Soho eats from the Holy City
London food critics are already raving about the latest Israeli restaurant offering
The Palomar bar in London's Soho is where all the action takes place Photo: Patricia Niven
The best restaurant in Jerusalem, if not, Israel, has launched a London outpost.
The Palomar - London's version of trendy eatery, Machneyuda, opened its Soho doors in June.
Behind it are a trio of Israeli chefs: Assaf Granit, Yossi Elad and Uri Navon, who founded Machneyuda, together with London sister and brother team, Zoë and Layo Paskin.
Machneyuda - on the edge of Jerusalem's Shuk Machane Yehuda food market - is a magnet for locals, Tel Avivians and tourists. It has attracted huge acclaim from diners and critics since opening in 2009.
Uri Navon’s fish carpaccio Photo: Patricia Niven
The Israeli restaurant is as much known for its loud music and lively evenings with pot-banging, grooving chefs - who engage with diners from the open kitchen - as for its innovative food.
The menu changes twice daily, primarily inspired by what the chefs find in the market that day. Flavours are bold.
The eclectic mix of dishes, from polenta Jerusalem style and labenah tortellini to challah and shakshukit - a deconstructed kebab - illustrate the breadth of influences in the three chefs' backgrounds.
Elad is an Austro-Hungarian baker with Italian influence; Navon and Granit have both cooked in Italy and England, where Navon trained with the London's Michelin-starred Galvin brothers.
According to Elad - the jocular uncle of the trio, with 35 years' catering experience - they have attracted a stream of offers from foreign investors, wanting to take the concept back to their countries, ever since they opened.
After a near miss with a potential Berlin opening, the Israeli trio were receptive to the Paskins, who approached them about coming to London.
"My sister and I had been planning on opening a restaurant for more than two years," explains, Layo, a former professional DJ who, with Zoë, had
previously owned and managed successful 1995 London nightclub and bar, The End and AKA.
"I'm not a professional cook but I'm passionate about food, and I wanted to work with people who saw things the same way. I met Yossi and the other guys 18 months ago, when I was in Israel on a DJ trip. It was very straightforward. We agreed to do it quickly and it's been an easy and direct partnership. We just had a connection."
Machneyuda's relaxed vibe, loud music and friendly service style is so Israeli. Will London's diners "get it"?
With the opening happening when Middle Eastern food is so much of the moment, the timing is good.
"We would not have come here 10 years ago, when Yotam (Ottolenghi) came. People would not have accepted it as they do today," says Elad.
"We haven't pandered in any way to a London audience. People are open-minded about it being the real thing. We don't want an Anglicised version of this heritage," explains Paskin.
Elad - who has been the face of Machneyuda in London for the project - initially wanted the layout to mirror that of Machneyuda, but Paskin persuaded him that a London restaurant needed to have its own style.
The restaurant is divided into a bar at the front and seated area at the back. Diners wanting to soak up the atmosphere and get the full experience can sit at the long bar facing the chefs and visit in the evening - when the restaurant is at its buzziest. The ambience is more sedate in the dining room at the rear.
To achieve their service style, the kitchen has a large number of chefs directly from Israel. Three have transferred from the Machneyuda group - including head chef Tomer Amedi. Chefs from the Machneyuda group - there are five restaurants - will be able to come to London for a week at a time, while English chefs have been sent to Israel for training, and service staff will also do the same.
For both sides the food's authenticity is key.
Although there is no equivalent market, the recipes did not need to change. London has still offered everything they needed - even obscure Middle Eastern herbs.
"You just have to know where to look," smiles Elad.
"We import our tahina - as we like the brand we use - but the only thing we had to bring over were the pots to bake our kubaneh (Yemeni baked bread)."
A hallmark of the trio's approach is to take the culinary techniques they have learned in other countries, and mix them with Israeli flavours and Mediterranean products.
"Our food is local by its ingredients, but global by its cooking methods and approach," explains Granit.
This freedom is what separates them and other Israeli chefs from their European counterparts.
"The difference between an Israeli chef and French and Italian chefs can be explained in one word," laughs Elad. "Chutzpah!"