NOPI – Yotam Ottolenghi’s New All-Day Canteen Venture In Soho (Recommended)

by timchester

“We like to think of ourselves as the haute couture of the food-to-go world.” Bold words. Dangerous words. A choice of words that in the wrong hands could be turned against you. Uttered by Pret they’d be risible; by Otarian cause for litigation. They appear on the ‘philosophy’ section of Yotam Ottolenghi’s website, and having just eaten at his new venture NOPI – and met the man himself – I can vouch for them as entirely justified.

When I mentioned Ottolenghi to a colleague he asked if he was a comedian, so perhaps you’d be justified in wondering who he is. A former philosophy student turned chef, cafe owner and columnist for the Guardian’s Weekend supplement (pennies dropping left, right and centre) he’s steadily built up a cult following across London for his fresh, locally sourced, stringently self-produced pan-Mediterranean food. While many restaurant “ethos / our story” sections provoke hilarity, his is honest and inspiring. He cares deeply about what he does, he obsessively tweaks everything he serves, he treats every dish like a first born child. A welcome counterweight to the Jamie Oliver way.

More than all that though, I just love his style. Who else designs hall-of-mirrors toilets like this, two streets down from Bob Bob Ricard and almost as surreal?

Nopi's Toilets

NOPI is a postmodern palace of marble and brass, a bustling deli of delights. Dishes range from £9 to £12 and they recommend ordering three each (as do I). Introductory bread and celeriac mash (served from a sumptuous display by the entrance) will line the stomach but you need several platefuls to leave sated. The only problem is which to choose. Seven meat, eight fish and eight veg plates make 23 choices and our combined buying might only covered half of that. So we randomly pointed at things and sat back for the show to begin.

Starting with beef brisket croquets and Asian slaw was a bad move. They were probably the finest thing we had all night: tender and juicy wet inside while crumbly and crunchy without, little pucks of joy we had some serious fork fencing over. I’d barely impaled half of one with a bushel of slaw on top when someone knocked it all off in their haste for another scoop.

This seemingly innocuous plateful removed all pretense of decorum from the four of us with one fell swoop and from then on it was each glutton for himself. Slow cooked pig cheek with celeriac and barberry salad was hoovered in an instant while ossobuco with sage and parmesan polenta barely touched the table. The latter was all gloopy grey chunks of meat in sauce as opposed to one big piece – quite different from Polpetto or Platform but equally as inspiring.

Seared scallops with pickled daikon and green apple were lightly burnished brown and had obviously danced in the wok for a few minutes only while braised carrots with mung beans and smoked labneh were probably the best veggie offering. Although what I managed to claim of the raw brussel sprouts with oyster mushrooms and quail eggs came a very close second. Ottolenghi favours what he terms “noisy” ingredients like lemon, garlic, chilli and pomegranate and the latter were deployed to exposive effect in a craggy meatball dish.

Nopi's Meatballs2

Plates came at sporadic times, partly due to an intentionally releaxed service, partly probably the dumb waiter queues (the kitchen is downstairs) and potentially because the place has only been open a month. Our cheesy choices (baked blu di pecora cheesecake with wild mushrooms, and burrata with blood arange and coriander seeds) came last. Whether this was intentional and supposed to constitute a cheese course, I don’t know. The cheesecake was a touch dry but otherwise phenomenal while the very much on trend burrata put L’Anima’s version to shame.

Sweets meant vanilla ricotta with blackcurrants and rhubarb, sultana financier with brandy cream and cardamon rice pudding with rose syrup and pistachio. We were several litres of Montalcino worse for wear by this point (having overstayed our two hour slot by two hours) but vague memories of these were very fond.

NOPI aint too cheap, that’s for damn sure. Only a fortunate few will be able to treat it like a drop in deli. For the rest of us though, it’s an interesting new addition to Soho’s sultry streets to indulge in as frequently as possible.

Price Per Head: Just about £31.75 if you don’t touch booze
Clientele: Soho media types and well-heeled foodies
Website
Yotam’s recipes on guardian.co.uk
The NOPI website includes an enlightening Tumblr that recounts the restaurant’s operational goings on.
Lovely shots as ever from London Eater

Nopi on Urbanspoon

Read more:
Hawksmoor Seven Dials – Home To The Infamous Kimchi Burger
Covent Garden’s Dishoom – Half As Good As Everyone Says It Is (So Twice As Good As Anywhere Else Then)
The Flask In Highgate – Time To Call It A Day
Cantina Laredo – Mexican platefuls that laugh in the face of stomach capacities

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{ 1 trackback }

Is there anywhere in London that makes a Taste London card worthwhile?
April 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh Wright March 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Lovely review and perfect timing – I’m going tonight!

Reply

timchester March 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Enjoy! And go for broke – it’s all pretty amazing

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Luke March 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Can you review Nando’s next?

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timchester March 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Right after the Blue Fin cafe

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Winkypedia March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

We tried a total of 16 dishes and we enjoyed the meat and fish dishes more than the vegetarian ones, which is a little ironic as Ottolenghi’s famous of his veggie dishes!
We were intrigued to find that the beef brisket, hake kebab and scallops have strong Chinese influence. ( http://wp.me/p18zw1-Pu ) In all, it’s an enjoyable dining experience.
We decided not to go for the pig cheeks though as it is just wrong to braise them. They taste far better roasted!

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Kay Ribs March 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

If anyone tries the peanut brittle or rice pudding, let us know how they were. Both were sold out when we went.

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Tori (@eat-tori) March 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm

The burrata with blood orange sounds like exactly what I need to shake up a grey day. Thanks for the vicarious visit!

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Douglas March 28, 2011 at 2:59 am

I like Yotam’s style. I like your writing style. Can’t wait to eat there. Tell a lie, I’ve eaten the staff food there. Not that I’m staff!

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timchester March 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

Thanks!

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Greedy Diva April 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I loved the beef brisket and the bathrooms. Both amazing (although I did get a bit lost trying to get out of the bathroom – kept bumping into this really good looking woman all the time…)

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timchester April 17, 2011 at 10:24 am

ha – nice

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