Palomar, W1D

THE PALOMAR, 34 RUPERT ST, W1D 6DN
✦✦✦✦✧

I would in fact give this place 4 1/2 out of 5 but can’t figure out how to fill half a star.

Palomar serves dishes like ‘deconstructed kebab’, ‘Josperised Aubergine’ with feta emulsion and ‘Ironed Chicken Thighs’ (they really are ironed, in a sense). If you sit at the bar, as we did, you see it all unfold in the galley-like kitchen running most the length of the narrow 40-cover restaurant off Shaftesbury Avenue.

Don’t rush for food. Order a cocktail. The menu will want perusing, unless you’re already familiar with the “rich cultures of Southern Spain, North Africa and the Levant.”

Think za’atar, harissa, tahini, citrus. Dishes are delicate but not fussy or insubstantial. Eaten alone the ‘arak and orange braised’ fennel is tangy and interesting; served with hot, lightly spiced chicken thighs it’s exquisite. The sides aren’t an afterthought either. ‘Polenta Jerusalem Style’ came with asparagus, mushroom ragout, parmesan and truffle oil.

Gnocci Hamousta is the only dish I wouldn’t rush to repeat. The deep-fried gnocci were a little fatty, resembling croquettes. Redemption was to be found in dessert: Malabi, a silky Israeli milk pudding served with a raspberry coulis, pistachio and little meringue cylinders.

Service is fast and friendly. One chef noticed my interest in the pomegranate he was deseeding. Fiddly work. Pros tear them apart above a water receptacle because the white flesh floats and the red seeds sink, he explained. Palomar gets the little things right as well — no unfilled water glasses, oppressive acoustics or forced jollity. The special-occasion prices are warranted.

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Mac & Wild, W1W

Food-writing is a crowded market. And I’m wary of the idea that writing about food is, to corrupt a phrase, like dancing about architecture; that is, pointless and weird and….worth a go? Let’s see. As a rule there will be no prices or pictures.

MAC & WILD, 65 GREAT TITCHFIELD ST, W1W 7PS
✦✦✦✦✧

It’s a swell feeling, to decimate Mac & Wild’s deep-fried haggis balls on the evening before a workday and know that everything is going to be ok. The Scottish game & whisky restaurant in Fitzrovia is very good — good enough even to forgive their homepage video, Made in Chelsea: Caledonia.

Service is superb. The waiters know exactly what’s on the menu. Ours directed me away from the cocktail I chose (Anna had it instead; whisky-vermouth charged with soda) to one I preferred, the ‘Auld Pal’, a Negroni-inspired aperitif.

The Scotch list is extensive, if a little expensive. A cheaper option to picking dishes with the suggested single-malt accompaniments is to wash down the ‘Veni-moo’ burger — two patties: beef and venison; plenty (too much?) béarnaise — with a hoppy lager from Glasgow brewer Drygate. Sides are extra but keenly priced. Green beans with butter and black pudding was inspired. The Australians next to us tucked into juicy-looking venison chops. Dessert was a dense chocolate mousse with salted-caramel ice cream, essentially flawless.

Cautionary notes: a couple of things were sold out, always a shame. The decor is cosy and Scottish, but arguably the crates of neon-orange Irn Bru are trying too hard. And the basement, a spillover not in use on the bank-holiday Monday we ate, is decidedly inferior, a sparse afterthought to the bonhomie of upstairs.

Most restaurants pass the ‘bucket test’ — good enough to relish for novelty value without actually returning. Finding a place that’s good enough to go back is harder. Mac & Wild passes.