I am just about getting over my fullness enough so that I can sit up and type. I have had the lucky privilege of going to Nopi today, Ottolenghi’s new restaurant venture. If you’re not in the know, Ottolenghi is a set of food shops/cafes in London that focus on fresh punchy ingredients, full of bright and bold flavors. I’ve been a fan for a while and often dabble in recipes from their older cook book and when I spotted on twitter that they were doing a soft opening for Nopi at 50% off, I jumped at the chance and booked a table for me and my boyfriend’s family.
Nopi itself is absolutely stunning. Tucked just behind bustling Regent Street the restaurant is housed in a beautiful two floored building; the ground floor which you enter on is decorated almost entirely in bold white marble and glittering golden brass, so that any colour in the furniture and food really pops out at you, overall the feel of the place is sleek, formal and bright. Downstairs the basement is setup in a canteen style with delicious store cupboard products on display and a view straight into the kitchen making the space feel warm and more casual. On walking in, I was faced with a beautiful ornate gold lampshade, a bowl of overflowing, brash red chillis and a view to the back of the restaurant where I could see smiling staff bustling around tables of diners sharing food.
Immediately, our coats were taken, we were shown to our table smack bang in the middle of the restaurant and handed paper dated menus. The menu varied slightly to the one shown online, but it was exciting, assorted and easy to read. Even though we were clearly somewhere very special and a bit posh, there was no menu intimidation; dishes were split into ‘meat’, ‘fish’ and ‘veg’ and there was no offputting language, cooking techniques or ingredients I hadn’t heard of.
We all took Ottolenghi’s advice and went for what seems to be their unique selling point; grab three savory dishes each and share the whole lot with everyone round the table. There was plenty of umming and ahhing about having two and a half each so as not to over-order, but logistics and excitement at the delectable menu got the better of us and before we knew it we were all declaring our choices so as not to miss out on anything. Here’s what the 5 of us went for:
- Braised lamb belly, mixed mushrooms, sumac
- Roasted pork belly, ren onion chutney, Szechuan pepper x2
- Braised lamb meatballs, yoghurt sauce, pomegranate seeds x2
- Beef brisket croquets, Asian slaw x2
- Ossobuco, sage and parmesan polenta
- Seared Scallops, pickled daikon, green apple
- Grilled hake kebabs, lemon pickle, yoghurt
- Baked blu di pecora cheesecake, wild mushrooms
- Braised winter greens, tahini yoghurt
- Fondant swede gratin, savoy cabbage x2
- Burrata, blood orange, coriander seeds
- Green beans, roast hazelnuts, orange (bit these never turned up..)
Food started arriving within about 15 minutes, and once it did, it didn’t seem to stop. Our dishes came out at different times, not when they were ready in the kitchen, but more as the staff saw fit. Food came grouped into complimenting formats, with ingredients and flavours that seemed to match. They arrived about three at a time which meant we had time to really oogle over and appreciate each one. I won’t go through each and every dish, but want to show you some of the ones that really stood out as a unique culinary experiences. Some of them were like nothing else I have ever eatean, which is an impressive declaration for such tiny dishes.
The beef brisket croquets were incredible and appreciated by all. They were crunchy and crisp on the outside and were filled with pulled beef that oozed with salty, rich juices when you sliced into them. They were cut through by the Asian Slaw which was light, citrusy and fresh. The lamb meatballs were a complete triumph. The lamb was pink and tender and rolled with crunchy pine-nuts and topped with surprise smoked aubergine that tasted of bbqs and bonfires. The yoghurt sauce was creamy, nutty and moreish and the pomegranate was so light and fresh that it made me feel like I wasn’t eating anything too naughty..
Then the Ossobuco with polenta arrived, I admit I’ve never cooked with polenta so have no idea if anyone and everyone can get the stuff tasting that good, but my oh my, it turned out to be my favourite dish. It was smeared onto the plate like a squashed pancake, was deliciously cheesy and smooth and paired perfectly with the soft, flaked ossobuco (veal shanks braised in white wine, vegetables and thier broth). If you take any of my recommendations to heart make sure it’s this one.
The vege dishes were just as fabulous, the cheesey, sweet and creamy fondant swede gratin a particular favourite thanks to its contrasting textures of soft swede and crunchy cabbage (and not only because it came in a lovely individual pot). The winter greens were rich and juicy yet retained a crunchy bite and the baked cheesecake? Well that lasted only seconds, it was literally eaten so quickly that I couldn’t get a photo! The blu di pecora, which is a blue veined sheeps cheese, was balanced with sweet leaks and baked until it was light and almost quiche like. Burrata is a type of mozzarella that from the outside mimics an ordinary mozarella completely, but on the inside is a mix of the stringy cheese as we know and love it and rich delicious cream. As we chopped through it sourish white liquid spilt out and mingled delciously with the sweet, sharp blood orange segments and the fragrant coriander seeds.
The green beans sadly never materialised but this was probably a good thing as we had eaten more than enough and had got through all of our servings of meat. If we’d been paying full price we might have been peeved, but losing just one order at a brand new place didn’t phase us much.
Still, we couldn’t resist the puddings. We all had different sweets, me going for the Cardomom rice pudding, rose syrup and pistachio. The dish was aromatic, warming and floral with the pistachio offering a welcome crunch and was perhaps the prettiest dish we received in the whole sitting. The Churros went down a treat, the fennel adding a grown up punch, and the ‘Chocolate, peanut brittle, mace and creme fraiche’ a rich velvety deep treat.
This was all washed down with beautiful white wine (I drank a bit too much of it so forgot to take note of its’ name or origin..apologies) and topped off with a very strong macchiato and I couldn’t have left happier. The staff were all very friendly, kind, considerate and clearly very eager to do well. Chatting to some on their breaks, I got a sense of pride and excitement in what they had achieved and boy was it due. Our meal was pretty much seemless and our experience fantastic, we even left saying we would have paid full price for it (we paid £122 for £244 of food) , it was that good. If you manage to grab a table before the 23rd you’ll be in for a half price treat, but if you don’t have time they open properly on the 24th so make it your business to go anyway, it will still be worth it.