The Palomar, sister restaurant to Jerusalem’s Machneyuda, opened to much fanfare in 2014, perhaps inspired in part by Yotam Ottolenghi’s popularity but bringing a youthful, clubby vibe from Israel’s crazy nightlife to central London. A few years later and nothing is stopping the party.
Suitably located on the Soho/Chinatown border and almost next door to The Blue Posts (where my colleagues and I enjoyed a pre-prandial), The Palomar is very compact with a buzzing atmosphere. Of course you don’t come to this part of town and expect a sedate ambience but even still you need some kind of respite when you dine out. So, I’m glad we chose to dine in the small restaurant area at the back rather than the kitchen bar. Whilst I approve of kitchen bars generally (especially for the solo diner), the bar at The Palomar is very hot, cramped, and the stools don’t have backs to them. I think my colleagues forgave me for my curmudgeonations on this subject, but the dining area certainly provided more comfort – we could hear each other, enjoy the air con and benefit from that all-important lumbar support (incidentally, ‘Lumbar Support’ is the name of my second album).
The Palomar has a zing and pizzazz that makes the experience worthwhile
Most of the young, hip and trendy customers don’t seem to care as much as I do about comfortable seating as, after all, they’ve come for the food, cocktails and Instagram opportunities. In some ways it’s similar to Soho’s new-kid-on-the-block Flavour Bastard but with a less arresting name and a hybrid of food that is more focused (trying to be Blur and Gorillaz at the same time doesn’t always work). At The Palomar they showcase some of the best flavours and textures of the Levantine and North African region, from chicken livers in Jerusalem artichoke cream to the ‘Octo hummus’, a beguiling combination of octopus with chick pea msabacha and aubergine.
Star dishes we tried included the scallops with crushed potato and corn – perhaps the most ‘Western’ of the dishes on the menu. These were cooked beautifully, the sweetness of the scallops and corn being a perfect marriage. The confit duck leg had just the right texture and was succulent. The babaganoush could’ve been smokier but the aubergine was nicely pronounced.
A word of caution though: the small plates really are quite small. You can easily end up in the gluttonous trap of buying one after another, and then quickly bankrupt yourself as they’re all around £15 a-piece, not the £5-6 price point you would expect of tapas.
The drinks are a bit of a mixed bag. As our table wasn’t ready on arrival, we had to wait in a holding bay near the bar, sipping on a cocktail whilst getting in everyone’s way. The ‘Drunken Botanist’ didn’t really deliver – made with gin, Campari, vermouth and chartreuse, it’s even boozier than a Negroni but ends up tasting like mouthwash. The mildly disappointing mixology is at least counterbalanced by a decent, if esoteric wine selection. We hardly struggled through our bottle of Chateau Musar from Lebanon: a wine that starts with pomegranate and berry notes and really evokes a sense of its dusty terroir. We followed that up with an Israeli Syrah, for diplomatic balance more than anything else. Discovering the wines of the Levant area can be rather enlightening.
When we got the bill it did nag at me that I could’ve had a similar meal for half the price at my tapas standard-bearer the Norfolk Arms in Bloomsbury, but then that’s classic Spanish. Issues of comfort and value aside, The Palomar has a zing and pizzazz that makes the experience worthwhile.
34 Rupert Street
by J A Smith