Friday, August 22, 2014

The Palomar, 8th August

While I had a really enjoyable day and night Thursday, Friday was my birthday proper and I’d hoped I had lined something up a little bit special. I was going to try to get into Palomar for lunch. Given the amount of hype it has had lately, I wasn't sure of my chances, but I also knew that I really wanted to eat at the counter where the kitchen was (and all the action), not in the back, so this was the risk we had to take. We timed it beautifully. We got there at just after 1:30 and there were about five spaces at the counter that had disappeared only a few minutes later.

And something special this certainly was. It only served to highlight how off-the-mark The Culpeper had been the night before.

I already knew it was loud and boisterous out the front, and had read that the Chef had a habit of doling out freebies and shots. I didn’t dare to hope that, however many weeks after opening, they were still keeping up this generosity, but I was wrong! We had barely been seated when the Chef dished out egg cups to me, Stephen and the couple next to us (as well as a couple to himself and his staff) and filled them with a house concoction, beckoning us to all do the shot together. This is my kinda place! Shots – at lunch time!

Stephen and I oohed and aahed over the ‘sharing’ menu, trying to decide what to have. There was at least one thing I knew I wanted to try already, but the rest was hard to narrow down. Behind us was a raw bar, and both Stephen and I ended up getting something from that – him, two oysters, me the kubenia – the Israeli version of beef tartar, something I’ve only had once but enjoyed. And of course, we got the kubaneh pot bread with tomato and tahini dips.

For our bigger plates we had the pork belly tagine and steak onglet to share, although (for a lunchtime anyway) they were big enough portions that I would have been happy enough if we’d had one each as a main. What with our dessert on top, I came away from the meal fully sated and only forcing myself to have a slice of cheese and toast later that night because I was going out drinking.

So, anyway, we had decided against one of the salads even though both the Fattoush and the Spring salad really appealed to me. I’m glad we didn’t order the spring salad though as they were giving out taster portions of this to those of us who were wise enough to sit at the counter. I thought this was wonderful – crunchy kohlrabi, asparagus and fennel all doused in a zingy feta vinaigrette with poppy seeds and sunflower seeds giving a nutty texture and even more crunch. Why can’t all restaurant salads be this inventive? Our neighbours had chosen the fattoush and that looked packed with plump tomatoes and plenty of dressing as well.

The pot bread was tipped out in front of us before long. The tomato dip was, well, the very essence of tomatoes, there’s no other way to explain it. The tahini was concentrated tahini, which was a bit much at times – like an even drier, more bitter peanut butter, it really needed the squirt of oil on top of it.

My kubenia came on a slick of more tahini, with bulgur and then dumped on top was pomegranates, pine nuts, coriander. Most of the flavour of the dish came from these additions but the beef was there, in the background and the tahini provided that nutty undertone which was a lot easier to take like this than using it as a straight-up dip.

The stars of the show were the pork belly tagine and the steak. The steak was cooked in the josper oven to perfection. It’s taste alone was so good that I made sure to have several mouthfuls without any accompaniments. But the egg it came with (cooked just a little runny) and the latke (potato cake) were just as delicious and welcome. The whole spring onions were a little tricky to cut into (especially with the limited elbow room for cutting and rather dull knife). As much as I love spring onions, I ended up eating them like crudités on their own which was a bit pointless.

The pork belly was rolled, giving a heart of tender meat, surrounded by the fattier stuff. This came with Israeli cous cous and a Ras el hanout, a slightly spicy seasoning that was very moreish. I tried to get every last cous I could just to taste more of it. Also with the lamb was some stewed carrot, apricot and confit potato. A perfect combination of sweet and spice, we cooed over this dish a lot.

I may have *accidentally* let slip that it was my birthday when I was ordering my second glass of Prosecco, which meant we got an extra shot on the house – elderflower, lemon, orange and vodka and of course it was the perfect excuse to have dessert even if we did share it. Having seen our neighbours get the chocolate cremeux, we did not hesitate in replicating them. A thick mousse sat upon an almond streusel biscuit and came with a coca tuile. And, in my case, a candle in honour of my birthday. 

We savoured the chocolatiness and regrettably asked for the bill when we could grab our waitress’s attention. Not content to give away shots and salad, they also comped our dessert as a birthday present. How can you not love this place? Well, unless you’re a total curmudgeon without tastebuds, you can’t. I’ll admit, the set up is a little confusing – you still order from your waitress, but she’s behind the counter along with the cooks so it does feel a little weird. And yes it’s loud (though not hot where we were) and it seems a little chaotic, though you soon realize this is organized chaos as the seven bodies duck, weave and glide among each other. But really, the place is pure joy.

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