Way back in the mists of time, my friends and I stumbled across The End, a now-defunct club that put on an absolute banger of a night. Mr. C played there regularly, along with part-owner Layo & Bushwacka!. Unfortunately that night happened to be on a Sunday - but, no matter, we're young! We can go to work on 3 hours sleep! I actually slept at work a couple of times to avoid wasting time on the journey home and back, quietly emanating boozy fumes. Those were hazy days and I've long since avoided the Sunday night rave, but when I heard of The Palomar, a new restaurant part-owned by none other than the Layo of the pair, the memories came flooding back.
The Palomar, imported from Jerusalem and headed up by an executive chef who has his name to five restaurants there already, serves food from modern-day Israel. At least, that's what they say; I don't have any experience of Israeli food, so much of it is a mystery to me. On the Wednesday night we visited, the bar lined with stools was packed. Chefs worked away busily but smiling, music played and there was no sense of a reverent hush. Front of house took our number to call us back when there were seats available; a far more civilised attitude to a world without reservations, and once we'd clambered up onto our seats at the bar, the fun began. The reservable back dining room, which seats around 35, seemed like the grown-ups corner.
Because that's what The Palomar is. It's really fun. The chefs behind the counter talk to you, tease you, guide you towards their favourite dishes. There's banter, there's a little flirting. Every so often a shot of lemon-flavoured liquor appears, ice cold, with one for the originator. Cocktails are plentiful.
Mini polenta, 'Jerusalem style', arrived in a Kilner jar. The mushroom-dotted polenta was liquid and creamy, irresistibly perfumed with truffle oil and we scrabbled at the jar in earnest. Moroccan oysters came splashed with a spicy oil, quelling some of the natural brininess of the oyster, though perking it up with lemon zest.
A spring salad, crunchy, vibrant and tart offsets a dish of richly braised, soft octopus with chickpeas which was incredibly comforting. We looked with lustful eyes at our neighbour's raw salmon and green apple salad; a minute or two later, a taster portion was set down before us with a wink. This was further up my street; silky fish, the intensity of the salmon flavour mellowed with sweetness and tartness of the apple, a spike of chilli from the round of jalapeno perched on top.
Not being a massive fan of bread (yes, I know...) it's not usually something I'd order as an extra in restaurants. The chefs had other ideas and served it to us anyway, and I'm incredibly glad they did as it was one of the best dishes. A domed brioche ('Yemini pot bread') was tapped out of its receptacle from the oven onto a plate, served with a tahini dip and a tomato dip that tasted like the very essence of tomatoes, mellowed with a little cream. It was so good my friend finished off the pot and made them squirt us more. The next day we fantasised about a full glass of the stuff, spiked with vodka, to rid us of our headaches.
Our main, mussels in a spiced tomato stew, was jazzed up with a langoustine languishing on top. Warm, hearty and filling, it was the perfect size to share in the follow up to the small plates we'd devoured. Other dishes like pork belly tagine, neither kosher nor halal, shows perhaps a leaning towards pleasing the London market.
Desserts aren't for the faint of heart or the small of stomach. Malabi was a rose-scented milk pudding. The flavour of rose was mercifully light, dotted through with crisp and chewy coconut meringue. Kataifi is the little nests of pastry filaments, baked (or fried?) until crunchy.
A puck of chocolate mousse was dense and rich and it defeated me. A gift from the kitchen came in the form of tahini ice cream and caramelised figs; while I loved the fruit, the tahini was too intense, too claggy for my liking. It stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.
I didn't love everything I ate at The Palomar (I'm looking at you, Mr Tahani Blob) but nevertheless, I came away thinking that was one of the best restaurant experiences I've had recently. It was everything you could want in hospitality; a warm welcome, a fun crowd, just the right level of interaction to be amusing but unobtrusive. They've got it bang on. I can't wait to go back.
The Bill: £65 a head. We drank 5 cocktails each though...
34 Rupert Street
London W1D 6DN
0207 439 8777