Let's Eat

The Palomar's new recruit: From Carlisle via Tel Aviv

The new head chef at Palomar comes from Israel — and the north


London’s most celebrated Israeli restaurant, The Palomar, has a new chef, and he’s from Carlisle. Unlike the heavy Israeli accent of his predecessor, Tomer Amedi, Jeremy Borrow’s northern vowels took me by surprise.

“When I speak Ivrit, I have an English accent — I speak the Queen’s Hebrew,” jokes the 53-year-old, who lived in Israel for 25 years before moving to London in January.

His food pedigree is also unexpected. “My grandma and parents were dreadful cooks. Onions and garlic were banned from the house and they’d boil cabbage to death” he admits.

It’s not his first time working in London.

“In the 1980s, I worked as a debt collector. I was in my 20s and earning a fortune ,so ate in the best restaurants: Gordon Ramsay; the Roux brothers’ establishments and Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quatre Saisons were just a few of my haunts. London was beginning to make a name for itself.

“I loved the lifestyle, but my conscience overtook me and I decided to start a new life.”

He’d learned to scuba dive, and took it up professionally, moving to Egypt in 1987. While on a scuba course in Cyprus he met an Israeli woman named Oshrat. “It wasn’t easy for her to come to Egypt, so we moved to Eilat and then Tel Aviv.” They married but he never felt the need to convert to Judaism.

He decided to take his love of food further and become a chef. With no experience, it was a challenge.

“I blagged my way into a restaurant called Kerem in Jaffe owned by a chef called Haim Cohen. It was the best in Tel Aviv.” His training was halted when the long -established restaurant closed six months later.

So Borrow bluffed his way into another top restaurant Raphael, run by Gordon Ramsay-esque chef, Rafi Cohen. “Few lasted more than a few months and I stayed ten years and learned the industry. Cohen is a professional — a few top Israeli chefs have come from his kitchens.”

Borrow then worked with with Israeli restaurateurs, the Yarzin brothers, who are behind some of Tel Aviv’s top restaurant chains. “Most recently, I helped create the restaurant at Tel Aviv’s Norman Hotel with Barak Aharoni”

A chance meeting with Assaf Granit, led to his next move. Granit is one of the trio of founding chefs of Jerusalem’s Machneyuda, who partnered with London restaurateurs Layo and Zoe Paskin to open the Palomar. “I’d heard they needed a chef at The Barbary, another of the Paskins’ restaurants, so I approached them. They came back to me immediately, as Tomer was leaving The Palomar.”

Borrow flew to London, and within a month agreed to take over — “I fell in love with it during my four-day trial.” Oshrat and his three sons Tom 17, Guy , who is eight and four-year-old Joel are still in Tel Aviv, but will join him later this year.

Taking over a successful London restaurant may sound like every chef’s dream, but he saw it as a challenge. “How do you take a packed restaurant and improve it?”

For him, the layout was also a hurdle to overcome. “We have no kitchen — food is cooked out in the front, behind a bar, and for me that was the scary part. Within two weeks I’d realised that every restaurant should be like this. You have to be fresh every day — you have no storage and no choice!“

The menu is subtly different already. “It’s still modern Jerusalem but a little bit more finessed. We knock food out quickly, but the emphasis is on simplicity, flavours and quality. I’ve refined the menu — everything on the plate is there for a reason. We cook Israeli street food at Soho restaurant standard.” He includes eight specials daily, depending on what’s good in the market. Palomar favourites like that jar of Parmesan-infused, creamy polenta from Machneyuda will never disappear. “They are flagship dishes — people come here for them.” On the day I visited, he had artichokes cooked a la plancha with salty, Stilton cream drizzled over them — a very English/Mediterranean mix up.

Borrow takes no shortcuts, making couscous daily by hand, which is laborious and time-consuming. They also make their own labneh (“You can’t get decent labneh here”) and ice cream. You get the feeling his perfectionism makes him a hard taskmaster — he expects much of his staff. “I’m an exhausting chef — we all work seven days a week — but I rarely shout. My job is to motivate Generation Y so they can give that little bit more, to teach them and keep them happy.”

He has evolved a system of rewards — a young chef may get to fly out to Israel to walk the markets with Borrow. Or they might have a dish they have invented on the menu, with their name acknowledged.

How does it feel to be cooking in a London restaurant for the first time? “I love it — there’s an energy in London that is missing in Tel Aviv. The Palomar’s open kitchen means you’re standing a foot away from the person you’re cooking for, serving them, chatting and giving them water. It’s a tight space, and it’s noisy but that’s what makes it special. Sitting on the bar, being involved in what’s going on in the kitchen — there’s no substitute for that.” He’s currently busy devising a menu for a supper club which will be held at the end of this month at sister eaterie, Jacob The Angel in Covent Garden.

Life must be very different here — does he miss Israel? “When I lived in Israel I felt English, but now I’m here, I feel like a tourist. I miss everything about Israel — the sunshine, jogging on the beach and even the arguing. I feel like a tourist in London but it’s good to be able to see my family regularly again.”


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