As soon as I entered NOPI in Soho, I couldn’t help but smile. The restaurant was filled with happy chatter, golden light washed through the large windows into the bright white space and in front of me were large platters of multi-coloured salads, huge crusty loaves and fresh flowers.
Just look at that golden cauliflower, succulent aubergine and the jewel-like pomegranate seeds. Are you smiling too? NOPI is part of the Ottolenghi brand, but unlike its deli-style sister restaurants, it’s a little more formalised and brasserie-like with no take away counter and a restaurant upstairs with a less formal communal dining room downstairs.
The restaurant was decked out floor to ceiling in white with a few pretty organic touches such as the bark-like side table, light wood furnishings and just a touch of gleaming gold in the fittings. A relaxing space filled with people sharing vibrant food, sipping cocktails and enjoying a chilled out weekend.
Though a true blog addict never takes time off.
Mr Silver and I took a window seat as our friends Thashnee and Glen arrived for our double lunch date and catch up on all our latest news.
Every weekend tipple has a purpose doesn’t it? A beer to relax into the weekend, a Bloody Mary to cure a hangover from a crazy Friday night and a prosecco for a sophisticated lady that lunches ;). NOPI has a menu consisting mostly of Middle-Eastern and Asian inspired small plates and a few larger main course dishes, making it ideal food to share.
First off a few slices of those wholesome crusty loaves were delivered to our table accompanied by some fragrant olive oil.
From the nibbles section we ordered a platter of crudities and avocado dip… the dish looked like a beautiful garden and with a light coating of oil and seasoning, it was so much than just a plate of raw veg.
Nearly all our dishes came from the small plates or starters section and they arrived in a relaxed fashion – it’s my pet hate when tapas-style dishes arrive at your table all at once – and though the restaurant was busy, the staff didn’t hurry us and we were left to enjoy our food and really take our time.
The food at NOPI has been described a ‘sunny’ and did you ever see a dish with such a golden sunshine-y glow as this crisp and crunchy roasted cauliflower bejewelled with pomegranate seeds?
Roasted aubergine with garlic and basil was the next bold Mediterranean dish.
Chef patron Yotam Ottolenghi hails from Jerusalem, and his food reflects his Middle Eastern upbringing but has many influences outside his own culture. He’s particularly famous for combining Israeli food with Mediterranean and Asian flavours, taking ideas and ingredients from here and there to create something new and wonderful. I’ve mentioned before my Jewish heritage and love of Israeli food and I really enjoyed trying Ottolenghi’s reinvented versions of these dishes from his homeland.
The courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yogurt are one of Ottolenghi’s signature dishes and were innovative yet homely and comforting and just one example of the ‘harmonious contradictions’ at work at NOPI. The philosophy at the restaurant is food that is simple yet daring, exciting yet familiar. You may have also noticed that every dish so far was vegetarian, and that’s because Ottolenghi champions vegetables for their versatility and flavour giving them equal priority to the meat and fish dishes on the menu. Though we didn’t try all the vegetable dishes I loved the look of the diverse combinations of the produce on the menu with several options suitable for vegans too.
Our first non-veggie dish was scallops with endive and pork; the use of yuzu in the apple puree shows the Asian influence at work in Ottolenghi’s cooking. The plump scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned but a little lukewarm, though that could have been due to our slow pace.
The trout was my favourite and definitely a dish that made me smile, it was served with Koji rice, watercress pesto and sheep labneh; the flesh flaked apart beautifully and it was perfectly tender and rare on the inside.
From the selection of meat options we chose a robust and hearty short rib with smoked beer glaze and horseradish; not one for me but loved by Mr S.
Twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce was so popular on our table that we had to order another one. It’s actually available as a larger portion too, which I’d suggest as a good option for a table of chicken lovers.
As we were happy with sampling the sharing plates we only chose bigger main course option: a whole sea bass stuffed with grapes and topped with tomatoes. The flavours of the dish were surprising but wonderful, I didn’t expect to enjoy the sweetness of the accompaniments so much. The fish was a tiny bit over done but with such beautiful flavours coming through this didn’t actually matter too much.
Mr S was the only person to have a dessert, choosing to finish off with a small portion of chocolate with orange oil and creme fraiche; a light end to the meal.
I popped down stairs to take a few photos of the communal dining area which is also a shop selling produce and Yotam Ottolenghi’s best-selling books entitled Plenty and Jerusalem. Down here you can also peek into the open kitchen…
Which is full of smiles too!
The food a NOPI certainly is ‘happy’ food, bright colours, healthy fresh ingredients and bold flavours…the perfect food to share with friends.
21 – 22 Warwick Street
020 7494 9584