Mark Taylor gives scathing two-star review to Bristol’s new fish restaurant
A quick online search for a Palomar translation gives some surprising answers. The main translations are “pigeonnier” or “pigeonnier”, which seems a rather odd choice for the name of a seafood restaurant that does not serve game birds.
This new Gloucester Road restaurant is the latest opening from the owner of the Blue Lagoon, the cafe-bar across the street, and occupies the site of the recently defunct Urban Standard.
While the space hasn’t changed drastically – the black and white checkered floor, reclaimed wood planks, and enamel lamps have survived the transition – there’s a new pale blue color scheme to match its new nautical theme.
Look closely behind the bar and you’ll also see the thistle tiles dating back to when it was a Victorian butcher’s shop.
On a humid midweek evening in January, Palomar was eerily calm. When I arrived a few diners were claiming their bill and the only other people present were a lively couple who clearly had an intimate knowledge of the drink list but had no intention of trying anything solid on the occasion.
The arrival of the menu came with the news that the steak was sold out, but I was only there for the seafood so no loss there.
With starters of scallops, tuna and oysters, as well as main courses of monkfish, mackerel, cod and shrimp, the menu certainly lives up to its reputation as a unique fish and seafood restaurant. from Gloucester Road.
And, let’s face it, Bristol isn’t fortunate enough to have so many seafood restaurants on its own, especially for a city with such a proud maritime history.
I don’t know what the chef was using to heat my simmered baby octopus starter (Â£ 8.50), but it was so hot it begged the question of whether he had a nuclear reactor hidden behind the kitchen.
It was so hot that it took about five minutes to cool down to something like a safe, edible temperature. I’m sure the metal fork was starting to warp in the heat.
The generous pieces of octopus were firm but incredibly tender and the white wine, Italian tomato and extra virgin olive oil sauce was rich, robust and rustic. It was the kind of dish one would expect to find in a sunny quayside restaurant in Naples rather than a dimly lit bar on Gloucester Road, congested with traffic in the dead of winter.
After such a pleasant entry, expectations were high for the main event, not least because I was the only person to eat and the chef only had me to cook. What could go wrong?
‘Ricaturated and soft’
The Saint-Pierre filet with slow roasted eggplant, button mushrooms, green peas and wasabi puree (Â£ 18.75) showed promise despite the low-priced accompaniments of what is one of the kings of the sea.
Unfortunately, the Saint-Pierre was not the freshest I have ever tasted. It had the smell of fish that had left the boat a few days before rather than the smell of the sea, and the skin, dusted with flour, was soft rather than crisp. The fish was overcooked and tasted like cooking oil and pan rather than fish.
The eggplant was dry and more cremated than slow roasted, the fried breakfast-style button mushrooms were shriveled and chewy, and the splash of mashed peas lacked the advertised tingle of wasabi.
Okay, this might not have been the worst dish I have endured in the line of duty, but it gives all the hiccups of the past great value for money. Good fish cooking is all about letting really fresh ingredients do all the work without masking the flavor with too many elements on the plate. Here, the Saint-Pierre had been pummeled by the ill-conceived flavors that surrounded it.
I finished with the Vanilla Cheesecake topped with Wild Berries and Freeze-Dried Raspberry Powder (Â£ 6.70), a beautifully presented and well-made dessert with smart flavors.
Despite the correct start and end and excellent service throughout, this meal was very disappointed with the fish main course, which for a restaurant specializing in seafood is just not good enough. It is a fish restaurant which will have to redouble its efforts in the future if it wants to bring me back.
Palomar Fish House, 35 Gloucester Road, Bristol, BS7 8AD. Phone. : 0117 9425888. www.palomarfishhouse.com