From Yotam Ottolenghi’s deli outposts to his chic Soho restaurant, we sample the culinary delights of the Ottolenghi empire on a recent trip to London.
I’ll admit I’m a bit of an Ottolenghi fan-girl. For years I’ve been cooking up a storm with cookbooks Jerusalem and Plenty, drawn to recipes brimming with bold flavours and show-stopping vegetarian dishes that prove vegetables are more than just a side dish. His style is characterised by Mediterranean flavours with a Western twist, vibrant vegetarian food and rustic yet beautiful dishes designed for sharing. Meanwhile, if you whip up one of his exotic desserts for a dinner party, you’re guaranteed to be the most popular person in the room.
Yotam Ottolenghi is a celebrity chef based in the UK who writes a regular food column for The Guardian. His series of foodie television documentaries have left me dreaming of trips to Israel, Morocco and the Greek Islands.
On my most recent visit to London I endeavoured to finally dine at one of his restaurants. The Ottolenghi empire extends across London with chic deli-style cafes in Notting Hill, Spitalfields, Islington and Belgravia. All of which are airy, light-filled spaces offering fresh takeaway fare and (limited) communal dinning in a casual environment.
Platters of heavenly salads such as pomegranate eggplant, tahini roasted pumpkin and fragrant Middle Eastern couscous are presented in generous heaps. Salads are often coated in full-flavoured dressings, he does not shy away from rich olive oil, lemon, tahini or pomegranate molasses. Choose which medley of vibrant veggies to be piled onto your plate, and perhaps a serving of tasty meat, grilled fish or a savoury pastry. They also sell crusty breads and focaccia.
The highlight for me is the dizzying array of mouth-watering sweet treats displayed by the window. Exceedingly pretty cakes, delicate tarts, crunchy cookies and enormous meringues are what dreams are made of. Favourites of mine are the velvety flourless chocolate cups with caramel and almond brittle, the icing-drizzled lemon and polenta cake and the rich cherry and vanilla cheesecake. It’s almost impossible to choose! The coffee is very good, and even better when paired with a treat.
Your goodies ought to be enjoyed on a quiet bench in a nearby London park. The food is undoubtedly expensive, but you’re paying for handsome, high quality food.
Nopi is an upmarket, sit-down brasserie in Soho brought to you by Ottolenghi and his long time collaborator and head chef, Ramael Scully. The restaurant is spilt into two levels; the formal upstairs dining and the communal dining downstairs where you can watch the chefs at work from canteen style tables. The beautifully bright and minimalist space can be described as Arabic chic. Opulent flowers, brass fittings, Ottoman style ceiling lights, sleek marble tables and an open bar complete with an expansive golden bench-top.
There is an eclectic selection of wines and a strong focus on organic and biodynamic drops. The lengthy cocktail list is also enticing, and when in Soho one ought to indulge.
The menu is seasonal, but trademark items often appear such as the courgette fritter accompanied by cardamon yoghurt and twice-cooked baby chicken seasoned with lemon myrtle salt and chilli jam. A favourite of mine is the coriander seed-crusted burrata with slices of sweet peach and plum wine (pictured below).
The menu is designed for sharing and there is a variety of small dishes to sample that will please everyone. It’s fantastic to see so many exciting vegetarian options that take the centre-stage in terms of presentation and flavour. Dessert is equally appealing, such as the beautifully balanced strawberry mess, sumac and rose water.
I can safely say that after sampling the delights of Ottolenghi at both his casual London outposts and his fancy Soho establishment, I am still as much a fan as ever.
You can purchase a signed Ottolenghi cook book from the stores if you’re inspired make something fresh and tasty at home. Nopi, the latest cookbook of the series which contains recipes of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is now available for pre-order.
You can also visit www.ottolenghi.co.uk
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