“Yeah, we’re not calling it Israeli couscous at the moment, we’re going with ‘pearl'”. I’ve heard this said of a couple of menus lately, so it could be said its an inauspicious time for Palomar’s head chef Tomer to have moved over to London with his wife and four cats to open his first UK restaurant (after great success at Mechneyuda in Jerusalem). But he doesn’t seem to be having any trouble filling it up 12 weeks after opening. In fact, we have to wait an hour and a half for a couple of walk-up spots at the bar looking over the galley kitchen. But it worth it, and despite the lack of elbow room, these are definitely the best seats in the house.
Tomer serves a distinctive mix of Israeli-Palestinian, combining in Northern African influences, with a dash of Italian and even sushi. It’s a broad church, but clearly envelops the everything that he loves. This joyfully inclusive and unpretentious approach spills out across the whole evening, from the loud music to the freedom with which Tomer hands us comped titbits and shares with us his glass of Israeli chardonnay from across the bar where he’s checking plates as they go out.
We had already planned on ordering the polenta with asparagus, mushroom ragout, parmesan & truffle oil when our charming waiter gives us a free sample to apologise for the wait for our seats. It’s deliciously rich, piling on the umami punch – not merely shameless lip service to the costly fungus here. The veal sweetbreads with bourekas pastry and aubergine are perfectly seared and tender, and clearly a mark of pride for the chef, who I see stopping another chef to commend on the presentation of this dish. Unfortunately the ‘Super 6’ – a daily rotating sampling selection of starters – isn’t quite as strong as the mains, and we were too full to try anything from the Raw bar or dessert menu.
After the meal my instant thoughts are that this has been a great dining experience – but without fun interludes like Tomer’s silly yet actually very polished extensive drum solo across his prep bowls (he nearly studied music instead of working in a kitchen – and the restaurant is co-owned by Layo of Layo & Bushwacka 90s breakbeat fame), would it still be as memorable? Not every dish was incredible, though for the price it’s definitely worth trying a few things – and you may always get a few free extras too. I can’t help but feel like I’d like to skip over the imperfections as the sheer enjoyment of dinner at Palomar is something I’d recommend wholehearted as great fun.
Last night I went to the Ginger Pig butchery class on pork (courtesy of CJ – thank you!). If you’re a Londoner I’m sure you’re familiar with the burgeoning empire of trendy meatmongers who specialise in cared-for (but notably not ‘organic’ – that ship has sailed) cuts. They raise their own animals in the Yorkshire Moors, giving meticulous attention to their breeds and bloodlines, and over the last few years they have become very successful. In fact, they’re opening their sixth shop in Clapham tomorrow (North London awaits, but meanwhile I’ve got Baldwins).
So, the course. How much can you fit into 3 hours (minus 45 mins for dinner)? A lot if you’re talented butchers like our guides Borut & Perry. We are talked through one side of a gutted pig, which weighed around 20kg. Working down the cuts our butcher goes through the loin, the shoulder, the hock, tenderloin and the rest. We are shown smoked hock (which smells incredible) and back bacon. He makes home-curing sound simple, and I feel I may have to try it. We even get a little demonstration of removing the cheeks from the head, which again looks relatively simple (but what to do with the rest?). So far it has primarily been a observatory lesson though, and I’m wondering when we’ll get our hands dirty. As soon as Perry is done taking the side of pig apart however, we are tasked with putting it back together. A pigsaw, if you will.
Next we are given our own cut to work with and take home. Watching Perry chine & bone a pork loin is akin in precision and speed to seeing a professional solve a rubik’s cube. But will we be as fast or as skilled? The answer, predictably, is no. But under the master butcher’s kindly guidance we all get there. I was quite proud of my attempt at removing the spine without taking off too much meat – although my seasoning may’ve been a little heavy-handed.
After we’ve rolled, tied and bagged our cuts, Borut carves up delicious ‘one I made earlier’ plates full of pork loin and crackling accompanied by potato dauphinoise (cholesterol be damned!). It was truly a beautiful bit of meat – the perfectly softened fat hung onto the fennel seed and tasted wonderful, and the brittle skin was painfully moreish. And when I thought it was all over, there was chocolate-veined bread & butter pudding. I still feel a bit full today.
UPDATE: The pork loin turned out great! Here’s the recipe below:
Roast Pork Loin with Fennel Seed & Garlic
Recipe Type: Main
Author: James III
A quick and simple recipe for a great bit of roast pork with crackling.
2.3kg pork loin (bone removed, skin on & scored)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp fennel seed, toasted & ground
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
1 large white onion, peeled & quartered OR 4-5 shallots, peeled & halved
Lay the pork skin side down and rub the meat firstly with the crushed garlic (this helps everything else to stick), and then with the fennel seed, pepper and half the salt.
Turn the meat over and rub the remaining salt across the scored skin.
Make a C-shaped crease along the long edge of the pork, folding the meat in itself and keeping the skin on the outside. Tie it into this position with a couple of lengths of string.
The meat will keep like this for a few hours, or a couple of days if you hold off salting the skin. Some liquid will be drawn out of the meat, but nothing to worry about.
Pre-heat the oven to 170 Celsius.
Put the garlic cloves and onion/shallot into a roasting pan with a little oil, and put the meat on top, skin side up, and place in the oven.
Cook for around 1 hour 45 minutes – more or less, dependent on size of your cut (22 minutes per 500g is a good rule). Or, if you have a meat thermometer, cook until the deepest part of the meat reads 63 celsius. In the last 15 minutes of the roasting, give the skin a tap with a fork to see if it’s crisped up. If it could do with more, ramp up the temperature for the last stretch, leaving your oven door slightly ajar if it is steamy in there (mine was fine kept at 170 C the whole time).
Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes, and then carve and serve!
Chickpeas are definitely in my top 3 legumes, and they go brilliantly with Persian flavours like pomegranate molasses and preserved lemon. I was inspired by a recipe for them on EatTheRightStuff with spicy beef which incorporates an interesting ingredient I wasn’t familiar with – barberries. Apparently the sour little fruits are traditionally served at weddings, to remind guests that marriages have their downs as well as their ups. Unable to resist a philosophical fruit I set out to explore the array of Turkish and Middle-Eastern grocers in my neighbourhood. Each an Aladdin’s cave of strange nuts and dirt-cheap chillies, they bore success. Buoyed up, I also bought some odd-looking flakes of dried yoghurt which can apparently be turned into a kind of sourdough soup. But that’s for a later date.
I added a little freshly ground cinnamon, pomegranate molasses and extra preserved lemon to Abby’s recipe, and it came out great. It tastes wonderfully citrussy, which along with the last-minute coriander really lifts the dish.
I served it with some lavash and a bowl of simple baba ghanoush topped with a swirl more pomegranate molasses, which was a delicious accompaniment. After spending quite some time trying to get the aubergines to char under the grill (I’d usually use the barbecue, but weather stopped play), I resorted to the kitchen blowtorch, which worked surprisingly well at finishing them off.
Chickpeas with spiced beef and preserved lemon
Recipe Type: Main
2 tablespoons olive oil
600g beef mince
600g tinned chickpeas (drained weight), drained but reserve the liquid