Paleo, Warwick Street, Leamington, CV32 4RJ. Tel : 01926 316 191 www.paleorestaurant.co.uk
Doesn't everyone want to eat like a caveman now and then?
The mornings after the night before or the evenings after a long day at work, when you’ll sink your teeth into whatever you can get your hands on.
But the Paleolithic diet does not hinge on stuffing bacon butties in your cakehole (more’s the pity).
This current craze is a little reminiscent of the Atkins – low on carbs, high on meat, and, in all honesty, a bit depressing - and our very own Leamington is leading the way.
As London is about to launch its first specialist Paleo restaurant this Saturday (after public pledges of £5 to £5,000 raised more than £30,000 on Pure Taste Restaurant’s Kickstarter campaign), Leamington is ahead of the trend, having welcomed Warwick Street’s Paleo, just around the corner from Oscar’s French Bistro, back in August.
The thinking behind the Paleo diet goes back 10,000 years to a pre-industrial, pre-agricultural era when our Stone Age hunter-gatherer ancestors foraged for whichever wild seeds, nuts, fruits and grasses were in season and hunted for meat and fish.
Cooking is done over charcoal and there’s an absence of staples which became key to our diets with the advent of agriculture, such as rice, bread and potatoes (although the latter two can be found on the menu at Paleo), making it gluten-free friendly.
On Paleo’s website its owners say they’ve developed “a menu of healthy ‘clean’ food choices”.
I’m guessing they’ve added the quotation marks because, like me, they not entirely sure how food can be “clean”.
It’s a shame that from their website and in the restaurant itself, there’s no discussion about what constitutes the Paleo diet and what its aims are, and no signposting to further information (which you’ll need if you’re going to attempt to make head or tail of this).
Why our Stone Age diet is thought to be the optimum one for our 21st century guts, I’m not sure.
Is there even such thing as an optimum diet when nutritional needs vary so much from person to person and place to place?
Who knows, but in the quest to find out let’s hope there’s some good food to be had.
Scanning Paleo’s menu I see two mentions of a “tomato cloud”.
“What is a tomato cloud?” I ask.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” the waitress replies, “maybe it’s just a poetic way of saying ‘tomato’?”
This depressingly low level of confidence in the food can’t help but spread from staff to diner.
For starters my companion tries the lightly spiced pork balls (£7) served with leek puree, pickled onions, confit baby leek, and a raw apple cider vinegar dressing, while I virtuously plump for the super green leaf salad (£5.50), a selection of garden greens with chia seeds, sunflower seeds, ripe avocado, flax seeds, asparagus and a matcha dressing.
The meatballs are so lightly spiced, we can’t taste any spice at all.
My friend sums them up as “bland”, a word that recurs throughout the night.
My salad could do with a generous shake of sea salt or a good drizzle of tart lemon.
It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve wanted to add seasoning in a restaurant.
And it’s a shame because all the dishes are beautifully presented, looking far more exciting than they taste.
I ask a waiter (who later transpires to be one of the restaurant’s owners) about the tomato cloud. “It’s essence of tomato,” he says.
It turns out to be a pink foam (one of my fine dining pet hates) perching on top of the layered ratatouille (£8.50), which looks rather grand but doesn’t taste of much.
When I ask about an ingredient in the ratatouille, the owner replies confidently that it’s a squash, before doubting himself, nipping off to check and returning to relay that it’s actually a sweet potato.
Paleo is a difficult place to categorise and seems to be just starting out on a journey of self discovery, not yet sure whether it’s a restaurant or a cafe.
It looks like a chain, with plain decor and staff in branded T-shirts, but the paper menu, with “tomato clouds” and “onion flowers”, reads more like fine dining (which is how the restaurant brands itself), while the service, aimed, I think, at being “relaxed”, is at times a bit greasy spoon.
“What’s finished? What can I clear?” asks the owner, popping up at the table while my dinner date is still eating her 10oz rump steak (£16).
Maybe this is part of the caveman theme.
The key lime and coconut cheesecake (£5.50) arrives looking rather beige. The grated zest garnish smells gloriously citrusy, but that’s where the lime ends.
It’s a pleasant tasting pie, with nuts and coconut in abundance, but the lime is a no-show.
The “Awesome raw carrot cake” (£5.50), however, is the saviour of the day.
It’s beautifully presented in a tightly compressed cylinder beneath a dusting of coconut and the taste is sublime.
The dish is a sort of deconstruction of a traditional carrot cake, using gratifying chunks of the root veg alongside juicy raisins, sweet dried fruit, slivers of coconut and almonds.
It’s a delicious symphony of sweet and savoury, more than the sum of its parts, and it’s the first time tonight that a mouthful of food doesn’t leave me wondering what’s on the menu at Oscar’s next door.
While health problems associated with being overweight or obese are costing the NHS £5billion every year, restaurants that offer healthier choices should be applauded.
But Paleo’s meat-heavy approach seems less than environmentally sustainable and, for me, the Raymond Blanc route, espousing the value of a balanced diet with locally-sourced seasonal produce, is a much tastier prospect than going caveman.
To be fair to Paleo, it’s new, it’s sailing in unchartered seas, and every restaurant is allowed teething problems.
I expect this place will do well in Leamington – it’s certainly doing good business during our Tuesday night visit and our fellow diners seem content – but if you’re making the effort to travel from elsewhere you may feel you’ve had a wasted journey.
Our total bill, with two glasses of white wine, comes to just over £60, and we leave feeling less Yabba Dabba Doo, more Yabba Dabba Don’t.