“To schmooze”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means to talk intimately, and its origins lie in the late-19th-century Yiddish word schmusen, “to chat”. My grandparents, who spoke this language, would certainly not recognise the word as it is used today.
But this style of communication is what all good receptionists and maître d’s ought to employ as they escort you to a table. It is the approach that a good waiter or a knowledgeable sommelier takes when describing why you should choose one main course rather than another or opt for a specific bottle of wine. Successfully schmoozed, every customer is more likely to return.
I watched an ace practitioner in this art as we sat at the back of The Palomar restaurant, which has just opened in a hitherto dreary stretch of Rupert Street, Soho, in the heart of London’s theatreland.
The schmoozer in question was Yossi Elad, one of the founders alongside Uri Navon and Assaf Granit of the highly successful Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem. They have recently brought their culinary expertise into partnership with Layo and Zoe Paskin, former nightclub owners.
When we sat down, Elad, dressed in a white chef’s jacket, had his arm around one of the party of four at the table next to us, who in turn had poured him a glass from their bottle of red wine. Elad subsequently introduced these customers to the table of eight next to them, a group of chefs from the River Café in west London. And as he saw me being served my glass of red wine, he came over, smiled, and we raised our respective glasses, both of us saying “L’Chaim”, the Jewish toast “to life”.
Half an hour later, Elad was sitting alongside a table of three who had just walked in. His interest in his customers then led him to talk to yet another couple beside them, and within minutes he was leading the woman from this table across the restaurant to meet the River Café team. It transpired that she was going there the following week for the first time to celebrate her birthday.
Elad (a chef for the past 30 years) and his team could not have created a space that feels more in keeping with Soho. Inside the narrow frontage there is a counter manned by bearded chefs wearing trilbies and, I noted once they stepped out to deliver their plates of seafood, with an obvious penchant for colourful footwear. Directly opposite is a long open kitchen in front of which are 16 counter seats, leaving just enough space behind for half a dozen customers to stand, drink and add to the noise level.
Beyond is the far calmer restaurant of a dozen tables with a large ceiling window that captures the last rays of the evening.
At the top of the menu, under the heading “TEAM OF THE DAY”, is a list of all those on duty, from head chef to waiters. This is both informative for customers and a morale booster for staff. The rest of the menu sparkles with an attitude unfettered by religion, nationality or cooking technique. The founders may be Jewish but there is shellfish here, such as the Moroccan oysters (well, British by origin but served with coriander, lemon zest and Arisa oil). And they may be Israeli but alongside the mezze and polenta Jerusalem-style there is Persian oxtail stew, gilthead bream Moroccan-style and mussels cooked to a Kurdish recipe with arak and fennel.
The trio behind Palomar have a very good eye for presentation too. This became obvious when our waitress delivered a round lidded tin that contained kubaneh – Yemini pot-baked bread – with bowls of tahini and a tomato purée, and a dish of “Landing Catch” fish “Uri-style”. The latter turned out to be six pieces of raw salmon topped with cured onion and ginger vinaigrette, delivered on a three-layered metal tray of the type most widely used to carry sweetmeats alongside a pot of mint tea.
Two main courses – seared scallops with a cured-lemon beurre blanc, and a most incongruous combination of a tagine of pork belly, dried apricots and Israeli couscous – were highly successful; a dish of sweetbread pastries with aubergine and cumin less so. Malabi, an Israeli milk pudding with raspberries and candied rose petals, was perfect for a sweet tooth.
The Palomar will delight anyone who goes out to eat exciting food, to have fun, or simply to be schmoozed.
More columns at www.ft.com/lander
34 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DN, thepalomar.co.uk, 020 7439 8777