The Palomar misses the point, but so does everyone else on its baffling waiting list.
In 2015, Ed Smith wrote an article in The New Statesman saying the best way to look successful is to tell people how busy you are, however little economic sense that makes – you get wealthier, get more labour-saving stuff and more power to make others do your work, but must still be busy. Find 10 people in the Square Mile, ask if they’re busy, say it’s great they’re busy and so are you and you hate not being busy, and you’ll have just won 10 clients for someone’s FinTech start-up – The Palomar is for them, not those who do the right thing and dry heave.
I went with my fiancé, who is used to dry heaving, and we sat in the windowless seated part at the back – I assume The Palomar’s fans (there are many) find the claustrophobia of the tables and acoustics exciting, but it gives me sweaty knee backs and nothing else. I learned after that the bar is apparently more pleasant (and easier to get a place at than booking a table two months before), but that seems to miss the point as much as the fact that “Coldplay are really good live”.
Walking to the table, past a David Cameron, a David Byrne, and a Super Hans, I am on edge, conscious I’m stepping on their Eastpaks. I say sorry to everyone and I think at one point to a doorframe too.
The Palomar is a schizophrenia simulator, where you spend a maximum of two hours unable to block out everyone’s more interesting than yours conversations, but with good enough food and chic enough décor to stop you from getting help.
The food, as I say, is fine. I had aubergines that did a passable job at losing their horrible damp, chicken livers that were smooth and overwhelming, and artichokes complemented by a lemon about as well as a Baileys would be. Dessert was very decent – a lovely hibiscus syrup in a cup, the sort of pert and scalable thing I imagine Virgin serves in Business Class.
My fiancé reminded me why I love her and took a fundamentalist Brexit Barry approach to the indignity of sharing food, but hers looked nice too.
But genuinely good food needs love, or, more realistically, hospitality. Hospitality is not someone in Le Gavroche telling you to put your jacket back on, or the Palomar serving quick food to a table they want back quickly next to another table of two versions of the sister from Fleabag. That’s not hospitality – its catering at best (except Gate Gourmet don’t make me feel so fucking lucky to be there).
Forgive me for ending with Wittgenstein, who talks about how undesirable ideal conditions are: “We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk”. The Palomar’s ideal conditions, where it lives in a cosmopolitan, endless, Euro 96-type Summer in Soho, sound quite nice. But the closer you get to whatever buzzing thing they have in mind, the closer you get to something quick, cramped and unloved
(albeit not untasteful – it makes lovely Instagrams). Selling ideal conditions is brand management of the really busy types, which, when it comes to food or anything else worth loving, misses the point.