NOPI. Ottolenghi for grown-ups.
I was predestined to like NOPI. Partly because it’s on the site of the Sugar Club, of blessed memory and partly because I have a soft spot for all things Ottolenghi. And for all you young things out there, Sugar Club was, for me the food sensation of the mid 1990′s.
One of my food heroes, Peter Gordon, now of Providores fame, brought fusion food to an unsuspecting British public, back in 1995. I still remember being blown away at the watermelon and feta salad and the scallops with sweet chilli and crème fraiche. Dishes which are now commonplace were groundbreaking at the time. They’re still fresh and exciting and my Sugar Club cookbook is falling apart.
So, channeling the spirit of the Sugar Club, this is another fusion offering; less adventurous in some ways than the former occupant, but still interesting and unusual.
It’s a combination of Middle-eastern and Asian, with modern, voguish ingredients, a decent wine list and strong flavours.
This is the grown-up side of the café that is Ottolenghi. There are, I was shocked to find, some people I know who do not know what Ottolenghi actually is, so here, take a look. This is a similar concept, certainly as far as the sharing plates go, but more formal. You could eat a conventional three course meal here, in a way you can’t quite at the other place. It feels and looks like a proper restaurant.
The room is modern simple and bright, with good brass light fittings. There’s a lovely golden glow to the walls. There is also a downstairs space with a communal table and an open kitchen but I’ve never seen it being used. There are also the most bling-tastic toilets I have ever seen. I’m not sure I can do them justice with mere words. WANT.
On the menu are smaller, bar-snack style dishes, starter/sharing plates and conventional mains. We decided to do the sharing thing. You might be surprised at my willingness to entertain that, given the degree of uncertainty that might ensue, on a table of four.
Because I have recently been disappointed as a result of allowing somebody else to make my choices for me my colleagues were reading my absolute need to be in control message very well, and their willingness to let me order for them seemed genuine. My control freakery is clearly well known to all of them. I was, obviously comfortable, nay overjoyed, at the concept of ordering for everyone, even though the thought of someone doing that for me would result in an anxiety atttack.
Stand–out dishes were the burrata with fennel and coriander seeds and peach; the chickpea fritters which came with red onion, mozzarella and tomatoes; the savoury cheesecake (although I could have managed better without the beetroot chunks on top which were an unnecessary flavour invasion and interfered with the subtle taste – not to mention colour- of the cheesecake, as they bled into it) and the cauliflower roasted with pine nuts and spelt.
I’m getting a bit bored with beetroot now, aren’t you? Even the pretty ones. It’s the new heritage tomatoes.
I didn’t entirely love the roasted duck breast, which was a little too rare for me, served on a bed of black quinoa with a sauce that had a strange tang to it that I couldn’t quite identify – but I confess that I was alone in my lack of enthusiasm for that dish.
For dessert, which I really didn’t need at this point, (and?) L and I had a debate as to who would have the popcorn ice cream with salt and pepper popcorn and who the chocolate, orange oil and yoghurt.
We decided to split them. With my first mouthful of the chocolate, I knew I’d made a mistake.
I didn’t want to hand over the chocolate. I contemplated not doing so, but I’m not married to L so I couldn’t invoke the husband self-sacrifice requirement and as L can be fairly formidable, I thought I would let it lie.
The ‘chocolate’ was a rich, sticky, gooey mousse and the orange oil worked really well with it – it’s a classic combination. Think gooey and better Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Or maybe not. So did the yoghurt which was necessary to cut through the richness. I didn’t take a picture, because it was dark and it would have looked like something unspeakable, which would not have given the right impression.
The popcorn ice cream? A bit one-note. We both thought it needed more popcorn in the actual dish to give it some contrast. But then we always would.
This is a competent and interesting restaurant where the food is prepared with care and the flavours are always interesting. There aren’t many places in London doing fusion this well. Make the most of it.