Malcolm Jolley finds three restaurants in the British capital.

I’ve just come back from a few days in London. Here’s three restaurants I particularly enjoyed while I was there and why.

The Palomar – Soho –
Bar at The Palomar

My wife and I tried to get into The Palomar when we were in London last summer, but could never get a spot that wasn’t at 5:30 pm or after 10. So after an attempt at a walk in we ended up having to move onto the nearest location of Barrafina (a happy consolation). Now, that The Palomar is a year older, it was possible (just) for the two of us to get a booking at a civilized time on a Monday evening in August. Not that The Palomar isn’t still red hot; the narrow and small restaurant was packed at 10 o’clock on that Monday night, and the day before The Observer Food Monthly had given them a big spread, as their cookbook is just about to be published in the UK.

The reason the The Palomar continues to be such a hot ticket is threefold: 1) they serve delicious and right-on-trend Israeli-inspired food; 2) it’s a lot of fun; and 3) it’s not an arm and a leg (by London standards, anyway). You can’t reserve the bar; it’s walk-ins only. But you can reserve a table in The Palomar’s small dining room at the back, and hope that a place at the bar might be free around the time of your reservation. That’s what we did and that’s what happened. And what happened next was a calvacade of delicious small plates, beginning with their signature ‘kubaneh’, a pot baked Yemeni bread served with tahini and ‘velvet tomatoes’, a much strained tomato and olive oil emulsion. The Palomar’s interpretation of Isreali food is loose enough to include shellfish and pork (I think it’s a kind point of pride to have them on the menu), and full tasty idea stealing from across the Levant and North Africa. The wine flows, dished like a deconstructed kebab or ‘Octo-humous’ keep coming, and we spent a lovely evening getting full and entertained.

Frenchie – Covent Garden –
The Bar at Frenchie Covent Garden

Frenchie is the London outpost of a celebrated Parisian restaurant. Frenchie is also the nickname of, Gregory Marchand, the chef proprietor. He received the moniker from Jamie Oliver, when he ran the kitchen at Fifteen, and when he opened the Covent Garden location a few months ago it was a bit of a homecoming for the Frenchman who forged much of his career in London. Frenchie Covent Garden serves modern Gallo-Anglo food: the ingredients are mostly British, but the technique nods to the continent.

As at Palomar my wife and I opted to sit at the bar because it’s usually the most fun, and easiest place at which to share plates. Since Frenchie is more formal and fancy, we could reserve our place. There, we served by young Frenchwomen and men, and while each very much the epitome of what I imagine is Parisian hipsterness, the service was broadly friendly and perfectly executed. The food was excellent: each dish was cooked properly and each was visually and sensually interesting without being silly. We worked through the menu format of snacks, appetizers and mains, which was a lovely escalation of size from very small to about medium sized plates. A combination of crispy sautéed Turbot with tart raspberries and crunchy hazelnuts and fresh peas (some of which had been painstakingly cut in half) worked beautifully, as did a long smoky grilled octopus tentacle dressed with sobarasada sauce. The dish that killed us, though were Scottish mussels in a Sherry based cream sauce, made yellow from saffron. We ate the small cold water bivalves with our hands, removing the top half of the shell so the bottom, mussel-filled, one could be used a scoop for the sauce. Then, we used our bread to clean the plate thoroughly.

The Kensington Wine Rooms – Notting Hill –
Kensington Wine Rooms

My wife and I went to the Kensington Wine Rooms because friends of ours suggested it as a place where the four of us, and another couple of friends could meet easily. Not far from the Notting Hill Gate tube station, on Kensington Church Street, the Kensington Wine Rooms are (I think) about ten years old and part of a micro-chain that includes two other Wine Rooms in the western part of London: one in Fulham and the other near Shepherd’s Bush. It was a great suggestion. The Kensington Wine Rooms is a very informal, pub-like venue that serves straight forward food: I had a beef carpaccio with rocket to start and a plate of pink beet gnocchi with chêvre and greens. While we opted for a traditional appetizer followed by mains (with a few sides thrown in), the menu is full of small plates and you could easily order a succession of tapas, paing foods with wines that caught your fancy or vice versa. And, as one would expect, the wine program was great. The bar has five enomatic machines, so the wines by the glass menu is huge. There were enough of us to stick to the big by the bottle list, and because we were there as old friends in need of catching-up, we went for the value end of the cellar, where we found a Provençal rosé, a Swartland Chenin and the Wine Rooms’ house brand Côtes-du-Rhône, all of which did their assigned jobs perfectly.

All images above were shameless stolen from each respective restaurant’s website.