Travelling for work gives you only a short amount of time to pick the activities and things you want to do when you do get back into London. Picking which places to go and eat is already a challenge even without the travel – new places constantly open up, and even ones that seem pretty good surprisingly shut down ever so frequently. A few places of recent received some good reviews, and so decided to catch up with a good friend at Nopi – the new eatery set up by famed vegetarian restauranteur Ottolenghi.
Fear not, brave reader. Unlike his other self, named vegetarian outlets, this one serves meat for those that cannot go one meal without it.
This is a restaurant that earns it service. As soon as we arrived, our waitress immediately brought bread to the table. It’s cut fresh from the huge loaves of sourdough that are noticeable as you walk into the entrance.
The menu is clear and simple, with many tempting offers. Fortunately (and unfortunately) they change the menu fairly frequently. One of the very good dishes recommended by others (the beef croquettes) wasn’t on our menu, though pleased to see several others were. Vegetarians will still delight, as their choices sit centre stage along with the meat and the seafood dishes. For me, it’s a bit hard to describe where all the flavours come from. It almost seems a little confused. Mediterranean ingredients, fused with Moroccan spices, uplifted by asiatic spices and sauces.
We had a table close to the door, although well placed so that you’re out of people’s way when they walk in, and you can appreciate the rest of the dining room. The restaurant is modern and airy, though not particularly bright (my photos requiring fairly high ISO levels and definitely needing the image stabilisation). Bonus points to them for not placing tables so close that you’re literally sitting next to people at the next table and the acoustics great so that you’re not having to shout across the table.
An impressive soft napkin surrounded by a large gold ring sits on top of the plate in front of you when you arrive.
Bread served with a great tasting olive oil, and an amazingly delicious roasted beetroot dip. You can see the ginger and the yogurt on top, and I could taste elements of cinnamon and cardamom although we were told it had a “Moroccan spice blend” added to it. Unlike other places, they didn’t have any problem offering more of the soft, chewy and delightfully crunchy crusty bread to mop up the rest of the dip.
Rather than starting with a prosecco, out waitress offered a pineapple martini. Strong in flavour and a great way to clean the palette, these extremely strong cocktails provided a way to start the appetite going.
They recommend three dishes per diner, and highly recommend sharing plates between, so we did as they suggested. This was pretty easy given a number of recommendations from other reviewers. The kitchen and attendants know how to serve their dish with three dishes arriving first and just enough to fill up our table. Any more and the pressure to fill our plates and get through the food faster would have soured the dining experience. We took our time eating these three plates before the next set arrived.
The twice cooked baby chicken was a little bit of a disappointment. I heard mixed reviews when ordering it, and if given the choice again, would have tried something different. Our main problems with this dish turned out how dry the chicken ended up despite its sweet sticky soy glaze. The accompanying seasoned salt and chilli paste, whilst good additions, did little to address the dryness of the meat. This dish definitely had potential but failed when we tried it.
My dining companion appreciated the artichoke dish. Freshly cooked served with crumbled feta, some grains and freshly shucked beans turned out to be a refreshingly balanced dish.
My favourite of our first three dishes was definitely the aubergine. Served with fine slivers of chilli, pomegranate, and grilled before being split and topped with micro greens. Utterly delicious with the good balance of char, heat and sweetness working its magic.
After reading about the pork cheeks, this was one dish I had to have. Pork cheeks are naturally super soft and when they were braised as they came, turned to be one of the softest melting flesh full of flavour. They served it withs some “noodles” made out of celeriac and some other herbs.
I was a bit indifferent about the carpaccio that proved a little bit too light tasting and had a lot of things going for it. I would have preferred something with a bit of a stronger flavour. Nice though.
The other dish I’d definitely order again is the prawns. Served with a richly deep tomato broth, this dish was probably one of the best value for money with four huge prawns in a sauce desperately waiting to be mopped up by more of the sourdough bread (also offered again). It comes in a nifty little pan as well.
Here’s a picture of the prawn although I’m not sure if you get a real sense of how large it is.
Up for desserts, I went for the much raved about pineapple galette served with coconut ice-cream. It’s the perfect tropical balancing act between hot and cold, and the pineapple chunks, perhaps soaked in something with pandan essence used to bridge the two elements of this dish perfectly.
The other dish was a peanut butter brittle chocolate dish, much heavier though chock full of flavour. I only had a small taste of this dish, and what a dish it was.
I’ll say that dining at Nopi isn’t the cheapest dinner you’ll get in London. Our four dishes each, bottled water, 5 cocktails and 2 coffees later averaged about £80 including service. However what a great dining experience it was. Service was exactly how it should be – there when you need it, things topped up and taken away when you’re not. Even though we were booked in for two hours, we did stay a little bit longer and never felt like we were being shooed away. Not all the dishes worked perfectly, but most of the dishes did. Those that did work were pretty spectacular as well.
Found at: 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE