The Palmerston is definitely more gastro than pub – where else would you find a small but orderly queue at the bar, other than Dulwich? It’s a relaxed spot for dinner by candlelight that combines cosiness with smart silverware; ask nicely and you may nab a spot by the fireplace. There’s a scramble for tables on Friday nights and long lunches at weekends, so we were glad to have rung ahead for a reservation.
Oddities on the wine list are cracking value. Lesser known wines (like rustic Maison de la Paix Old Vine) are available by the carafe, they’re wicked value and they proved to be spot on for the modern European menu. The waiters were friendly and made a mad dash to serve our last-minute wine orders with each course, proving the service is great when it’s on the ball. (Admittedly, there were a few more ‘wistful’ encounters when we were baffled as to how our waving hands were going unnoticed, but it was all in good spirit).
Anyone shunning carbs would have struggled with temptation when water and bread arrived; the toothsome sourdough and walnut bread were both gratefully gobbled down. Oyster Rockefeller to start was too aniseed for us, simply because it was a bit heavy on the pernod or candied fennel. But the cassoulet special was gorgeous; not quite as artery-bashing as the real thing, but no sorrier for this. Each deep, generous spoonful presented a treat: be it confited pork and duck, or the Toulouse sausage lurking among the plump, fatty beans. It was outrageously rich but so satisfying given the snow outside; like padding ourselves with goose down from within.
This was the night I learned that ox cheek is a gargantuan hunk of meat. Rendered to a state of gelatinous loveliness, it was brilliantly cooked… but oh so very big. I was sorry to leave much of the coarse polenta side too, but the floorboards were starting to creak beneath me with menace. A shocking pink beetroot puree against venison fillet and game crisps was really, really good. Imagine all the best bits from the forest floor gathering together for a tete a tete, then shaking hands and going into business: this classic combo has (and will) run and run, but only if cooked with such a deft hand.
There was no need for dessert, but a rhubarb tart wriggled its way in regardless. Firm and pleasing like a New York cheesecake, it was a proper pud that stood proud on its biscuity-base foundations. A glass of port later and we were collectively done in, so slumped back home for a snooze. (And how soundly we slept; dreaming of leaving our day jobs to set up a gite, learning to – some day – cook like this, and living out our final days riddled with gout).
It’s hard not to relax amid the low glow and gentle bustle of the Palmerston; it’s no old boozer, but we found it a mellow, welcoming and intimate antidote to a festive season of screechy Friday nights elsewhere. The menu changes all the time, so we’ll be back soon.