Over the past year I have become somewhat of a Yotam Ottolenghi obsessive. By day I pore over his Guardian columns and cookbooks in lieu of legal journals and judgments; by night I (occasionally) attempt his recipes. Personally, I blame B. We've both been raised to be big Yotam fans: I've frequented his Westbourne Grove deli since childhood; meanwhile, at B's home, the well-thumbed Ottolenghi tomes take pride of place on the kitchen shelves. Since we've been together, our predilection for his cooking has only intensified, and six months in, I thought it would make perfect sense to visit NOPI. And I knew I'd made the right move when we walked in and I glanced over at B. A priceless face.
Walking in, you're greeted by a familiar sight (if you've visited any of the Ottolenghi delis): mountainous salads piled high, with jewel-like cakes glinting temptingly at their foothills. However, a quick glance into the belly of the restaurant makes it clear that this is a much more formal affair than Ottolenghi's other outposts. The space is characterised by elegant simplicity, boasting a streamlined palette of minimal whites and golds which provides a tranquil backdrop for the exuberant colours and flavours of the cooking, which takes centre stage here - naturally.
Vibrant tonics to revive us after the initial fangirl/fanboy moment: carrot, ginger and apple juice for him; a lychee and grapefruit cooler for me.
This pretty much sums up our facial expressions for the entire meal (right from the moment we walked in, as I said above) - fixed in a state of dazed joy, thrilled to be in the restaurant of the great man himself. Oh dear.
I'm always helplessly drawn to okra when I see it on a menu and I was pleased with this rendition: retaining a fresh crunch, bathed in a very Asian-tasting sauce predominantly flavoured with chilli and lime.
Smoky beef sirloin strips with black garlic and mustard seeds. I was charmed by the presentation here and loved that there wasn't a great deal of meat on the plate, reminiscent of Bruno Loubet's Grain Store. For me, the real star here was the salt-baked avocado mousse which managed to hit almost meaty notes itself in its brackish, creamy flavour, managing to both cohere perfectly and provide a seasoning for the other elements on the plate.
Rainbow trout with yuzu kosho labneh. When it came to the table I couldn't help smiling as I could immediately imagine us making this at home. There was a real sense of delicacy with the choice of ingredients here - samphire, peas, smoked bacon - lots of different elements, each working to deliver a flavour boost to the dish rather than lapsing into an unformed morass. The actual fish was cooked to perfection, with the labneh on top delivering an extra note of fascination, creamy with a citrusy kick imparted by the yuzu. I usually pass on trout in favour of salmon when shopping for fish, but I'll be sure to try cooking with it more often from now on. Consider me a convert. Trout and proud. Yes, I said it.
Courgette fritters. I was expecting something akin to Byron's tempura strips but was pleasantly surprised with these little ovoid babes: crispy on the outside and perfectly smooth on the inside, the courgette filling given a little lift with chunks of Manouri cheese and squeezed lime. The cardamom-infused yoghurt dip on the side was a thing of beauty. These were wonderfully comforting and strangely didn't feel too sinful - the rationale for my love for Ottolenghi in one sentence.
Tempted by twists on the classic Eton Mess such as sumac and rosewater, we chose strawberry mess for dessert. This was undeniably beautiful, and refreshing on such a warm September day. However, it was probably the dish that left the weakest impression on both of us. The sumac was hard to trace until we mined to the depths of the glass and found it in the dregs; it didn't bring much to the pudding overall except a slightly granular bitterness. Next time I think I'll be a little braver and try Yotam's take on tau fu fa, a Malaysian pasar malam (night market) staple.
An inadvertently yet happily colour co-ordinated B.
We left NOPI feeling satisfied in the knowledge that we could continue to worship at the Ottolenghi altar with a clear conscience. However, I'd warn other would-be diners that this is by no means a cheap eats joint (as you'll know if you've ever visited Ottolenghi's delis, you pay handsomely for the quality of the food). In fact I'd say some of the prices felt a little high for a restaurant touted as a brasserie; B and I felt this was reflected in the restaurant's patrons, the majority of whom seemed to have at least two decades in age - and affluence - on both of us. For two die-hard Yotam fans, though, it was completely worth it, and I know we'd both go back in a shot. For now, we'll have to content ourselves (and our bank accounts) with the Guardian food columns. This week's tagliatelle with mussels, clams, tomato and arak looks particularly enticing. Time to persuade B to cook it for me...
21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE