If we want to be fair, then Palomar minus the buzz would be just another meze place in Israel, Greece or any other mediterranean territory. Yet the spices, the herbs and the color of this (mainly) counter-top meze bar in central London makes it so special.
A lot has been written and much more has been said about Yotam Ottolenghi’s tiny parlor Palomar in London’s Chinatown. It opened in 2014 with an aim at showcasing local produce in fusion dishes which draw inspiration from Jewish, Arabic and Mediterranean traditions. A few years down the road it’s one of the must-go places… if you manage to get a seating!
Despite not booking in advance, we were lucky enough to visit early around 5pm on a weekday and get seated very soon after. The place ran like clockwork with diners spending no more than 1.5hrs in each sitting effecting utilizing all of the available space to the maximum! Chefs, cooks and, in general, all of the staff carry a relaxed tone in what (mostly) is a packed narrow bar with some tables at the back. A tight menu, with lots to share with you co-diners, fun atmosphere and some cheesy pop music in the background.
We started with the traditional meze selection – Swiss chard scattered with nubbles of feta and candied almonds; sharply-dressed fried aubergine with pomegranate seeds; a cloud of labneh floating in za’atar-spiked olive oil. To top that off, we also got a portion of the buratta with extra virgin olive oil – delicious.
One of the most popular dishes is beetroot carpaccio – this comes with ‘burnt goat cheese’ and ‘hazelnut brittle’ – that we sadly didn’t order. Chefs prepare everything right in front of your very eyes so we did get a glimpse of it… which was clearly not enough! We did though went for a house classic, the Shakshukit – a delicious copper pan filled with minced beef and lamb, yogurt, and all the tahini you could ever want – as well as for the ever popular polenta – mushrooms, asparagus, truffle; as simple and delicious as that.
Diners were coming and going with staff turning up the volume on the cheesy beats, as mains started to arrive. The Harissa chicken was very tender, spicy quickly making an exit, just like any other dish since portions are kind of small.
A dedicated party chef sits quietly front of the house, preparing all sorts of sweet endeavors one can devour after all the spiced food. Wanting to cleanse our palette and go for something refreshing, we opted for the Jerusalem mess – Labneh mousse, citrus curd and almond crumb. A perfect combination of sweet, fruity and crunchy for a nice ending to a quick, fun dinner.