Let me be the first to say that I am a fan of all things Ottolenghi; his cakes make regular appearances in my dreams and my final meal on earth would end in the delights of his passion fruit tartlet topped with meringue. Despite his last book 'Plenty' being entirely vegetarian (slightly disappointed as I wasn't aware) I am a loyal fan and eagerly anticipated the opening of Nopi. I visited Nopi during their soft opening, where a 50% discount was extended to all diners allowing me to try as many dishes as I liked. With my fellow Ottonlenghipiles in tow, we reviewed the menu divided simply into meat, fish, vegetable and dessert categories.Carpaccio of rose veal and beetroot with Kashk (Dried whey, a common Persian ingredient) was pretty good although the kashk was overly diluted by yoghurt and lacked the intense saltiness familiar to me. Scallops with pickled daikon radish and apple were nicely caramelised and though soft on the inside, imparted a slightly unpleasant fishy aftertaste in my mouth which felt they like had 'stewed' rather than the desired searing expected. I was more hopeful of our lamb cutlets with a spiced aubergines and goat cheese but the cutlets were rather lukewarm and although the aubergine was delicious (similar to Sicialian Caponata) it didn't do much to mask the excessively rare nature of the lamb and the worryingly solidified stretch of cold fat on one of the cutlets. Fortunately the second cutlet fared a little better and combined with the aubergine salad and a bite of the goat cheese, made for an explosion of Mediterranean flavours.
Sea bream with an accompanying salad of fresh coconut, mint and cashew was less successful; the fish was overcooked and chewy and the salad a little too bland for my liking. But the slow cooked pigs cheeks with a celeriac and barberry salad were fantastic although I find myself asking why almost every dishes comes with a salad? A nice, smooth root vegetable puree would have been a better pairing with this kind of braised meat in my opinion. Twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce was nice but not as tender as I would have liked although the lemon myrtle salt was a zingy and aromatic revelation.
Next up came a whole ball of Burrata cheese with blood oranges topped with coriander seeds. This dish just didn't work for me; the coriander seeds interfered with the creamy (dreamy) flavour of the Burrata and the blood oranges didn't have enough of a presence to warrant being a component of the dish. I also like my Burrata to ooze; that's the whole point of Burrata. When you break it open, a cream like substance usually pours out and in this case I could only liken the cheese to a very soft-centred buffalo Mozzarella. The giant prawns with oregano, feta and fennel were excellent. Proper grown-up, meaty prawns with sharp feta cheese and a delicate tomato sauce. Excellent.
Desserts were a very different affair and not only did the dessert portion of the menu read disappointingly but the churros my companions selected were rock hard on and weighty and the look of the chocolate didn't do much to invite me to taste it. Considering Yotam Ottolenghi is a bit of a cake-God, I'm surprised to see that the sweet section of the menu consisted of little more than a Financier cake, some ice cream, quince with quince paste (overkill, perhaps?) and churros.
Overall I feel the food was a bit hit and miss and perhaps thats the trouble when you are trying to move from deli-style shops to a formal restaurant. In a deli you can afford to pay less attention to the overall cooking of meats and fish as they are often purchased cold but when cooking to order, you need to get it right. Expect to pay anywhere from £8-£12 per dish which is fine except for the fact that the dishes are "Small and good for sharing" and with 3 dishes recommended per person, plus dessert and wines, you could be heading for a rather huge bill at the end.
I do largely believe that many of the menu 'wrinkles' will be ironed out in the coming weeks and in time, the menu will evolve accordingly and find an even keel that suits both the restaurant and it's patrons. Would I go back? Yes I would but I would much prefer to go midweek for a quiet late lunch, grab a paper and head downstairs to the communal bar table and eat informally whilst I watch the chefs work there magic as I pretend to read my newspaper. Yotam Ottolenghi is a man of many talents with many successes under his belt. I sincerely hope he stays sufficiently invested and hands-on in his businesses and doesn't spread himself out too thinly as he is the real magic behind the Ottolenghi brand and without him things don't quite have the same sparkle.
Nopi - 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE
Tel: 020 7494 9584