"This shortlist highlights the richness and variety of the UK’s restaurant and bar scene, from classic dining experiences, rooms to be seen in, country pubs and hipster hangouts," British GQ editor Dylan Jones announced in February. But the big winner in the April 28 award ceremony at the Bulgari Hotel in London was a restaurant without any Michelin stars, with a lot of Israeli chutzpah and with much cheaper prices than the other candidates.
The five other restaurants on the shortlist included The Ledbury, which holds two Michelin stars and has been featured in S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants.
"Naturally, we hoped we would win, but considering the great honor of being included in the shortlist, it was a surprise – even for us," says The Palomar's head chef, Tomer Amedi.
The Palomar was described by British GQ described as the restaurant with “the most chutzpah of any food and drink establishment operating in the country right now."
"There is something about the fact that a group of 'arsim' (a derogatory Hebrew slang term for the Israeli stereotype of low-class young men) from Jerusalem defeat the big money guys in London," Machneyuda's head chef, Assaf Granit, said with satisfaction.
Jerusalemite cult in London
The Palomar was opened in London's Soho district exactly a year ago. Tomer Amedi, 30, the former sous-chef of Machneyuda and of Yudale, Machneyuda's tapas bar, was put in charge of the kitchen. His talented wife, Yael Vardi, is the restaurant's pastry chef.
Whoever visited the two Jerusalem restaurants while Amedi worked in the kitchen must remember the young chef vigorously tapping on the pots and working surface with drumsticks to the guests' astonishment and to the sounds of loud applause. A Jerusalemite cult which turned into a phenomenon.
The Palomar's kitchen is based on the familiar flavors and dishes of Machneyuda: Kubenia (hand-chopped beef fillet with bulgar, tahini, herbs and pine nuts), Fattoush Salad (tomato, cucumber, za’atar, sumac, pita croutons and homemade labneh) Jerusalem Mix (chicken livers, hearts and veal sweetbreads) and Jerusalem-Style Polenta. The Israeli-Jerusalem food has been adapted and refined to cater to the British audience.
Amedi's partners Assaf Granit, Uri Navon and Yossi Elad also cook at the London restaurant often, arriving every few weeks at the small place, which has only 16 seats on the bar and 10 tables inside the restaurant.
Thanks to the great buzz the restaurant has been creating since it first opened, and thanks to the average price of a meal (£40-50, about $61-77) – about half the price of the other places which competed for the Best Restaurant award, a table at The Palomar must be booked several weeks in advance.
The Machneyuda owners are planning to open a new place in London and another The Palomar restaurant in the eastern part of the city together with their English partners. Amedi is also working on his first cookbook in English for the restaurant, which will be published by the Octopus Publishing Group. Meanwhile, the restaurant in Jerusalem has launched a catering service called Agripas, which will supply kosher food from the restaurant and offer its cooks' services at private events.
Many famous Israeli chefs have set their sights on the world, especially Europe and the United States, in the past year. Chef Eyal Shani opened a branch of his Miznon restaurant in Paris, Chef Haim Cohen is planning to open a restaurant at the trendy W Hotel in Amsterdam (and put Chef Ori Geller in charge), and Chef Yaron Shalev and others are also in talks for restaurants abroad.
Other Israeli chefs who are enjoying impressive success in their restaurants abroad, without opening a place in Israel first, are Chef Michael Solomonov of the Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia and Chef Yotam Ottolenghi in London.