The Palomar Soho
Soho’s latest hot opening is The Palomar, sister restaurant to Jerusalem’s Machneyuda. We have all had some exposure to the hybrid cuisine of this most fractious of cities courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi, his business partner Sami Tamimi and their restaurants, TV shows, journalism and books. On the back of their welcome interventions into British food culture pomegranate seeds have become so ubiquitous at trendy middle-class dinner parties that their descent into the pantheon of culinary oblivion sitting proudly next to the kiwi fruit is all but guaranteed. However Palomar promised a less mediated experience coming direct from the heart of Jerusalem’s food market. Palomar’s London connection comes through creative director Layo who was behind Bloomsbury’s underground dance club The End and DJ/cocktail bar AKA.
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Brigade Bar and Bistro London Bridge
139 Tooley Street, Southwark, SE1 2HZ
Restaurants seem to be opening in converted fire stations at an alarming rate at the moment (where are all the fire engines going to go!). Brigade Bar and Bistro is situated in a historic old fire house built following the 1861 Tooley Street Fire. Brigade is not just a restaurant but is also a social enterprise that in partnership with the Beyond Food Foundation is offering catering apprenticeships to the vulnerable. Chef Simon Boyle has developed a system in which each apprentice is teamed up with a more experienced staff member and unlike on many work experience schemes, everyone gets paid. We have seem this kind of set – up before with Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen but it is a brave person that takes on such a project without the profile of a celebrity chef.
Brigade is a much bigger operation than I was expecting. There is an upstairs that is utilised for private events and a cookery school and the downstairs is split between sizeable bar and restaurant areas bisected by an open kitchen.
Both the restaurant and bar areas were buzzing, full of suits and suitettes happily drinking and chowing down.
Worthy social enterprise intentions are one thing, but would the food deliver? Scotch Eggs, beetroot piccalilli, fennel, green apple slaw (£8.95) arrived as a single egg rather than the plural offered by the menu, which might be an issue for the accountants from Ernst & Young around the corner, but the potted pork belly and breadcrumb casing was crisp and full of flavour and the egg just the right side of runny.
South Coast Seafood Cocktail, topped with Cromer crab and a spiced Chase vodka sauce (£8.95) was a straightforward prawn cocktail with a piquant Marie-Rose sauce enlivened by the fresh crab meat on top-simple but really effective.
We were drinking a bottle of La Cote Flamenc Picpoul de Pinet 2013 (£25), a medium-bodied Languedoc white with lime and floral notes that was a good match for my seafood starter and our mains.
Steamed Pollock with beetroot and risotto (£15.95) was delicious. The fish was perfectly cooked, flaky and full of flavour and the risotto was crunchy and with the earthy beetroot tones turned into something more delicate.
Seabass, mussel and razor clam tomato stew (£19.95) had Spanish notes of smoked paprika which gave the tomato sauce an attractive depth of flavour. It was slightly oversalted for me but still a good dish. Zesty greens with butter and garlic (£2.95) were crunchy and buttery with a garlic kick.
It’s a good thing that chef Simon Boyle is taking on apprentices but if the food at Brigade wasn’t delivering then it’s not a good enough reason to pay it a visit. The good news is that the restaurant is quite the model of a contemporary urban bistro serving starightforward food with a twist at a reasonable price point in convivial surroundings with the added bonus of feeling worthy at the same time!
Disclosure: The Hedonist was a guest of Brigade
Salaam Namaste Bloomsbury
Gallery Mess Café/Bar Sloane Square
Duke of York’s HQ, Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, SW3 4RY
The House of Wolf Islington
181 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RQ
Islington’s The House of Wolf describes itself as a ‘multi-functional, multi-sensory pleasure palace, dedicated to the creative pursuits of dining, drinking, art and entertainment.’
What that means in practice is a ground floor Victorian-era styled pub area known as the Music Hall Bar serving superior bar snacks, an experimental cocktail department, located in The Apothecary on the first floor run by cocktail maestro Stephen Quainton and his team, and a fine dining restaurant on the top floor. The interior of each area offers an atmospheric and quirky take on gothic Victoriana; but don’t be put off by the edgy aura of Islington cool that the venue emits, because the staff are friendly and unlikely to need a stake driving through their hearts this side of a full moon.
