Are all good things worth waiting for? I certainly hoped so since my (many) previous attempts at going to Nopi have been thwarted by a variety of strange reasons. Even the table booked at Nopi for my birthday this year got cancelled in the total disaster that day eventually became. Not a birthday I shall ever look back on fondly, that is for sure. So when my dining companions both cancelled for different reasons on the morning of my most recent booking there, I laughed. In between banging my head repeatedly on the wall. What does it take to eat at Nopi, I wondered? Mr D, it turns out, who saved the day by rather gallantly volunteering to come with me.
Nopi is run by Yotam Ottolenghi and team, a chef whose cookery books I swoon over regularly in Waterstones. The inside of the restaurant is a riot of white with accents of gold. After the mayhem of a Thursday night walking amongst the late night shoppers on Regent Street and the din of after-work drinkers spilling onto the payment from the pubs along Beak Street, Nopi’s white tablecloths, napkins and whitewashed exposed brick walls are a welcome respite for the senses. The upstairs (ground floor) is occupied by the restaurant and the downstairs dining area houses a long communal table right in front of the open kitchen giving it a slightly more relaxed feel. We sat upstairs in the restaurant and liked the fact the tables are not set too close together.
The menu at Nopi is split into three sections of ‘Vegetable, ‘Fish’ and ‘Meat’. They suggest that you order three savoury dishes per person. Before we visited I thought this might be too much food but the dishes are quite small and agree this is the right amount to order. We chose two dishes from each of the three sections to share between us. I had contacted Nopi in advance about my dietary restrictions (no gluten or almonds) and they had provided me with a copy of their gluten free menu. With the exception of one dish which required adapting (more on that later), most of the menu was naturally gluten free so it was easy for Mr D and I to share dishes.
I even got my very own printed gluten free menu listing all suitable items!
From the vegetable dishes we chose a salad of green lentils, shaved beetroot and radish and a dish of roasted aubergine with black garlic, harissa and pine nuts. Unfortunately we had to send back the lentil dish. This was the only dish on the gluten free menu which required adapting, to remove the small spicy croutons which the regular version was served with. Although we’d discussed adapting the dish with the waiter, we were initially sent the crouton-containing version. Fortunately before I’d tasted any, eagle eyed Mr D had spotted the croutons so we sent it back and a replacement was brought.
From the Fish section we chose a dish of seared organic prawns, feta, fennel and Pernod with a second dish of baby octopus, skordalia (a Greek garlic dip) and ras el hanout spices.
From the Meat section, we chose Roast Rib eye, baby leeks, pickled ginger, coriander and chilli salsa (because anything with leeks will always get my vote) and twice cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce.
For dessert I went for caramel and roasted peanut ice cream with chocolate sauce. This was a seriously good dessert; a grown up verison of adding sprinkles and chocolate sauce to ice cream.
Mr D also went for a dessert from the gluten free selection, a chocolate hazelnut slice, mahlab (an aromatic spice from ground St Lucie Cherry) and cherries. Unfortunately since this contained hazelnuts I couldn’t taste it but it certainly looked fabulous.
The dishes were served to us two by two starting with the vegetable dishes. I enjoyed every dish immensely. Looking back the real stand out dishes for me were the aubergine with black garlic and harissa. This reminded me of the first time I tasted baba ganoush, cooked for me many moons ago by a Lebanese friend, just like his Mum used to make. Smoky and intense. Until then, I had no idea that aubergines could taste so good. I could eat Nopi’s aubergine dish every day and never tire of the deep flavours or texture of the pine nuts against the molten, smoky aubergine. The seared prawns with their hit of Pernod was also a revelation. I am not usually a fan of aniseed but I thoroughly enjoyed how this flavour came through at the end of each mouthful.
I particularly liked the concept of eating small dishes of highly flavoursome food where you can focus on a central ingredient along with complimentary but bold and robust flavours in each dish, all the while enjoying a good bottle of wine over a long chat. The wine list deserves a mention for its interesting and unusual selection.
Yes, Nopi was most certainly worth waiting for. I just hope I don’t need to wait as long for my next visit.
Rating: 8.5/10 (would have been higher were it not for the mistake with the lentil dish and the absence of any gluten free alternative to the bread Mr D was brought. It would be fantastic to have some gluten free bread to mop up stray prawn and Pernod juices with)
Cost: £130 (Dinner for two with dessert and including 2 glasses of Prosecco and a bottle of wine)
Address: 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE
Opening Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Check the Nopi website for full opening hours
Booking in advance highly recommended