Palomar

Rupert Street- it’s not really Chinatown, not really Soho, not quite Piccadilly. Explaining where Palomar is, is a bit like trying to explain the menu. It’s modern Jerusalem food, which has a bit of Spanish, African, and Middle Eastern influences. There’s raw dishes, there’s comforting hearty dishes and there’s dishes with ingredients you’d never think of putting together- think beef with a blubbery madeira cake. Palomar manages to be entirely familiar and unexpected at the same time. And always brilliant.

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The restaurant opened last year and has been packed ever since. There’s a small number of reservations in the back dining room (good luck getting one of them- you’ve got more chance at Dorsia). The best thing is to wait for a seat up at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Unlike the calm order of Bocca Di Lupo or Barrafina, which share a similar design, Palomar has an infectious buzz. This is helped by the excellent staff, who will sing along to the Bee Gees and have a shot with you, and also by the simple and brilliant cocktail list that is far too easy to work your way through. There’s a real authentic passion here which shines in the cooking and service. It feels like the chefs or owners have grown up eating these dishes, and have just refined them a little. The menu is always fresh and exciting, but also feels so homely. You really can’t have a bad meal here.

To start things off some kubaneh (luckily the dishes come with descriptions)- a duvet of warm brioche-like bread served in its baking pot with tahini and a tomato dip to mop up. Then from the raw dishes the beetroot carpaccio had a clean fresh taste, and the beef tartare is the best I’ve had. There was a real zing to the flavour, and an added crunch from crispy Jerusalem artichokes.

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What followed was a string of dishes that you wish weren’t designed to be shared. Butternut squash risotto was rich and creamy, with crispy sage leaves and crushed pistachios giving an added texture. Jerusalem Polenta was an indulgent blend of asparagus and parmesan with a hint of truffle oil. A pork belly tajine with apricots and ras el hanout was another comforting winner. Best of all was the Shakshukit- a deconstructed kebab- it was a sloppy delight- mopped clean with the pita. A Jerusalem Mess made up of lemon cream, almond crumble, strawberries, apple jelly and sorrel, is one of the most refreshing desserts I’ve ever eaten. A perfect end to the best meal this year.

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There are plenty of great small-plate restaurants in London, especially in Soho. Barrafina, Polpo and Bocca Di Lupo are the longstanding kings, but Palomar may well have taken their top spot. It is the most exciting food I can remember having in London. The staff are so good that every owner should take his waiters here so that they can see how it is done. A faultless meal, even if I have no idea how to describe what or where it was.

10/10 (£££)

34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN

The Palomar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Leong’s Legends

We knock, a bolt slides open and a face appears behind the crack of the door and tells us to wait outside until a table is free. The door then closes again and the bolt slides shut. I’ve witnessed this door policy at the nearby up-their-own-arse cocktail bars Opium and Experimental Cocktail Club, but never at a fairly run-of-the-mill restaurant bang in the middle of Chinatown. If I hadn’t found it so strange and funny, I’d probably have seen it as just about the least welcoming introduction to a restaurant I’ve had. Fortunately the wait was only a couple of minutes and we were soon seated with a steaming pot of Chinese tea in the tasteful (for Chinatown) and warm surroundings, studying the intriguing Taiwanese influenced menu, which to my delight me was heavily pork centred. Today we were a little safe, as with a throbbing hangover, as delicious as pig’s liver or intestines with plenty of chilli may sound, I needed something a little more easy going. But for those more adventurous eaters there’s plenty to get excited by here.

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The glutenous rice was packed with chicken, mushrooms and chestnuts and egg, something a lot of restaurants hold back on. The only complaint was that it was a little too glutenous, which would be my one complaint about the majority of the dishes.

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The braised pork belly with rice (£6.50) flaked away at the prod from the chopstick and the meaty sauce it was in was intensely porky. This was definitely the star of the show and a great sized portion for this price.

