So you thought you loved the Palomar. You thought you’d be faithful and true. But that was before you met little sis the Barbary. It’ll make you want to quit your job, pack your bags, and run away into the sunset together.
The Barbary, you see, takes everything that’s good about the Palomar but ditches the bits that don’t quite work (like the fact that the ‘fun seats’ up at the counter are also the most cramped; or the fact that the raw bar is the weakest link on the otherwise stellar 'modern day Jerusalem' menu).
At The Barbary, all the stools are arranged at 24-seat horseshoe shaped counter bar. Down one wall, there’s a standing counter, where they’ll feed you moreish bar snacks (like deep-fried pastry ‘cigars’ filled with cod, lemon & Moroccan spices) while you wait for a seat. And if the queue spills outside, you’ll find yourself in pedestrian-only, full-of-character Neal’s Yard. As places to loiter go, it’s not too shabby.
Oh but the food, the food. Where the Palomar is intentionally progressive, looking to push the boundaries of 'Jerusalem' food, the Barbary looks to the past. The team, led by Tel Aviv-born chef Eyal Jagermann (ex-Palomar), have scoured the wider region, travelling down the eponymous Barbary coast (the stretch of north Africa from modern-day Morocco to modern-day Egypt) to revive the dishes that have informed their own culinary heritage. The signature ‘naan e beber’, for instance, is made to an ancient recipe for leavened bread, with just four ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and yeast). The flattened, kneaded dough is slammed into a fiercely hot tandoor for just a minute or two, quickly re-emerging all fluffy and blistered. When you can get this excited about bread, you know great things are about to happen.
Great things like the octopus. Slow-braised with oranges and bay leaves in its own juices, the chefs wait until it’s soft enough to fall apart before slinging it on the coal-fired robata. Silky on the inside, charred on the outside, I’m declaring these the best tentacles in town. Equally tender and smoky was the chicken ‘msachen’, a dish you get at Israeli parties. At The Barbary, the skin-on thigh meat is marinaded in a yoghurt, sumac and baharrat (a Syrian/Egyptian spice mix) for a full 24 hours before cooking. It’s a bit of a theme: everything here is made from scratch and with care. For dessert, order the knafeh – a sandwich of finely-shredded filo pastry filled with white mozzarella and goats’ cheese. Pan-fried until it’s crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, it’s then sprinkled with roasted pistachio nuts. Try pressing it gently with a fork and watch it ooze puddles of clarified butter. This is not food for the uptight, but for people who live life to the full. On my midweek visit, every seat was taken by 6.15pm, the atmosphere was electric, the air filled with charcoal smoke, music and laughter. The Barbary: a place to fall joyously, head over heels, lightning-bolts-R-us in love with.