It seems that every time a restaurant opens its doors in Palermo the first thing it MUST do is tell everyone that the chef has at some point worked in a restaurant that had a Michelin star. It doesn’t matter if the chef in question was heading up the kitchen or did a month’s work baking bread, if he was there it’s going on the press release. And so it was with a heavy heart that I listened to everyone babbling that the new hot spot in Palermo, Unik, had a Michelin starred chef heading up the kitchen. My heart was heavy because everyone is now so obsessed with the Michelin rating that they see it as the be all and end all. Sure a lot of great restaurants out there have Michelin stars but there are a hell of lot of brilliant ones that don’t and even some that do but are actually complete crap. I think every restaurant should be judged on it’s own merits and if people come in to a restaurant with a particular expectation of what to expect based on the fact that such and such worked in a particular restaurant before then they will usually be disappointed.
So it was with a little trepidation that I booked myself in to Unik to see what all the fuss was about. My first impression of the place was that it felt like walking onto the set of a Mad Men scene. A lot of love has been put into this place and apparently the owner has been collecting some of the furniture for over 30 years. It really does look great, a long red sofa down the right with an open kitchen to the left, it oozes cool. It was a little empty but filled up as we ate but it has only just opened and I’m not sure how many people know about it yet. Another plus point for Unik was the wine list which is a lot of fun to leaf through and has a pretty interesting selection of wines from all over Argentina, the sommelier was helpful without being too pushy and we drank some delicious Malbec.
So on to the food. Well it was a pretty mixed bag to be honest. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with all this talk of Michelin this and Michelin that, but when it actually came down to it Unik is really just an up market parilla with a few modern twists. The starters sounded a little more fun than the mains and we went for a mix of stuff. The best of the starters was the trilla ceviche, which was a lovely color and as fresh as you like. J ordered this and I felt the familiar tinge of food envy. Another highlight was the poached egg with parma ham and small roast potatoes. The egg was done perfectly and came in a basquey sort of sauce that worked well. Maybe not the most exciting dish but quite warming on a winters evening all the same. I predictably ordered the worst and went for grilled prawns with sweet potatoes and beetroot sauce. The prawns were nice enough and had a nice smoky flavour from the parilla but the sweet potatoes and sauce added nothing to this at all. Both were completely tasteless, and dull.
While starters were on the whole pretty decent, I thought the mains weren’t quite as good. The must have dish that everyone had been raving about was the slow cooked lamb that came with quinoa. This was presented well and was predictably tender without being mouthwatering. I suppose it was decent enough although not quite as good as it should be with the hefty price tag that comes with it. The same could be said for the Ojo de Bife that again looked very nice and tasted pretty good but didn’t wow anyone round the table although I think it was better than the lamb. Finally I had the bondiolla which I didn’t enjoy at all. If prizes were being given for size then this would be a winner but there was absolutely no subtlety to this dish. It was just a huge slab of meat on top of some veg. It tasted pretty bland and there was way too much of it.
We finished off with a macaroon filled with white chocolate and maracuya (what else?). This was again a little bit meh. It looked nice enough but neither the chocolate nor the maracuya were particularly full of flavour and the macaroon was a little heavy.
So it was a rather mixed bag from Unik, a few nice bits but overall I felt it was a rather disappointing and boring meal. Another chic and classy restaurant with average food is the last thing that Palermo needs but someone somewhere felt we needed one more. This is no different to a host of other restaurants in this over crowded barrio and I don’t think I’ll be back.