The House of Wolf operates a series of chef residencies, essentially a rolling season of popups, and the latest chef to accept the challenge is an Irish chap called David Ahern who is resident until April 27th. He is a slightly larger than life personality who has only been cooking professionally for two and a half years and is not only fronting a kitchen in Islington’s most self-consciously cutting edge restaurant, but has also taken it upon himself to feed London’s homeless by sending out tureens of stew to the needy. But we are not here to judge his charitable efforts but the five course £42.50 tasting menu that is the offer in the House of Wolf restaurant.
Ahern describes his food as being ‘reverse engineered’; he starts from a conceptual vision and builds the dish from there. He has made his name cooking at The Ship, The Engineer and Bens Canteen as well as at Burger Breakout, a one day pop-up that transformed into a 6 month residency. So with such a diverse background I was unsure what to expect.
Our first course was described as an SBLT, a fishy take on the classic BLT sandwich. Using a cured piece of the fatty flesh by the salmon’s stomach and placing it between some good white bread, this was a melt-in-the-mouth experience. A liquid tomatoey lettuce butter added moisture and richness and the whole dish felt really integrated with a terrific mouth feel. It reminded me of Jeremy Lee’s Smoked Eel Sandwich at Quo Vadis and is just as good.
We were drinking a 2011 Alpha Zeta Garganega (£21) from near Verona that had a grassy nose and citrus and elderflower notes. It cut through the delicious salty fatty SBLT very effectively.
Heritage Beetroots, pearl spelt, wild herbs and pickled berries was a dish from the vegetarian menu; a terrific construction of natural flavours and textures that took me into a northern wilderness far wilder than Upper St.
Quails Nest, was a nest made from quail leg confit, spelt and herbs, with a warm devilled quail’s egg inside. Fiona from London Unattached described the quail as being sweet and moist with the ‘nest’ being made up of the same elements as my non-meat version.
Our next course was a deconstructed chowder, with scallops, mussels and cod cheeks, served with bacon and sweetcorn milk jellies and a fish broth. This was a playful and light version of a chowder, the milky jellies and the purity of the fish broth redolent of the nursery and not overwhelming the protein elements which were perfectly cooked.
Beef Cheek was a dark, sticky and unctuous dish, braised for 12 hours with wild mushrooms, horseradish purée and mustard mash , beef tendon puffs and a black garlic jus. It had terrific depth of flavour
Mustard Gnocchi with wild mushrooms was the vegetarian alternative to the Beef Cheek. The gnocchi were light and well-matched with the umami flavours of the mushroom.
At this point we entered the Pop tarts and lollipops segment of the menu and a surprise Red fruit Slush Puppy cocktail turned up-a mix of Prosecco with cherry and raspberry liqueur. It was a bit too sweet for me.
Dessert took us on a trip to the funfair with a Rhubarb poptart, apple lollipops with dipping sherbert, an unsweetened Deuchars IPA beer custard and a cold candy floss infusion. In a good sense this dish was as chaotic as a trip to the fair. The beer custard was properly bitter and played against the subtle sweetness of the ‘candy floss’. It would have been fun if the apple lollipops had been covered with toffee but I do love sherbert…
Dave Ahern is a brave chef with a respect for ingredients and the natural world . But there is also a more sophisticated urban sense of playfulness in his food that makes me look forward to his next professional move. I don’t know who will be the next occupant of the House of Wolf’s kitchen, but I do get the sense that this is a location that is finding its own identity and in giving talented chefs an outlet to experiment, should be supported.
Disclosure: The Hedonist was a guest of The House of Wolf
Sam’s Brasserie and Bar Chiswick
Balthazar Covent Garden
118 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NW
We started from the Ceviche menu with the Lubina Clasico-Sea Bass, red onions, sweet potato, white corn (£8). Ceviche is a Peruvian staple-raw fish marinated for a short amount of time in citrus juice spiced with chilli (aji in Spanish). This was as good to eat as it was to look at-the fish was very fresh and full of flavour and not overwelmed by the chilli in the tiger’s milk dressing.
