I’ve long been a fan of Ottolenghi. There’s one on Ledbury Road, just two bus stops from my flat and whenever I pass by I can’t resist popping in for a cake or pastry. Their salads are fabulous too (especially in the summer), but they can be a bit pricey so I often just recreate them at home. Yotam’s latest is a departure from the deli/bakery set-up – the Middle Eastern and Asian influences remain but the dishes at NOPI are more refined and elegantly composed.
On the day of our booking, the receptionist called to confirm and remind me that we were allocated a 2-hour slot for dinner. I always find it quite stressful to arrive at a restaurant knowing I have to vacate my seat at a certain time, especially on a Friday night when I just want to unwind, and not have to check my watch between courses. I was first to arrive while B, stuck in traffic, only walked in 20 minutes later. With the time constraint in mind we quickly set about ordering from the small plate menu (divided into Veg, Fish, Meat and Sweets) before turning our attention to the complimentary bread served with a lush Coco Bean, Tahini and Pomegranate Dip and Olive Oil.
Things got off to a good start. The Burrata with Blood Orange and Coriander Seeds served with crisp spiced Flatbread and Baby Chard was a wonderful discovery – I had never eaten burrata with citrus and spice and was surprised to see how well all the flavours came together.
The Shakshuka (a North African egg dish with tomato and peppers), served in its cooking pan was great mopped up with sourdough toast but a little substantial as one of many sharing plates and possibly a more suitable choice for breakfast or brunch.
Chargrilled octopus with Morcilla and Salmorejo Sauce was another success – the charred pieces did appear dry at first glance, but were actually soft and tender with a nice smokiness running through them. I liked the crumbly blood sausage and rice patty too, and the sweet tomato bread sauce really helped to bind and lift the dish.
As we hit the meat plates it all began to go downhill. I usually love sweetbreads, but the Lamb Sweetbreads with White Pepper and Pea were too musky even for my taste. The heavy dose of pepper actually accentuated the offalliness and we longed for more of the sweet pea purée to rid us of the taste.
The Miso Quail with Grapes, Verjuice and Honey had no discernable hint of savoury/sweet miso and instead was a peculiar mix of intense tartness (verjuice), floral sweetness (honey) and a slight bitterness (not sure what from). It tasted pretty rancid, and was so awful that I plopped my half back down after one bite.
Rabbit Pastilla fared no better. The sultana-studded spiced rabbit filling was incredibly wet and mushy, rendering the thin pastry casing unappetisingly soggy.
There’s not much off the pastry spread at Ottolenghi that doesn’t put a smile on my face so I had high hopes for puds. The Kaffir Lime, Meringue, Tapioca and Mango offering although delicious on the first spoonful, became increasingly cloying with each mouthful. A stronger presence of lime to provide a hit of neutralising acidity would have helped. As it was we couldn’t finish it.
Coffee Pecan Financiers, served hot from the oven, followed a similar vein – the domed cakes were so sweet we could barely manage one a piece. Why they were served with an extra dose of sugar in the form of maple cream was beyond me. A real shame as they would have been fantastic otherwise, with their springy texture and golden crusty edges.
Much has been said about the high prices at NOPI so we weren’t entirely surprised to be met with a bill totalling over £100, despite only having had one drink each (a cocktail for me and a cider for him). While we aren’t opposed to shelling out some cash for some decent grub, much of the food at NOPI left us wanting. We did however enjoy everything up to the meats, so perhaps their vegetable and fish offerings are stronger. Service was also commendable and the sky-lit restaurant, full of whites, golds and neutrals, really is a gorgeous space – bright and airy in the day, and atmospheric at night.
22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE
t. 020 7494 9584