I first discovered Yotem Ottolenghi’s gourmet empire via the medium of antipodean biscuits. Wandering through Islington one late summer afternoon a few years ago, feeling a little peckish we peeked through the window of a restaurant we were passing and much to our surprise our gazes lit upon a mountain of golden ANZAC biscuits.
ANZAC biscuits were invented by Kiwi and Australian families during war times – the dispelled myth has us thinking the long lasting biscuits (cookies, whatever) were sent to troops fighting overseas, but in reality the buttery, golden syrup infused oaty biscuits, scattered with coconut were sold by families to raise funds for their overseas soldiers.
In my heart I knew that any chef who loved our favorite biscuits would be good people.
did I realise until opening a broadsheet (yes, people still do that in
this day and age) just who this culinary wizard was. An Israeli-born British chef, recipe writer and restaurant owner,
Yotem Ottolenghi’s food philosophy is “familiar and straight forward, yet highly innovative” combinations of beautiful, simple ingredients. So when citizenMag kindly offered to send us to one of his restaurants to compare their own reviewers thoughts, we couldn’t possibly say no.
The other branches in Spitalfields, Islingston, Belgravia and Notting Hill and downstairs in the Soho branch feature beautiful drifts of jewel hued salads, golden loaves of sourdough and unbookable communal tables. So date night pencilled into the diary – we decided to visit NOPI, the more formal of the branches, anonymously booking a table in the ground floor grandeur of cool white marble and twirling light fixtures.
Abhorring any kind of queue, we picked an early table on a
Friday evening with a cinema session in the West End to follow.
Arriving in the sunshine, we were seated with a smile and glass of
complimentary sparkling water which was just a nice, uncommon touch.
Pouring through the menu, our waiter recommended that we select 5 of the
small plates between us (or sure we could have gone with traditional
starters and mains, but we wanted to sample as wide a range as we
could.) Making our choices and checking our dietary requirements he
separated them into two flights of dishes so our table wouldn’t be
overwhelmed with flavours.
Enjoying our glasses of Vinho Verde and locally brewed ale respectively, dipping slices of sourdough into a beautifully unctious oil we smiled from ear to ear as delicate dishes appeared. Starting with slices of aubergine conveying delectable saffron yoghurt, pomegranate seeds, roasted pinenuts and baby basil leaves. I will say when you visit – and you must – take someone you like as each of our dishes came in 3’s and haggling definitely ensued.
My next favourite dish was of a creamy, silky burrata (quieting even my chatterbox tendencies) complimenting the ripe, piquant slices of nectarine, drizzle of plum wine and the glorious crunch of aromatic coriander seeds. We also couldn’t resist the siren call of courgette and manouri fritters, the perfect marriage of crisp bite and pillowed flavour. Accompanied by a tantalizing dip yoghurt imbued with the heady floral scent of cardamom, we simply closed our eyes in delight.
Even though we were sharing, we both ordered our favourites knowing full well the other person wouldn’t be so interested. I absolutely couldn’t resist the Lamb sweetbreads scented with five spice, pickled cucumber and oyster mayonnaise, whilst my better half chose the beef short rib, grelot onion, pickled salsify, shiitake mushroom. Adoring my plate of home comfort of meltingly tender lamb contrasting to the crunch of the accompanying pairings, the only slightly disappointing combination was the beef – but only as we don’t enjoy the overwelming celery flavour we discovered.
Being greedy we also went for a serving of Truffle polenta chips with parmesan and garlic aioli, providing a lovely counterpoint.
My date had his time-honoured pudding of another beer, but I couldn’t resist a glass of an Italian dessert wine – a Sol Cerruti made in the Passit method – and the intriguingly titled baked chocolate ganache with plum soil and crème fraîche. Words can’t convey how delicious this was. Rich chocolate ganache crusted with hints of orange and sea salt, the surprisingly sherbert crackle of ‘plum dirt’ and delicious tastes of crème fraîche. Heaven.
CitizenMag were absolutely spot on – glorious ingredients not overwhelmed with trickery but paired with surprising flavour innovations that tantalise.
The mediterranean influence is clear with flavours that sing off the plate and touches of international fascination that take these meals slightly further than the name North Of PIcadilly (see what they did there?) even suggests. Delicious, light and so healthy feeling, we walked away (after a dazzling visit to the mirrored bathrooms) sated and smiling.