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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