21-22 Warwick Street London W1B 5NE - 020 7494 9584
I first encountered the food of Yotam Ottolenghi on a balmy summers lunchtime a number of years ago, back when I was interning at Temperley. Round the corner from the idyllic cobbled mews was the equally idyllic west London "local cafe." Between the towers and turrets of sweet treats I glimpsed ladies lunching on perfectly pink seared meats, and milling around the towering mounds of assorted rainbow vegetables tousled in nuts and herbs. It was a beautiful sight. Real live food porn, compelling you to buy buy buy! And I did and have been doing ever since, because the food always tastes as good as it looks. So when the winning formula is spun on its head and dishes are sold on the traditional restaurant confines of written words on a menu, will the offer still be as attractive?
Prior to my visit to this spot just north of the bustling Piccadilly, I had most commonly heard of it being recommended as an excellent destination to brunch at, which now I am guessing is because your pretty penny will be a bit more stretched here. Perhaps it's the gold trimming and marbled floor we are paying a extra for, however any grumbles are laid to rest as the food is equally as excellent as any other Ottolenghi outpost, each dish is a gloriously vibrant medley of flavours, spanning influences from across the Middle East and Asia. I particularly like the ode to the beginnings with a small shrine of salads at the front, teasing each customer in further to smell, wanting to touch and order.
The menu is aimed to attract a crowd who could be after a nibble or a full on chow down at any time of day, so there are a handful of hearty mains but there is a heavy sharing dish bias. Where re orders and additions can easily be made, we followed suit quite happily. Starting with the unleavened crackers, lavosh which were covered in a trio of seeds and served with charred aubergine and sweet red pepper. The prawns tasted as if they had a dose of teriyaki treatment, sticky and sweet but hinting at smokiness from the bacon sauerkraut. A similar savoury sweetness appeared on the cod dish, but only in a dash through the velvety creamed corn and juicy cod but then reappeared in the chunkier form of the corn kernels and cured sausage pieces.
Ottolenghi is known to make even the most dedicated of carnivores stray and eat, dare I say a wholly vegetable based meal! This runs true at Nopi, the ricotta stuffed courgette flower drizzled with molasses was a joy as too was the asparagus, samphire and nigella seeds. Even the side salad deserves a mention; true, it was just a collection of herbaceous leaves but it was remarkably fresh and full of punch, with sweet bitterness from the intact stalks.
I almost forgot about the turrets of perfectly swirled meringues as pudding came, a spiced apple tart with mint invigorated pineapple and vanilla ice cream, another mini trip to an exotic land in a matter of mouthfuls. With the last gulp I was still unable to answer my own question of what has this fancier outpost offered that is positively different to what is already known and loved. The setting is more lavish but not in an over imposing way with the staff all smiles, there is the absence of picking up a cheeky piece of macadamia cheesecake. Though the food is just as exciting, having the ability to transport you to markets and lands you wish you had already known. I admit defeat, the food holds its own and that is good enough for me!