The Palomar follows up its Soho success with The Barbary in Covent Garden
What’s new? The Barbary, sister restaurant to The Palomar, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – restaurant stories of 2014. The hype around this rollicking Chinatown hangout has still not abated: Stella McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow have both been spotted there in recent weeks and you still need to think two months ahead to be in hope of a table. No pressure on The Barbary then.
Behind the scenes: Siblings Layo and Zoë Paskin, founders of legendary London nightclub The End, are rather better known these days for the runaway success of The Palomar. They’re joined here by their partners in The Palomar, Assaf Granit and Uri Navon (both of Jerusalem hotspot Machneyuda), along with former Palomar chef Eyal Jagermann.
The concept: It’s a tiny site, tucked away in Neal’s Yard, that little pocket of hidden hippy London. Architects Gundry & Ducker have dispensed with tables and affixed 24 bar stools to a zinc bar encircling a central open kitchen crammed with open grill, clay oven and chefs and waiters jockeying for position. It’s loud, hot, slightly messy fun (they really do need to invest in proper napkins), geed along by lively music and conversation.
Much like the tapas bars it resembles, it doesn’t take bookings. But before you roll your eyes and cross it off the list, do note they treat their queuer-uppers kindly, furnishing them with snacks of cod and preserved lemon "cigars" and a neat drinks list that includes eccentricities such as Fernet Branca, orange wine and cut-glass tumblers of iced vermouth.
What’s cooking? Where The Palomar touts the food of modern-day Jerusalem, The Barbary turns for its loose culinary theme to the Barbary Coast, the evocative landscape of seafarers and pirates leading from Morocco on North Africa’s Atlantic coast eastwards to the Mediterranean. The kitchen’s magpie approach, drawing on age-old traditions, techniques and spices, gives rise to some wonderful dishes: soft, buttery pata negra neck with ras el hanout, confit garlic and a splash of date syrup; octopus, braised then given a last blast on the grill, with chickpeas and labneh laced with mango pickle; blistered naan-e-Barbari flatbread with Israeli "zhug" chilli sauce. It doesn’t quite explain some real oddities, however: tuna tataki with dukka, its clean flavour muddied by a burnt aubergine sauce and, one I’m still scratching my head over, roasted aubergine garnished, like a trifle, with raspberries and flaked almonds.
Signature dishes: Two dishes are knockouts: that pata negra neck (it outclasses even the Galician steak); and rich pistachio "hashcake", all perfectly legal I assure you, with a dollop of thick golden cream. The fatuous stoner name makes me cringe but does not put me off.
Best for: Last-minute plans. "No reservation" restaurants have their uses.
Source: telegraph.co.uk Author: Hillary Armstrong Photos: Carol Sachs