as pungent as the tagines I had in Morocco, but more refined and controlled especially with the apricots and dried fig. Israeli couscous was like pearl barley without the chew, or large tapioca pearl; very playful mouthfeel as they burst to release the aroma from Ras el Hanout spices.

I have mixed feelings for The Palomar. There is something contradictory about it but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it was the jovial vibe that the chefs were desperately pushing at the bar (by tossing back shots of course) didn’t fit with the strict table turnaround time. We were offered to wait for a bar seat if we wanted to order dessert. Ha. Or was it the groggy decor in the dining room, which really was more like a dark corner with a few tables.  You know they have spent good money on the place, the marble, brass rails and the works – yet among the chaos and humidity, it felt sticky and trashy, perhaps classless. Something didn’t click.

But the food, when I think about it, was actually very good. The dishes had an unmistakable Middle Eastern flair, threw in some North African touches and modern twists to keep things interesting. Flavours were balanced and most combinations worked well to bring the west and the east together. The only thing that bothered me was that none of the food was particularly hot, most of them arrived warm-ish except for the bread. I promise it wasn't because I spent forever on the photos - I'm pretty quick with the snaps. Mister didn't like it and he's still baffled about the oysters, maybe that left me baffled too? 

34 Rupert Street
W1D 6DN 
Tel: 0207 439 8777

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Ottolenghi, NOPIArabica Bar & Kitchen

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