Fantastic Levantine cuisine, though the size of dishes and the size of hole left in your pocket don't match up for the average Londoner. The Palomar Website
Jerusalem can produce a mountain of frustrations (war, violence, religious extremism, injustice and damn right terrible driving) but one of the things it consistently gets right is food. West Jerusalem is home to some fantastic restaurants and Israeli cuisine draws inspiration not just from historic roots and Palestinian neighbours across the Green Line in East Jerusalem, but also from North Africa and the wider Middle East.
Situated next to West Jerusalem’s famous indoor market, Mehane Yehuda, is the fabulous restaurant experience that is Machneyuda, a venue that draws crowds every night of the week.
But I can hear you screaming, what has this got to do with London? Well, London based DJ Layo Paskin has teamed up with three chefs from Machneyuda and decided to take their proven recipe (pun intended) of amazing dishes and an incredible atmosphere to the West End. The result is Head Chef Tomer Amedi has created some fantastic fusion dishes in the heart of Theatre Land, but there are some issues.
First off, it’s small; in fact, it’s easy to miss. Nestled in the smallest of gaps on W1’s Rupert Street the façade does not scream Levantine cuisine and décor is more Westminster than Holy Land but the wood panelled interior creates a homely atmosphere. This certainly isn’t the Tardis – it’s smaller on the inside that you’d think (that just makes it more exclusive…right?) but once our group was squeezed around our table just beyond the kitchen, we were free to soak up the lunchtime atmosphere. However, hindsight is a wonderful tool and given the choice again I would choose to sit at the bar to gain the full experience of seeing the cooking first hand and obtain the odd free taster.
Anyway, as I am frequently told that size doesn’t matter, so let’s move on. We kicked off lunch with Kubaneh, a traditional Yemini Jewish bread eaten during Shabbat, which was served with a number of dips. Sticking with tradition we covered our table in starters to share, including the Arab fattoush salad [£8], the salmon tartar, served with eggplant, yoghurt and pine nuts [£8.50]. We also chose the Daily-6 range of mezzes [£12], choosing a several of starters, served in annoyingly cute small dishes; the Daily 6 is a rotating range of dishes which for us included roasted beetroot with goats cheese and yet more eggplant.
I followed this up with the truly stunning pork belly tajine (a fusion twist on a traditional North African dish), with rad el hanout and sat on a bed of ptitim (Israel couscous) and dried apricots. [£14]. Truly mouth watering. Others chose the sea bass fillet [£15], which was cooked to perfection and served with braised cauliflower and potatoes, whilst the Jerusalem style polenta [£9] was equally as delicious if not agonisingly small.
So, everything was great, yes? Not quite. There is a gripe (there’s always a gripe); the dishes are too small. Israelis like to share their food – I’ve learnt this over time. Nearly every restaurant is geared towards ordering as many small dishes as possible and sharing, but whilst that concept is encouraged in Palomar, the size-to-price ratio of the portions did not reflect this. It worked for lunch, but to make a sharing dinner of this a group would have to spend a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, the food is fantastic and Amedi can be proud of the menu he has put together, worthy of its big sister back in Jerusalem. However, I hope (no wish) they can find a way to make the dishes worth the heightened prices, as much as I equally wish we had frequented The Palomar in the evening, if only to see if the management has managed to transplant Mechanyehuda’s infamous night time atmosphere into The Palomar – as that is half of what you pay for in the former.