Soho has more eateries per capita than anywhere else in London, yet finding something truly exciting can feel a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. The Palomar on Rupert Street, though, is exactly what you need for the perfect pre-theater dinner date. This compact restaurant serving modern Jewish cuisine is one of the best places to find Mediterranean food in London, and belongs in a league of its own.
At the Palomar, the curtain has been removed, not just lifted, as kitchen and diners are brought together in an experience that is both emotionally and culinary thrilling. Perch on a bar stool and you’ll find yourself viewing a show no less impressive than any West End production as you watch the cooks create mouthwatering Mediterranean small plates right before your bewildered gaze.
Tiny copper pots and pans hang on hooks overhead, and beneath them lies a colourful array of carefully arranged ingredients, herbs and sauces. The junior cooks fuss and scurry around from one steaming pot to another. A column on the menu listing the names and nicknames of the staff makes you chuckle and wonder which one of them is Mother Theresa and which one is Picasso.
While you and your companion ponder your choices, you’re approached by the friendly chef who offers you a few options that are not yet on the menu, and you know too well not to turn down a chef’s recommendation. Take a sip from your drink and spend the next few moments watching the cooks slice and dice fruit and veg with surgical precision, while the chef arranges your plates with artistic finesse.
You overhear one of the cooks ask the chef: “Where did you get your inspiration for the shrimps?” “From my heart,” the chef replies with a smile. And you know he’s not joking as soon as you take your first bite from your grilled shrimps and crunchy zucchini. The smoky flavour with a hint of chilly blends perfectly with the tender zucchini ribbons. You exchange glances with your date that need no words. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate what your palate feels, but it sure feels good.
You’re already in a relaxed, mellow mood and feeling adventurous about your next order. Will it be the crispy fish balls or the octopus steak? The fresh, zesty Fattoush salad or something a little more classic like the rib eye steak? There are so many tempting choices, but you want to try something new. The mushroom ragout with polenta, which blends three mushroom varieties, gives you a warm, comforting feeling that brings to mind the most savoury of childhood memories. You’ll never think of polenta as bland again.
As night falls, everything speeds up at the Palomar. Seats fill up next to you, the waiting staff brush past carrying fresh plates, while the cooks shout, “Yes, Chef!” to every new order. It’s comforting to immerse yourself in this unique world of flavours and aromas. Make sure you leave a little room for dessert. The Malabi, a rose-scented whipped cream and milk pudding sprinkled with crunchy kataifi and pistachios, might be the most exotic and the lightest dessert you’ll find this side of the river. After a feast for all the senses, you’ve not only succeeded in impressing your date, but you’ve also just enjoyed the best Mediterranean food in London.