A trip to the Palomar, one of the best restaurants in the world
Pull up a chair and find out why everyone from GQ magazine to Michelin is heaping praise.
Every week in London, new restaurants open to varying degrees of fanfare. But it’s rare that one feels genuinely fresh. Even rarer still that a new restaurant fills a gap, landing in a previously untapped niche. Yet the Palomar, in bringing its take on modern-day Jerusalem cooking to London, has done just that.
A collaboration between the Israeli Machneyuda Group and London siblings Zoe and Layo Paskin, this restaurant has been much hyped. Since debuting in early 2014, success has come thick and fast: the British edition of GQ as well as Tatler magazine named it the best in the country. Add to that an outpouring of successful reviews, a top 10 London restaurant ranking from Time Out and a coveted mention from Michelin (who bestowed upon it a Bib Gourmand) and it comes as no surprise that seats here are hard to come by.
As a spin-off of Jerusalem’s ultra-popular Machneyuda restaurant, the Palomar seemed destined to triumph. After all, the consensus is that the original outpost, located in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda produce market, is one of the best places to eat in Israel. And it’s these famous kitchens that the Palomar’s head chef Tomer Amedi and his executive chefs – Uri Navon, Assaf Granit and Yossi Elad – all hail from. Yet the speed of the Palomar’s rise shocked even its head chef. “It was amazing and exciting and very humbling to receive those responses so fast,” Amedi told From The Grapevine.
Even so, the Palomar is not just a Machneyuda duplicate. Though it shares several signature dishes with its forebear – for example, a polenta dish so impossibly creamy and rich that it seems to mock its designation as a staple grain – the real parallels between it and Machneyuda’s Jerusalem restaurant are in spirit. “Obviously the dishes themselves are different, but we share the same philosophy about how we treat the ingredients – how we take our association from the past and make something new with the food,” explained Amedi. “It takes all the interpretations from Jerusalem cuisine ... all the communities that actually live in Israel and came from different places in the world and influenced, through their communities and heritage, the style of Jerusalem cooking.”
Appearance-wise, things differ in London too. The Palomar has a sleek retro-inspired aesthetic with a zinc bar, a mosaic floor and deep blue leather banquettes. Diners at the Palomar’s bar face the open kitchen where Amedi and his co-chefs work. Amedi and his team deliver a menu divided into four sections: Nishnushim (snacky breads and olives), the Raw Bar (oysters, salmon tartare and beetroot carpaccio) and Stove/Josper/Plancha (savory hot plates, some of which have been “josperised” – cooked in a josper, a type of charcoal oven). The last subsection of the menu is desserts – the domain of Amedi’s wife, pastry chef Yael Vardi, who is behind such sweet dishes as malabi, a rose-scented milk pudding with raspberries.
Some of the food pays homage to Amedi’s own heritage. His parents are of Moroccan and Kurdish descent. “I hold a lot of respect and gratitude for my heritage, and my parents are amazing cooks … I take elements that I grew up with, things I ate in my childhood, and with them, a new interpretation as a chef.” One of the Palomar’s signature dishes is the pork belly tajine, the meat of which is tender enough to cut with a spoon and comes sitting atop a bed of couscous. “Pork belly is not something that I grew up on," Amedi said, "but Israeli couscous is something that’s very familiar for me from my childhood – the flavors of the dried fruit and the ras el hanout [spice] are very familiar from my mom’s side. So it’s a kind of combination. You find a good local ingredient, you bring your heritage and you cook it like a chef. It’s a mishmash of the past, the future and what I grew up with.”
One thing is for sure: the food here is unabashedly and unmistakably Mediterranean. Foods like fattoush salad, kubaneh (Yemeni pot baked bread) and the Jerusalem mix (various chicken offal cuts served with okra, tomato and tahini) are subtly tweaked and refined to create a modern twist on traditional concepts. Despite many recipes and flavors being new to many U.K. natives, Amedi has found the London diners “surprisingly open,” saying, “When I first moved over I was a bit afraid. … Then when we got here, I understood really quickly that honest food works. I think honest food, if done properly and it’s good and it’s tasty – people will get it no matter where you are.”
Having cut his teeth in the kitchens back in Israel, Tomer still cites Israeli chefs as some of his main culinary influences, singling out Sharon Cohen from Shila, a Tel Aviv restaurant with a reputation for superb seafood. “I worked at his [Cohen’s] place and I share a lot of his philosophies. I respect a lot of his philosophy and I really like the way he works with materials.” Amedi’s also mentions his partners from the Machneyuda group: “They are all amazing chefs that I take inspiration from – I really like the way they cook.”
With the Palomar making London diners starry-eyed, what’s next for the team behind it? Amedi is keeping busy. A cookbook, currently in the works, is due to be released in the fall of next year. “Most of the time, that’s what I do now. We’re getting into high gear as they say – finalizing recipes, test shootings… Cookbooks are time consuming.” After that, the possibility of expanding again appears likely – a prospect that will surely please U.K. diners. “We’re thinking about it and working toward that direction” admitted Amedi. “But we’re not in a hurry.”
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