Saturday, January 14, 2017


For our London trip, we planned on frequenting mostly casual spots, but we did set aside one night for a "nice" dinner at Nopi, a more formal Ottolenghi spot located in Soho. Visiting an Ottolenghi restaurant was a must for us, and when we looked at the menu for Nopi before our trip, we wanted to eat everything on it, so making a reservation was a no-brainer. Nopi has two floors, a more formal upstairs and a communal dining room downstairs. We made a reservation for downstairs, thinking it would be a little more casual, but when we got there, they offered us a choice and said we could be seated faster if we were okay with sitting upstairs. If they had no problem seating us upstairs, then that was fine with us!

We had a short wait before being seated at our table, and while we waited at the bar, they brought over a board with two small cups, one with marinated olives and one with roasted spiced nuts. We weren't sure if there was a charge for them since both were on the menu and at least £5 each, so we were hesitant to start eating them. When we got to our table, the server let us know they were complimentary because we had to wait. That was fantastic hospitality and very unexpected, especially since the wait wasn't long at all. The meal was off to a great start. A ate most of the olives, since M isn't a huge fan, but she did try a few. Like most olives, they were salty and sour, and in this case, also a little bit spicy. The cup of nuts seemed to have quite a variety in it. We spotted macadamia nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts, and cashews with lots of spices and seasonings that we couldn't quite identify. They were really good.

They brought out some bread and olive oil once our orders started to arrive. It was two pieces of something like country bread, and the olive oil was really, really good. We expected nothing less from the olive oil from an Ottolenghi spot considering their focus on quality and Mediterranean flavors.

The menu at Nopi was split up into nibbles, mains, and small plates to share, the last of which comprised the majority of the menu. We decided to order one item from the nibbles, but otherwise concentrated on the small plates so we could try as many things as possible. From the nibbles, we got the mixed seed lavash with burnt spring onion dip (£6.5, all prices as of a year ago). The lavash was very crispy and covered in a variety of seeds, including black and white sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and many some others that we couldn't identify. The burnt spring onion dip was a dark greenish-gray color, similar to a black bean dip, and garnished with some pieces of scallions and microgreens. Both the lavash and dip were really tasty, and we made sure to finish the entire thing, even wiping up the remainder of the dip with the aforementioned bread. We especially liked the dip, full of onion and scallion flavor, nice and smoky.

Outside of the nibbles, we had five other plates and they split them into two rounds of three dishes and two dishes. They tried to match up things that they thought would go well together, and we thought they made very good choices. One of the dishes in the first set was the "roast aubergine, black garlic, broad beans, basil" (£8.9). There was also yogurt and pine nuts but those weren't listed on the menu line. We loved this dish. The aubergines were soft and tender. The flavor of the basil was so incredibly vibrant, unlike a lot of the basil we buy in the grocery store which can sometimes be a little dull. The yogurt was creamy and a little tart. We liked the garlic chips, the pine nuts, and everything worked so well together. The whole dish just tasted really fresh, really light, really clean, and it was the type of thing that we have pretty much always thought would come out of an Ottolenghi kitchen.

The next thing we tried were the scallops with apple yuzu puree, endive and pork (£12.9). Although we saw these on the menu and they sounded good, they didn't immediately jump out at us as a "must order" dish. Then the dish arrived at the table next to us, and the dish smelled so amazing that we had to order it. The dish had three large scallops, perfectly cooked, little bits of pork, soft roasted endives, and both apple and yuzu purees, together on the plate but not blended together. We tried the purees on their own and they tasted strongly like apple, but when we ate them together with all the other parts of the dish, the apple wasn't anything more than an accent. The balance of all the ingredients was just perfect, and this was one of our favorite dishes of the night. The scallop dish was so good that it made M's top 10 list in 2015.

Fish was our final plate in the first round of dishes, seared hake with roast chicken cream and pickled girolles (£12.9). We weren't sure what girolles were, but looked them up online and found out they were chanterelles. There were also peas which were not listed on the menu. We liked the fish, but just not as much as the scallops which were on the table at the same time. We couldn't place the flavors or small seeds in the sauce that the fish was cooked with, but the chicken cream was like a really thick, rich chicken gravy. The peas and mushrooms helped to balance out the dish, providing some fresh and light vegetables alongside the chicken cream. Even with all the cream, the dish felt pretty light, even though it was filling. It also felt very seasonal for the fall.

The first dish in the second set was the courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yoghurt (£11.5). This was the first thing M saw on the menu when researching the restaurant, and she was immediately sold on them. Each of the three fritters had grated zucchini that was mixed with chunks of manouri cheese, formed into a conical shape, and then fried. These were rich and creamy because of the cheese, but lightened up a little bit by the zucchini. The cardamom yoghurt was a little bit tart, but also had some warming spice to it. We liked this, but not as much as we thought we would. Maybe we were already getting full, maybe we were spoiled for everything else because of the amazing scallops, or maybe our expectations were too high, don't know. They were really good, but just not the star of the night we thought they would be.

The last savory dish was the twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce (£10.9). This was also listed in the mains section at £21.9 where they gave you a whole chicken, but we went with the smaller portion. The chicken had both dark meat and white meat, and the flavor was smoky and sweet. The chilli sauce provided a little heat (but not too much) and also some sweetness. It was like a sweet chilli sauce you can buy in the store, but not as sweet. M recognized the name lemon myrtle from native Australian week of the cooking challenge, but we didn't really taste anything but salt from that ingredient. That said, on the whole, the chicken was so much better than we anticipated. We really liked the flavors.

Once the savory courses were done, we moved on to sweet. With our desserts, A got a flat white, which he liked.

We got two desserts. The first was strawberry mess, sumac, rose water (£8.5). M was immediately drawn to that one. She didn't know what a strawberry mess was, but didn't really care because the listing of strawberry, sumac, and rose water combined three flavors she really loved. It also seemed in line with the Mediterranean flavors that we had been enjoying all night. What came out of the kitchen looked like a scoop of strawberry sorbet, rose water meringue, whipped cream, sumac, and pomegranate seeds, topped with edible flower pieces. M's favorite part was the strawberry sorbet on top. It tasted like wild strawberries, and had such a pure strawberry flavor without extra sugar. The rose water meringue pieces were a little bit on the hard side. We tasted some sumac in the whipped cream, but not much. After doing some research, we realized that this was their take on the typical Eton mess, which Wikipedia describes as a "traditional English dessert consisting of a mixture of strawberries, broken meringue, and whipped heavy cream." Without even knowing it when we ordered it, we were trying out something traditionally English.

The second dessert was roast pineapple with macadamia nuts, lemongrass, coconut cream (£8.5). This was pretty good. The pineapple was roasted and a bit caramelized. The coconut cream was fine, it tasted like whipped cream hinted with coconut milk. M preferred the pineapple without it, but A liked it much better with the pineapple than M. The more interesting of the two desserts though was definitely the strawberry mess.

Overall this was an excellent meal. It didn't come cheap, but we didn't expect that it would. We were very glad that we were able to try all the dishes that we did at the restaurant, and we would highly recommend a visit. Whenever we get back to London, we may choose a different Ottolenghi spot just for some variety and to try new things, but if we had a lot of time, we would go back to Nopi. The food was excellent, the service was wonderful, and the entire experience was great.

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