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The vermicelli with taro and preserved vegetables (£7) lacked a depth of flavour and was a little bland. It needed some soy or fish sauce to get over the gingery flavour and give it a salty kick. I wasn’t a huge fan of the texture of the taro either, and combined with their colour, I couldn’t help but feel like I was chewing on boiled fingers.

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The little turnip puffs (£3.80) had plenty of crunch and a good filling of piping hot turnip. They could have done with a dip though, even a bit of soy sauce on the table would have done.

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Then there was the pork buns (£3.80) which were big old things with a coating of sesame seeds giving a little texture. The pork inside had been minced with vegetables and

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The Leong Xiao Long Bao (£6.50) are 8 generously filled pork dumplings with an exploding centre of minced pork and juice. Not knowing this, the first one of course burst all of my chin, so approach with caution, they are bloody hot. With a dip in the vinegar, which gives that needed sharpness, these really are enjoyable and you again get plenty for your money.

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The service was a little hard to get the attention of any waiters, but the same can be said for the rest of Chinatown, so I don’t want to single Leong’s Legend out. What really makes this a hit is its value for money, as we had our fill four under £18 a head each with service, and all of the dishes were tasty and hearty. The Taiwanese influence also makes a pleasant change from the same old Chinese-English food that you’ll find at many of the other places in the area, so if you fancy giving your taste-buds a try of something new, without straying too far from familiar ground, then I’d highly recommend this place.

Food: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 9/10

Overall: 7.5/10

4 Macclesfield St, Chinatown, London

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Leong's Legends on Urbanspoon

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New World

Dim Sum on a Sunday is right up there with a roast. I’m yet to find the best on in London though, and instead I keep returning to the reliable New World. This is perhaps one of the least touristy of the Chinatown lot, although it does still have a classic Chinese name and a bright red front with a faux Chinese roof. Inside feels as close to being authentic Hong Kong as you can get in London, especially with the trolleys being push around with all of the dim sum onboard.

The Char Siu Bao are good here, but then how can one of the best things ever invented fail to disappoint. Barbecue pork wedged inside of a bun really is about as good as it gets. The Siu Mai here-  basically  little pork and prawn dumplings- are also consistently good, but doesn’t have the traditional fish roe on top.

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The same applies to the Har Gow, which technically are one of the most difficult to make. Apparently you can judge a dim sum chef by his ability to deliver a good Har Gow that doesn’t fall to pieces under the pressure of the chopsticks. There’s nothing more disappointing than when the prawn spills out of the dumpling. Here they hold their shape and the skin is perfectly translucent so that you can see the prawn beneath.

The glutenous rice is cooked in a lotus leaf it is a little parcel of food, and in Hong Kong you can buy them on the street just like this to munch on as you walk. The sticky rice is caked with chicken, pork and a steamed egg, and it’s really satisfying peeling the crispy bits off the lotus leaf.

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The curried squid was too heavy on the batter and was greasy. The squid beneath was still tender though and that curry flavouring works really well with it.

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There was also the Cehong Fun- rice noodle roles- packed with char siu and drizzle with soy sauce. Hard not to love.

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The only disappointment today was the Custard buns. First up they didn’t understand when we asked for deep fried custard buns which I have had here a few times before. They are literally the best bite of food you are ever likely to have- think of a  fried donut with piping hot custard inside. Instead we went for the steamed custard buns, and were told they would take 20 minutes to prepare. No problem, they’re worth the wait. But when we asked 20 minutes later they quickly rushed off and put 3 cold buns down in front of us. The custard inside had solidified and was too heavy on the butter. It was a shame because they are usually so good here.

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The bill came to £35 and it is hard not to love how good value this place is. Although the service can get a little frantic given the constant flow of diners, and the dim sum doesn’t blow you away, but as long as they keep serving on trolleys and the Har How keep their shape, I’ll be coming back most Sundays.

Food: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Value: 9/10

Overall: 7.5/10

1 Gerrard Pl, London W1D 5PA

New World on Urbanspoon

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