There are certain London restaurants where it is almost impossible to get a reservation at a reasonable hour especially if you don't tend to plan your life half a year in advance. Arguably in most of these cases this is more about the hype, location and supposed "be seen at" factor surrounding said restaurant than indicative of the standard of food served there (prime examples are spots like Duck & Waffle, Sexy Fish and various other fancy central London restaurants) which means I rarely make the effort to attempt to score one of these sought-after reservations. The Palomar however is a seldom exception to this rule. Serving the food of modern Jerusalem with similarities in the style of cooking to other favourites of the blog, Ottolenghi and Honey & Co, but coming with an extra unique twist by fusing Southern Spanish, Levant and Northern African elements, it may take a little bit of effort to score a table here or in my case may result in you eating at a slightly odd time but oh my is it worth it...
I mean I should have hated the place- even three weeks ahead of when me and my friend were looking to book a table for a belated birthday dinner there were no reservations left other than at a very awkward "are we having dinner or lunch or late lunch" time at 3:30pm on a Sunday - not that it bothered me too much, Sundays are after all for throwing out the usual time and space confinements, after all who doesn't like to get wasted at 11 am when a bottomless brunch calls. Another slight negative was that even with a reservation in hand we failed to score one of the much coveted bar seats. Usually a bar seat is of course not what one would go for when a lovely table for two, as we got on this occasion, is available, however at The Palomar watching the chefs work their magic as they plate up and prepare the dishes is very much part of what has given The Palomar it's excellent reputation and though I got to see glimpses of it I can sadly not report on this part of the dining experience, being tucked away in the more tranquil dining room at the back. That is however not to say that The Palomar relies on this sort of spectacle to be classed an outstanding restaurant, in fact my meal was so fantastically good that it was hard for me to imagine (though undoubtedly doable) how sitting at the bar would have made it an even better.
Why? Well the small plates served here are of an absolutely stellar quality and more experimental and playful than my other Middle Eastern favourites. Yes, culinary purists might raise an eyebrow at their, amongst London foodies infamous Polenta Jerusalem style - decadently rich polenta served in the cutest of metal pots and coming with an earthy and moorish mix of asparagus, parmesan, mushroom ragout and truffle oil but Jesus Christ it was one of the best things I've eaten in a looong time, so many flavours, cooking methods and culinary influences skilfully combined into something so incredible that we basically inhaled it and had to refrain ourselves from ordering another round. Even a simple sounding starter of 'Kubaneh' or Yemeni pot baked bread served with tahini and velvet tomatoes was far from it- a beautifully fluffy rounded loaf similar to a brioche, so inviting that I fully committed to the gluten induced pain to follow, proving also perfect to mop up every last bit of the rich tahini and fragrant tomato sauce reminiscent of a smooth gazpacho. Though technically a very simple starter of some bread with dips, it was in its execution nonetheless quite mind blowing, combining temperatures and textures in ways like I've never had them before and once again illustrating a fine and capable hand in the cooking produced here.
This trend continued with the rest of the small plates arriving at our table. A delectable dish of beetroot carpaccio topped with burnt goats cheese, hazelnut brittle and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette elevated this humble veg into something quite extraordinary while a dish of josperised aubergine, an aubergine grilled under a high heat and combined into a silky baba ganoush like paste with a feta emulsion, tomato, fresh oregano, crispy shallots and pine nuts, was like no aubergine I have ever had before- unexpected, delicious and once again completely worth the hype. That is not to say they only know their veg here. My plate of juicy prawns on a bed of smoky beetroot, labneh, basil and chilli was perfectly prepared, fresh and once again winning with it's unusual flavours. Can you tell I love the place already?
Ok, The Palomar isn't cheap, in fact a little pricier than the generous set menu at Honey & Smoke and on a similar level of dining in at Ottolenghi, but it is no doubt worth every single penny. This is hands down fantastic, imaginative, modern yet satisfying food that stands out even in a restaurant scene as diverse and competitive as that of London. Yes, it is going to be a total pain to get a reservation here and may not be cheap but listen to me and pick up the phone to book yourself a place here asap. You won't regret it. I am already earmarking a return for a bar seat even if it means it may have to wait a couple of months.