Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1
Has deli king Yotam Ottolenghi struck gold with his equally opulent restaurant?
Sunday 06 March 2011
Let's start with the loos. I know it might not seem very enticing, but they are worthy of mention, and once I get on to the food there'll be no stopping me.
My friend Tessa visits the ladies' early on in the proceedings and comes back raving. The loos at Nopi are divine: a room made of mirrors set at different facets, which shoot your reflection back at you into infinity, and beyond. Push a gilded handle and your own private loo is revealed where, mercifully, you don't get a 360 view of your backside. It's super-glamorous and beautiful – not at all what I was expecting from the very elegant, but minimal, upstairs dining-room.
Nopi is the first restaurant proper from Yotam Ottolenghi, the chef behind the eponymous delis around London and two very wonderful cookbooks. Ottolenghi's particular skill is in marrying the food of his native Israel with a wider range of incredible textures and flavours from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia. To compile a take-out box of goodies from one of the four delis is to fulfil a culinary fantasy, but it don't come cheap. And Nopi doesn't veer from that tradition.
The restaurant is on Warwick Street, just north of Piccadilly Circus (hence the name). The long, narrow room is completely white, with tiled walls, marble floor and a long bar at the back. The blond-wood tables have white paper tablecloths. The only flashes of colour are gold – something of an emblem for Nopi, in which the "o" is a gold ring, which turns up giant-sized outside, on the waiters' collars and as napkin rings.
The menu is divided into meat, fish, veg and sweets. Would you be surprised to hear the theme is sharing plates? Thought not. Prices range from £6 for green beans with hazelnuts and orange to £12 for such dishes as ossobucco with sage and Parmesan polenta. On my first visit, the three of us take heed of the menu's instruction to order three savoury dishes per person and have (deep breath) that ossobucco, twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce, grilled lamb cutlets with spicy aubergine and goat's cheese, seared scallops with pickled daikon and green apple, grilled hake kebabs with lemon pickle and yoghurt, prawn toasts with ginger-and-cucumber dipping sauce, braised winter greens with tahini yoghurt, fondant swede gratin and savoy cabbage, and burrata with blood orange and coriander seeds. There are so many "wow" moments that to detail each would take up pages. So, from a stellar line-up, the scallops are just so, with a crisp, tangy salad – we could have eaten double. The prawn toast, cylindrical rather than in the traditional triangles, is a million miles from tacky take-out. The chicken is succulently moreish, while the lamb is wonderfully tender and pink, complemented perfectly by the smoky accompaniments.
A cooling ball of the formaggio attualmente, burrata, is heavenly. The hake, actually a cake (but rhyming is a bit naff on a menu), reminds me that this meaty, strongly flavoured fish deserves more attention. The vegetable dishes are uniformly soothing – if I was a vegetarian, I'd be very happy to eat here.
With a bottle of £25 Valpolicella from a list that includes the sections (Volcanic, Lesser Knowns, Gamay for All), it's a very satisfying – as in satiating – experience.
Tessa and Jamie choose the puddings: a fragrant cardamom rice pudding with rose syrup and pistachios, an impossibly thin pineapple galette with an unusual coconut ice-cream that rivals Heston's grilled pineapple for deliciousness, and churros with fennel-seed sugar and hot chocolate that is the only bum note: cold churros and overpowering gritty fennel is a shame as a finale.
The buzzing atmosphere, dazzling food and attentive staff make Nopi a very attractive proposition – but dinner has cost us £182. For food at this level of cooking, the price is not unreasonable, but it does elevate it to an occasional, special occasional, treat. Back for lunch, to see if we can get away with a lower bill, we three choose a little less and no wine, and spend £100 for an equally delicious spread – of which beef brisket croquettes with Asian slaw and mackerel with peanut salad are the stand-outs.
I'd love to make Nopi a regular haunt, but for that to happen, I need to join the ranks of the stealthily wealthy, like my impeccably tasteful table neighbours.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Nopi 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1, tel: 020 7494 9584 Lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat; lunch, Sun. About £100 for two, including wine
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2011' www.hardens.com
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