Tingled tastebuds and punished wallets
“From our little kitchens underneath the shops, using an abundance of fresh produce and an outrageous attitude to cooking, Ottolenghi offers a unique culinary experience: original food and pastries, all made daily on site and displayed generously within a beautifully designed setting.”
Yotam Ottolenghi is one of those chefs that everyone has heard of, and for good reason. His food is true to his heritage, uses ingredients you can’t wait to eat and always looks stunning. He now has 4 outlets in London, Notting Hill, Belgravia, Kensington and Islington. His Upper Street restaurant in Islington is busy all day long, with regulars as well as people who were just walking past, saw the food on display in the window and couldn’t help but pop in.
After flicking through one of his cookbooks I booked a table for 6. Ottolenghi is not a restaurant to visit often, unless you’re made of money. For most, it’s a place for special occasions and this was a birthday.
As you enter there is the counter area, full of cold savoury dishes as well as cakes and desserts with the dining room situated at the back of the space. We were sat at the end of the long, central communal table which is dim and candle lit in the evenings (there are smaller, separate tables for couples). We ordered a round of Kia Royales while we looked over the menu. Our waitress came over and explained that everything was starter sized, so we’d probably need 2-3 dishes per person. This was a bit scary, as the dinner menu averaged out to about £10 a dish and aside from the cost, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to split a starter portion between 6?!
The menu was split in to two sections, counter and kitchen with seven or eight dishes on each. The counter dishes being those that are on display at the front of the restaurant and the kitchen dishes being cooked fresh and served hot from the very capable kitchen team. As well as several bottles of wine we ordered pretty much everything on the menu.
The Islington restaurant has daily changing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus but you can expect things like Glazed pig cheeks with apple stuffed tail and celeriac and barberry salad, Roasted aubergine with Iranian lime yoghurt, pomegranate seeds, spicy nuts and mixed herbs and Five spice crispy tofu with tomato and cardamom passata, braised aubergine and pickled lotus root, which I’m sure you’ll agree all sound mouth-watering!
Every dish was fantastic, beautifully flavoured and perfectly cooked but they really do mean starter size, the portions were an issue as we could only have a mouthful of each dish and not even that in some cases, there were only 4 scallops between 6. By the end of it we still had plenty of space for dessert. A few of us got up and wandered through the restaurant to scout the dessert counter and reported back. Again, these were delicious.
Then came the bill, with a thud. Drinks and service included it came to £75 a head, which was a huge sum of money considering I was still hungry. I hate leaving restaurants hungry but frankly, my wallet couldn’t take any more punishment…
Great food, service and atmosphere but if you want to go for dinner then save it for a special occasion, like when you win the lottery so you have enough money to really make it worth while. Alternatively go for breakfast, a light lunch or coffee and a sweet at the weekend. Would I go again? Absolutely, but I’d probably have a snack at home first!
Photograpghy by Keiko Oikawa.