From the Para Picar (small dishes) menu Calamares Fritos con Ocopa (£8.50) (Baby Squid, Peruvian Marigold, Quinoa) were well battered and came with a delicious green sauce made with Peruvian marigold which tastes similar to mint and is known as Huacatai.
Anticuchos are skewers of meat,fish or vegetable cooked over a charcoal grill. We chose Setas (£4.50)-Forest mushrooms, aji mirasol and parsley which turned out to be a highlight of the meal. They were wonderfully rich and meaty with a slight taste of cumin.
Moving at this point onto raspberry and mango Pisco sours we moved on to the Josper charcoal grill section of the menu. Originating from Spain, the Josper grill is fast becoming a mainstay of kitchens in many of the restaurants and steakhouses in London. It can reach temperatures of over 300 degrees celsius, gives a good char to the food and because the grill is enclosed, the fish, meat or vegetables being cooked retain their moisture and flavour.
Hopefully you can see from the picture that my Langostino Tigre (£27) -Tiger prawns, chilli salsa-achieved the holy grail of grilling, char and tenderness without drying out.
My dining companion the redoubtable Fiona from London Unattached gets very excited at the prospect of South American steak and so chose the Lomo de Res (£29) -Rib eye, chimichurri, aji rocoto salsa-which also benefitted from the caress of the Josper. South Americans like their steak cooked medium and this was a classic combination with the parsley based chimichurri sauce (a salsa verde with added chilli) and the fierce heat of the rocoto pepper salsa which she pronounced delicious.
For our sides we had Esparragos Peruanos (£6) -Peruvian asparagus, panca chilli, garlic-which had been grilled to within an inch of their life but were full of flavour, and Patatas Bravas a la Peruana (£5)-Crisp potatoes, spicy tomatoes, huancaina sauce-.
The Patatas Bravas were given a Peruvian slant with the addition of huancaina sauce-a mix of amarillo chillies, queso fresco (fresh farmers cheese), milk, garlic and saltine crackers that managed to be creamy at the same time as having a spicy edge to its flavour.
Having eaten a lot by this point it would have been churlish not to have dessert, and with our Pisco sours finished the matched dessert wines seemed like a very attractive prospect. The Chocolate Fundido (£8) -Fortunato Chocolate, almond, white chocolate ice cream-was perfectly complemented by the glass of Maury, Mas Mudigliza, Rousillon, France 2009 (£14). The hot melted (fundido) chocolate oozed in a rather sexy manner out of and all over the chocolate sponge but without overwhelming the wine, made from the grenache grape by the vin doux naturel method of mutage where wine is fortified with unfermented grape juice and grape spirit.
Our second dessert was a Lucuma Bavarois, Passion Fruit Sorbet (£8). This was paired with a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive Hugel, Alsace, France 2000 (£12). The Lucuma was described to us as a cross between mango and avocado and is known for its dry flesh, with the texture of a hard-boiled egg yoke. This was an altogether lighter proposition, sweet and refreshing and beautifully set off by the floral notes of the wine.
I’m slowly starting to get a grip on aspects of South American food and drink. There has been such an explosion of restaurant openings and the concomitant interest in Mexican, Argentinian, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine that it must be on the radar of anyone interested in the contemporary scene. The combination of citrus and chilli with raw seafood, the new varieties of potato and corn, the use of the charcoal grill and the ubiquitous Pisco sour are all starting to enter our food consciousness. In the firmament of this welcome South American culinary invasion Coya stands out as a very classy act. As with all of Arjun Waney’s projects the level of investment is there to be seen; in the location, the size and specification of the kitchens and the standard of finish for the interior. Whilst we were there on a quiet Monday lunch it is easy to imagine the place really buzzing with good looking South Americans and London’s well-heeled enjoying the cultural and culinary adventure that the restaurant offers. Did I have any complaints? Well, my teapot for my mint tea clearly thought it was a watering can, managing to shower the table quite effectively, but apart from that Coya was perfect.
The Hedonist was a guest of Coya.