Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Barbary - Baby Palomar

On a Wednesday evening, I was tasked with choosing a dinner spot for 3 people on that Friday, somewhere good and reliable, preferably a talk-of-town. Ha. Yea. Because all the good trendy places have empty tables waiting for us to waltz in on Friday nights. Queen Mother likes to try new things but not a fan of steak, and the man doesn’t leave the office till 6pm – looks like I’ll just have to queue early for one of the ‘no reservation’ hotspots. I went for The Barbary over Hoppers – it’s newer.

I arrived at 5:50pm to join the queue and was seated around 6:30pm. We were lucky to be seated on the side that faces into the kitchen, so we could watch the grill in action and chat with Chef. Chef explained various items on the menu and said they only have one last portion of goat stew left – yes please! The dishes are designed for sharing, so we picked a couple of dishes from each section of the menu as well as from the specials.

Naan e Bababri & Baba Ghanoush
The roasted aubergine and tahini puree can’t go wrong, earthy and nutty flavours in a velvet-smooth paste, smeared on crispy, garlicky, chargrilled naan bread. The seasoning could have been better distributed, which is probably why the Queen Mother found it a tad salty; perhaps chef was a bit heavy-handed. Still delicious.

Jerusalem Bagel
The sesame flecked bagel was pillow-soft and fluffy, served with a small packet of Za’tar. I just used the bread to mop up all the sauce from each plate.

Cauliflower Jaffa Style
Next round came the deep-fried cauliflower florets, dusted with powerful herbs and spices, paired with zesty tomato pulp on a bed of creamy tahini. It was waves after waves of vibrant flavours.

Roasted Aubergine ‘Sharabik’
The aubergine was roasted to utter tenderness, reducing the succulent veg to mushy and smoky goodness, then dipped in a honey and date sauce. It was paired with tart raspberries and plenty of toasted almonds to lift the bitter tones, served with lush silky labneh (strained Greek yoghurt) that brought all the strong flavours together.

Octopus Mashawsha
The chunky octopus tentacle was flash-grilled for a slightly charred exterior, still soft but bouncy on the inside. The chickpeas were stewed with a concoction of rich spices, served on a bed of yoghurt-based sauce infused with a tangy mango pickle conserve, topped with mint leaves to bring out the Mediterranean flair and vivacity.

Swordfish Kusbara
We were tossing up between this or the hake chraimeh (spicy tomato sauce), and decided the latter has a high risk of resembling tinned fish. Swordfish is quite a ‘meaty’ fish, in the sense that its texture is quite dense, making it sinewy and rubbery even if it’s just marginally overcooked. The kitchen has done well to retain the succulence of the filet, though I still prefer my fish slightly uncooked. This was somewhat like a palate-cleanser; fish was simply seasoned with salt, matched with sauce vierge and yoghurt – clean and simple. The Queen Mother thought it was again slightly overseasoned, and only had a tiny portion.

Marrakech Goat Stew
I was slightly disappointed with this. If I’m brutally honest, it was like any other stew with small bits of braising meat and carrot in a regular stock gravy. It was missing the North African touches like paprika and piquant tomato in tangines, the distinctive flavours from slow-cooking goat meat was lost in the onion gravy, and it was overall quite a flat dish despite the dollop of pepper hummus-lookalike; the culprit was possibly the stew stock that drowned out the herbs and more delicate aromas. The small discs of puff pastries were great though, making this more like a deconstructed steak & ale pie.

Pata Negra Neck

Chef saved the best for the last - This simple dish of grilled pork neck was phenomenal. Pork neck muscles are tender but springy, slow cooking dissolves the fat interlaced between the muscle fibre, making the cut extra juicy. Chef kept it brilliantly simple by throwing it on the grill to give it a charred finish with a touch of Ras el hanout, and the meat just melted away in our mouths to release its savoury essence. It was my favourite of the evening.

A layer of pistachio and date filling sandwiched in a brown sugar cake - buttery and crumbly, and not overly sweet. Delicious.

I was quite excited to see this on the menu, knowing he really liked the knafeh in Jordan. The honey-soaked pastry cake had a stretchy cheesy layer topped with crispy baked noodles, crushed pistachio nuts and raspberries. We loved it, though the cheese wasn’t as creamy and stretchy as the ones we had in Jordan, and the noodle layer was a bit thicker. Chef said he used mozzarella and goat’s cheese as a replacement for the cheese that they’d use in traditional recipes, then mix with a lot of butter and sugar.

I wasn’t ecstatic about Palomar, probably because I missed the fun at the bar - Good thing they have extended the vibe at the Barbary. 

The Barbary is like Palomar but in Barrafina style. The business model is ingenious; they waiting crowd is committed and locked in as they sip on drinks around the dining room and sniff waffs of delicious food. The menu is succinct and most people would have decided on what to order while waiting. The kitchen churn out the small plates, deliver them to the hungry diners around the counter direct.  While there is no pressure from staff to hurry diners along, the ever-growing queue pressed against your back is a polite enough reminder to not sit around. It wouldn’t surprise me if each seat get turned around 5 times in one evening.

Anyway, I digressed. We enjoyed The Barbary, not only was the food enjoyable, the energetic buzz and fun ambience contributed to the positive experience. Most of the dishes we tried were delicious, bursting with powerful flavours with North African herbs and spices; perhaps a tad too nonchalant with the freehand seasoning, but overall I think the recipes worked.

Another great addition to Neal’s Yard!

6 Neal's Yard 

No Reservations

The Barbary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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