Let's Eat

The Palomar cookbook: a family affair

One of London's favourite Israeli restaurants is sharing its secrets in a book out this week


From the minute The Palomar opened its shiny glass door onto Soho's not so shiny Rupert Street, a cook book was on the cards. Critical acclaim and a cluster of awards have sealed it as one of the most exciting Israeli imports of the last few years.

"It was quicker than we expected - we were approached by several publishers" admits Zoe Paskin, who with brother Layo Paskin and the three founding chefs behind Jerusalem's Machneyuda (Yossi Elad, Uri Navon and Assaf Granit) opened the trailblazing Israeli restaurant's London outpost a little over two years ago. "We're very thorough and it took several months to narrow it down to who to go with and what we wanted to do."

Fast forward 15 months and the book of 100 recipes is about to hit the shelves. I'm sitting with Zoe and Palomar head chef -Tomer Amedi - and his wife Yael, who is the restaurant's pastry chef. All three ooze excitement. It's just before midday and diners are impatiently queuing outside the door for lunch. The room fills rapidly and soon plates of colourful mezze, jars of the restaurant's signature polenta and tins of the much Instagrammed Kubaneh (traditional Yemeni) bread are landing on tables. The room buzzes with loud music and chatter.

Asked how it has been sharing a kitchen as husband and wife, Tomer and Yael smile: "A lot of fun, but also challenging," laughs Tomer. "Luckily we complete each other. She's good at a lot of things that I suck at. I couldn't do it without her. She's good at the admin and system related stuff. Pastry chefs - they're very accurate! I just listen to whatever she says…and I'm doing more of the leading in the kitchen!"

An Israeli husband and wife chef team invites comparisons with fellow sabra spouses, Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer of restaurant Honey & Co, now with two books under their belts. Each book is a love story to each other but also to their food. The dynamic at the Palomar, however, is less "true romance" and more happy families. The Amedis work closely with Zoe and her brother Layo (who look after the front of house) and a team of chefs.

"We're one big happy family," Tomer says. Family has played a big part in inspiring the food cooked at the restaurant, which in turn forms the recipes in the book.

"From day one at Machneyuda to where we're standing right now, if there's one thing that links everything, it's heritage and family. Your tradition, where you grew, what you ate at home and what your grandma cooked and so on. You look at it through your chef's goggles and take inspiration," explains Tomer.

The book shares secrets from all the chefs with personal insights from Yossi (Papi) Elad, Layo and Zoe on life behind the scenes. Recipes include signature dishes including that polenta (Polenta Jerusalem Style) - so creamy and delicious that you know you'll need an entire day on the treadmill to make up for it - and the Malabi, a modern interpretation of a traditional rose-scented milk pudding, a menu staple since they opened.

Unlike some overly "cheffy" restaurant cookery books, Tomer (whose voice takes centre stage) has tried to break the home cook gently into the world of the Palomar kitchen. "Our dishes are very layered with a lot of fundamental building blocks. Those blocks are also recipes - cured lemon, harissa and tapenade etc which you find in the first chapter. By the time you get to the more complex dishes you'll already understand the condiments and spices you'll need."

An introductory chapter on the pantry walks you round Tomer's ideal store-cupboard. It includes freekeh, date syrup, rosewater, a range of whole spices and colourful spice mixes like ras-el hanout. There are dried limes, sumac and a range of nuts with advice on exactly how to toast them He advises investing in these ingredients, explaining: "it will make your life easier and take your daily cooking experience to a whole new level".

The plan was for an everyday cook book as well as including the restaurant's more formal, dinner party dishes. "Because it comes from heritage, there are lots of practical family dishes like the mezze dishes. I go to my Mum's house and open the fridge and there's a whole mezze. You can eat full meal without cooking anything with just some challah. My Mum is a superfeeder!"

Recipes appear from both their mothers and include Yael's mother's date roulade and aubergines from Tomer's mother, Sima. In the restaurant it is embellished with salmon tartare and burnt aubergine cream to elevate it - the book explains both variations.

The pair admit that when they are not in the restaurant they eat simply. "Yael is a wonderful cook," Tomer says, "but when we cook at home, we choose to eat the sort of food we miss from home, like chicken and potatoes cooked in the oven."

Another thing they miss is Shabbat with their families. "Every Friday at home, Jerusalem is closed and everyone is with their family," Tomer tells me. As luck would have it a London family have "adopted" them, inviting them for Shabbat on several occasions. "Susan and Simon Phillips make us a proper Friday night meal. They're killer cooks - chicken soup, matzo balls, the lot, and we do Kiddush properly," he smiles.

Something tells me that Shabbat tables up and down the country will soon be enjoying Palomar-style feasts.

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