A fairly recurrent motif in the London restaurant scene at the moment is the second restaurant effect. A new independent restaurant starts up, becomes successful and then opens their second restaurant. Sometimes, this is good – standards are maintained and it becomes (ever so slightly) easier to get a table in a hotspot. Sometimes, this is not the case, quality seems to get diluted as talent is spread a bit more thinly – sometimes a piece of string can only be stretched so far before it breaks. If the second try is successful (or even if it isn’t), the second location is now often followed by a third establishment and thus a chain is formed. I am of course not referring to those all those ramen and burger places that keep mushrooming up.
So, when a restaurant as good as the Palomar announces that it is going to open another place, expectation (and hope) levels are unsurprisingly pretty high. I prefer to refer this to the sibling effect.
At the Barbary, the dining room itself is based around a 20-seat bar counter facing a kitchen with a charcoal grill. Here it already differs from its older brother, with no separate tables. Makes for a more exciting dining experience as you are forced to watch the cooks at work. In that typically annoying fashion of London restaurants these days, it also does not allow for booking. Unlike its rather more genteel sibling, it seems that it is always the younger brother that causes trouble. I do rather hate waiting in line. Do people think that I have nothing better to do then queue for food? Sometimes I feel too important to stand around waiting for food. That is different then travelling for food of course, to which I am happy to devote entire days in pursuit. That’s different as it is part of the charm. Queuing in line in central London is less so.
In case you were wondering (as I was), the food here comes from the Barbary coast of Africa, hence the name. Just in case you are confused, they print helpful maps on all their placemats. In a further gesture for a confused diner, they have things in the menu labelled exquisitely simple, mains are categorized under land, sea and earth. Dessert is called heaven – well I guess that is probably accurate if you like sugar.
Hot naan cooked in front of us – light, fluffy and great for mopping up the dips and any remaining sauce on the food we were soon to enjoy.
This was a pumpkin salad/dip – served cold – it was light and refreshing and was a great compliment to the naan.
This dip is essentially the Romanian or Israeli version of taramasalata (it’s amazing what one can find out on google) – a fish roe dip – the Barbary version was served warm, with just the appropriate amount of ‘fishiness’.
The charcoal grilled chicken had been charred just right on the outside while remaining tender and juicy on the inside.
Like the chicken, the octopus had also spent a session on the grill to pick up that charcoal flavour while remaining plump and tender.
For dessert, rather than being a traditional dish, we were told that hashcake (not to be confused with “hash brownies” or “space cakes“) was something that they had come up with themselves. A light, slightly sweet pistachio based cake served with cream. I could think of few better endings than this.
Overall, the Barbary is definitely an exciting and worthy sibling to the Palomar. The food served up a whole host of exciting Middle Eastern flavours, not often encountered elsewhere. Even in my older (and more bad tempered) days, when I feel an aversion to queuing, I might make an exception for this joint. It is really worth the pain and effort as a bite of the hashcake might make it all worth it.
A quiet eating 8.5/10
GBP25 per person including service and excluding drinks.
16 Neal’s Yard