Of all the exciting openings lined up this summer, I’ve been most eagerly anticipating the launch of the Barbary.
It’s by the same folks behind the very buzz-worthy Palomar – a tiny but highly-charged restaurant in Soho dishing up a cultural melting pot of a menu, rooted in the food of modern day Jerusalem.
Unassumingly tucked away between the colourful patchwork of Neal’s Yard, the Palomar’s new brother restaurant offers something slightly different – a culinary journey along the Barbary Coast of North Africa towards Jerusalem…
The Barbary is even tinier than the Palomar, with just 24 stools placed around a zinc-topped, horseshoe counter surrounding the open-plan kitchen.
It’s a seating plan which puts you right in the heat of things – the grilling, the frying, the baking… you see it all come to life in a flurry of activity and banter exchanged between the kitchen team, who nimbly move between the confined space with an astonishingly smooth coordination.
The menu here is divided into short, sharp sections – baking and grinding (!); land; sea; and earth.
Having spotted a tandoor (traditional Indian clay oven) in the eclectic mix of equipment, mother and I couldn’t resist starting our dinner with a Naan e Barbari – it was similar to our favourite Indian bread, but moreishly crisp and served with
a drizzle lashings of olive oil and a touch of salt.
As for the dips ordered alongside, the intensely rich combination of zhug, harissa, burnt and picked chillies was suitably spicy for mother’s Indian palette.
There’s no shame in confessing that it was a tad too fiery for me. Instead, I found comfort in the slightly sweet but tangy notes of the Tbecha Roasted Tomatoes, washing it down with the fabulously refreshing sparkling wine on offer (Crémant de Bourgogne Brut).
We followed this up with a selection of vibrant veggie dishes, showcasing bold flavours enhanced by the unsparing addition of tahini!
Cauliflower “Jaffa style” saw deep-fried and lustily-seasoned florets garnished with coriander, finely chopped tomatoes and lemon. Heavens, it was good. Crave-ably good.
Plump asparagus stems arrived chargrilled to a firm perfection, on a bed of slightly smoky “black tahini,” made with burnt aubergine skin…
… And speaking of this humble vegetable, it received an utterly royal lift in the form of Roasted Aubergine ‘Sharabik.’
The moist, tender sliver was dipped in a honey and date sauce, with a scattering of almonds, pistachios and raspberries lending versatile and rather colourful textures… It really was a thing of beauty. As were our placemats, it has to be said. We loved pouring over the sepia-toned vintage map of the Barbary region!
Desserts were a spectacular affair too, presented under a section of the menu aptly titled “heaven.”
On the very persuasive prodding of the restaurant’s entire team (from our amiable server, Jen, to the head chefs, Eyal Jagermann and Uri Navon), we plumped for the Knafeh – a basket of ultra-thin, devilishly deep-fried kadaif noodles, cocooning a gooey, melt-in-your mouth mix of goats cheese and mozzarella.
A generous touch of lemon syrup and a handful of pistachios and raspberries added a final flourish, reinforcing the exquisiteness of it all!
I’m sure by now, you’re well versed with my predilection for ice cream… So you won’t judge me when I say that I also found room to try the halva flavour, featuring a subtle, deliciously nutty note of tahini. Simple but effective, it’s one of those desserts you simply can’t go wrong with choosing.
As with all my (many) previous dinners at the Palomar, this evening at the Barbary was supremely thrilling from start to finish. The vivid beauty of the dishes aside, the pure passion and energy fizzing in the kitchen really shone through, elevating our experience that much more.
I’m already planning a revisit, even if it means braving the queues next time round, as word starts to spread like wildfire… The yet un-tried Jerusalem bagel and hash cake are just two of many compelling reasons to venture back.