The Palomar – the best restaurant in London?
“Cauliflower steak, pork belly and shakshukit, table 23!”
“Fish falafel and fattoush, table 31!”
My excitement and eagerness at finally visiting The Palomar is equivalent only to what I feel before visiting a new country. I always look forward to eating out in London, but with this one, it was different. Since The Palomar opened last year, the reviews have been unprecedented. Even the most critical publications and bloggers have raved about it, and its awards and accolades are too many to list here. Serving up Israeli flavours with a touch of the Mediterranean, I was already in love with the idea of it before I’d even read the menu.
The day finally arrived. We had a reservation, as I’d heard stories of 2-hour queues, but when we arrived at 1pm, the place was rather quiet and so we easily swopped our table for a place at the chef’s bar. And boy, was it worth it.
I arrived before my friend, and immediately fell into conversation with Mits, the head chef. He was warm and inviting, and we bonded over the fact we are both NRIs (Non-Resident Indians). Once my friend arrived, he talked through the menu with us, recommending a number of dishes, but also helpfully telling us which ones we could mix and match. And when we asked for wine suggestions, he humbly admitted this wasn’t his forte, but called over the sommelier, who asked what food we had ordered and picked out a wine accordingly.
But enough of the stellar service. Let’s get to the food.
Before anything else, we received some sweet potato crisps. The vessel they came in was lined with a tangy yogurt and spicy oil, and so my mind was blown immediately.
I had read about most of the things on the menu in other bloggers’ reviews, including our first ‘nishnushim’, the pot baked bread with tahini and tomato dip. Now, it’s common knowledge that I don’t like tomatoes. But this dip was incredible. Pureed so smoothly it could have passed for cream, it is now the second anomaly in my tomato-based fear (the first being salmorejo). The bread was soft, sweet, yet slightly crunchy and the perfect accompaniment.
Our first surprise followed: Mits had put together a tasting portion of their famous polenta dish, even though we hadn’t ordered it. Beautifully presented on two spoons, it was one of the creamiest and most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. I will definitely order it next time! And whilst I enjoyed my recent trip to La Polenteria, it just cannot even compare.
The fattoush salad, in my mind, was tasty, but nothing too memorable. The dressing was tangy, and I enjoyed the combination of flavours, but I could have done without it.
Next, we were presented with the beetroot and goat’s cheese. “Wait, we didn’t order this,” I said. “When I heard you say you weren’t too hot on beetroot, I had to make you try it,” Mits smiled. And lo and behold, I was hot on beetroot. There were about 43 different flavours and textures in this dish (an educated guess), and it just worked. Sweet beetroot, crunchy something, sour goat’s cheese, sweet nuts… a winner all around. And just look at how beautiful it is.
The next dish was my favourite, and I may say it’s the best single dish I’ve eaten this year. The beef tartare. Oh.
The aubergine puree was indeed burnt. And it was the perfect complement to the soft raw beef. I don’t even know what the other ingredients were, but I don’t care. There were a few squeals as the pickled chili went up my nose, but it was all part of the fun. Next time, I’m ordering two of these!
The fish falafel with octopus was the special that day, and whilst the falafel was flavoursome and crunchy, it was the octopus in its gravy that won me over, as it was lovely, soft, and not at all chewy.
By this point we were very full, and briefly considered cancelling our final dish. Thank God we didn’t. The pork belly tajine was absolutely… I’m running out of adjectives. “I don’t need a knife, I could cut this with a spoon!” I declared. “Forget that, you’re cutting it with your eyes,” my friend retorted.
“I love the giant couscous,” was my next comment. Mits gently interspersed: “Actually, that’s Israeli couscous.”
Whatever it was, give me more.
And we were done. But wait, what is that?
“Just a little tasting portion of the risotto, ladies.”
It had pistachio and a crispy sage leaf. It was amazing. My friend and I then spent some time ranking each dish and talking about which one we liked most. As we finished up the risotto, she said it had been her least favourite, as she listed the attributes of all the other dishes. “So you didn’t like the risotto?” I asked. “What?! No! I LOVED it!”
This just goes to show that the ‘least favourite’ dish at The Palomar is still far and above most other restaurants in London. And I think that says it all.
Is it the best restaurant in London? Perhaps. It’s definitely the best one I’ve been to, not just because of the stunning flavours, but also due to the way we were treated – like friends, not customers. And I will be back, again and again, and I will cry ‘Yes, chef!’ along with the rest of them.