We regularly use recipes from both of Ottolenghi’s books, and we were thrilled to test out his new restaurant concept at the posh end of soho, NOPI.
Billed as a high-end all day brasserie, the restaurant is beautiful. Classic black, gold and white exterior, with the clever ‘O’ from Ottolenghi highlighted in the logo. This attention to detail extended throughout the restaurant, with the ‘O’ printed on the bottles of filtered and chilled tap water (we told you it was classy), to the napkin rings. The interior utilises luxurious but understated materials, with gently marbled flooring and solid wood and brass tables. It is clear a lot of though has gone into the design of this place: there are cavities in the white tiled walls to hold the paper table covers, a shelf notched into the swooping brass service table at the front which houses the boards for bread. Stunning brass fittings on the wall continue the brass accents throughout the interior.
The ground floor has sets of tables with visually stunning and incredibly comfortable padded chairs, while down in the basement there are large sharing tables (covered in the afore-mentioned marble), with stools. Here the kitchen is open to the dining room. It was not open to guests when we visited (it was their first day), but I imagine it will be a great atmosphere. And the toilets. Simply brilliant. We laughed when we went in. Won’t spoil the surprise, but again, fantastic design. Even if the food was terrible (far from it), you should visit this restaurant just for that.
Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos. The presentation was attractive but unpretentious and allowed the flavours to do most of the talking.
The recommended format involved ordering around three small plates per person and then sharing, so that’s what we did. Whilst we felt that we could easily stay and graze on the entire menu throughout the afternoon, six dishes between two turned out to be a satisfying amount. Dishes are priced between 7-12 pounds each.
To start with we had the Halibut carpaccio with lemon oil, samphire and shiso. Five delicate strips of fish lightly sprinkled with equally delicate sprigs; divine. Samphire is sometimes referred to as sea asparagus and shiso is a member of the mint family, together they made a flavoursome addition to the halibut-which was incredibly fresh, we could have happily eaten ten plates of this alone.
Next came the Beef Brisket croquets with asian slaw. It’s no secret that we’re a big fan of both these headliners and they did not disappoint. The brisket was moist and tender and the outer layer added just the right amount of crunch. The slaw was colourful and fresh with a sharp vinegary tang that acted as the polar opposite but perfect match to the deeper flavour of the beef.
More carpaccio followed: Rose veal carpaccio, beetroot and kashk. The veal itself was a beautiful colour and the mini beets sliced as thin as carpaccio were a delight but we didn’t feel that the kashk really added to the dish. Kashk is a Persian dairy product similar to whey, tasted a lot like sour cream but was more tart than was enjoyable and I definitely regretted smothering my veal in it.
Grilled mackerel with fresh coconut, mint and peanut salad was actually grilled sardine but the dish certainly did not suffer on that account. The fish was soft, salty and flaky and the coconut slaw an outstanding companion. The flavour combination was refreshing and worth the slight more effort required in chewing coconut.
The Baked blu di pecora cheesecake with wild mushrooms, or as it appeared on the bill ‘stilton cheesecake’ we nearly avoided due to fear that it would be too heavy but could not have been more wrong. The cheesecake was not the most aesthetically appealing dish we’d had but instantly melted in the mouth , a truly ambrosial fromage. The wild mushrooms were also a pleasant surprise; sweet and vinegary.
We finished the mains on slow cooked pig cheek with celeriac and barberry salad. The pork was tender, salty and sticky and the barberry bought a pleasant sweetness to the mix. A solid choice.
At this stage we were beginning to be pretty full but couldn’t possible leave without dessert. Greedy maybe, but can you really blame us?
We opted to share the Chocolate, peanut brittle, mace, crème fraiche concoction-at this stage not being entirely sure what we were getting other than a list of ingredients. It turned out to be a rich chocolate pudding surrounded by the aforementioned companions. The portion size was very small but it was absolutely enough for us at this stage. The arrangement of the dessert allowed for different flavour combinations in each spoonful and the quantity meant that death by chocolate was a far off possibility.
The only real weak point of the meal would have been the cocktails. We ordered a saffron chase and a grapefruit and lychee cooler, but both didn’t live up to expectation.
The Saffron Chase was described as ‘‘English gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, saffron syrup, topped with champagne’’ arriving in a champagne flute in appearance it resembled at best bucks fizz and at worst orange squash, the flavour was a bit dense and saffron heavy, generally unimpressive.
The grapefruit and lychee cooler(Lemon infused Ketel One vodka, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, lychee, mint leaves, sugar syrup) was served tall over ice, and would have been better named as the lemon cooler. Fair dues, there was half a lychee floating in the glass but it contributed to nothing beyond presentation; the predominant flavour was citrus, in which I was unable to distinguish any grapefruit.
We’re willing to forgive and forget the poor cocktails on account of the excellent wine we ordered under their influence. We chose a bottle under the ‘outsiders’ category, described as wines off the beaten track, wines from unusual places, packed with intriguing and memorable flavours. The Silenus Beta, Mediterra, Crete, Greece (2009) was a wonderful accompaniment to the meal, especially with the fish dishes but we’re fairly sure we could have picked any single wine off the list and enjoyed it tremendously. And it certainly tasted far better than its £24 price tag. Fantastic.
The service was also very good; staff were very polite and struck a good balance in checking on your needs and leaving you to enjoy the food. Head Chef is Ramael Scully and Sarit Packer and Yotam Ottolenghi the executive chefs.
We left NOPI feeling very happy with ourselves, and with very fond memories in the food bank, hoping to return again soon…
This place is without doubt going to ba a massive hit. Go. Now.
21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE
Tel: 020 7494 9584