Review: Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi's Adventure into combining Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine with a European twist
Nopi is the new buzz of Soho and the brain child of Ramael Scully, head chef, and Sarit Packer and Yotam Ottolenghi, executive chefs. The modern decor of Nopi with shiny brass fittings, marble and white washed walls and open kitchen (in the basement), befits the brasserie's eclectic feel. The Nopi headline is that it “tyically” specialises in bringing together Middle East and Asian cuisine in a casual, but stylish brasserie ambience. The dishes are mezes style (small plates) priced between £8 and £12. The restaurant recommends three dishes per person. We chose:
- Seared scallops, pickled daikon, green apple (£12)
- Grilled sea bream, fresh coconut, mint and peanut salad (£9)
- Burrata, blood orange, coriander seeds (£7)
- Raw brussels sprouts, oyster mushrooms, quail eggs (£9)
- Ossobuco, sage and parmesan polenta (£12)
- Brasied lamb meatballs, yoghurt sauce, pomegranate seeds (£9)
The perfectly cooked cushions of scallops were considerable in size and served with a crunchy salad of bitter radish, peppery daikon, tart apple and topped with sweet chilli jam. We chose an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Laurenz V 2009 (£7.25 per glass) to accompany the seafood dishes. It was a perfect choice. The refreshing and mild hints of grass and spritz of lemon suited the light, delicate scallops and salad, but was also complimentary with the spiciness of the jam.
The succulent grilled sea bream was beautifully fluffy yet firm. It would have been amazing had it been served on its own. The coconut in the salad was a little too subtle, but the crunch of peanuts (in a spicy brittle) and heat of the chillies saved it from blandness. The real crowd pleaser are the mint leaves, which are a stroke of genius. Bravo! Again, the Grüner Veltliner in its satisfying, versatile white wine capacity, was a formidable accompaniment to the meatiness of the sea bream.
The ball of Burrata (mozzarella and cream) had a satin, soft texture and as you can image was amazingly creamy. The crisp breads were subtly spicy and the sweetness of the blood orange was just the right tone. Too much citrus and tart and it would have overwhelmed the rich cheese. The drizzle of olive oil and smattering of coriander seeds were the final elements which tied the dish together. Heaped on a the crisp bread with a leaf of watercress you had no idea where it would take you, but it worked.
At this point we were scratching our heads (in a metaphorical, not unhygienic kind of way). What the hell were we eating? Italian, Japanese, Asian. The list went on. We were having a confused moment from the eclectic dishes. We felt we should take issue, but every plate we had tasted to far was fun and interesting. We were enjoying the taste sensation surprises. We noticed there were no salt or pepper mills on the table. It pleased us. It meant that Ottolenghi had wanted the dishes to taste just as presented, seasoning and all. In addition, when the plates were presented to us the waitress advised against trying the ingredients on their own. Rather, she suggested that to make the dish “pop” we should try a soupcon of each element of the dish. Her advice was well received.
Next up were the brussel sprouts. You may not believe that we readily chose this, but we did. We love brussels and Heston's method of cooking them involved shredding so we thought why not? Continuing the head scratching and gormless looks of disbeliefs, the dish consisted of meaty oyster mushrooms, rich beads of poached quail egg and shavings of nutty Spanish manchego cheese. It has never occurred to us to eat raw brussels, but the salads composition was very smart and came together like the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra playing Metallica. Again, it just worked, incongruous warts and all.
We had problems choosing our wines as the range of flavours of our dishes meant that it was hard to pair accurately. In the end we settled for an Italian Monte di Grazia, Campania 2007 (£39). This thrilling wine is made from old vines, so as you can imagine was very robust. The aroma was astonishing; caramalised sugared cream. On the palate one could taste minerals, leather but also plums and dark berries. We figured that even if it did not pair well with our choices, it would at least be delicious.
Ossobuco, a braised veal dish with vegetables was the penultimate of the tapas dishes. The veal was tender and soft in a warming subtle spiced sage coating. The polenta had a citrus zing along with the flavoursome parmesan. Last but not least were the lamb meatballs, which were imbued with cinnamon, cumin, pinenuts and sprinkled generously with droplets of ruby pomegranate seeds. The spiced yoghurt coating itself caused a division in the ranks. Keith loved it, whilst I thought it tasted cheap. For me, the spice did not infuse with the yoghurt, but sat on it, rather than in it. It is a shame really, as this meat balls look mouth watering. I think the solution is as simple as the chefs blending the spices into the yoghurt better.
For desserts we chose churros, fennel sugar and hot chocolate. The churros were slightly overcooked. They should be crispy on the outside with a light fluffiness on the inside. Nonetheless, we had great fun dunking into the pot of velvet chocolate and then dipping in the fennel. I am fussy about fennel, mainly as I do not enjoy liquorice, but the flavours themselves came together very well. If they can perfect the doughnut cooking process, they will be on to a winner.
The other dessert we chose was chocolate, peanut brittle, mace and crème fraiche. If menus were advertisements, then there would have been several complaints to the British Advertising Commission. The chocolate was actually a cakey dark chocolate mousse, which was fine, but nowhere on the menu was the word “mousse” used. We also expected chunks of peanut brittle, but instead it had been beaten within an inch of its life. The crème fraiche was unoffensive but did not add anything to the dish. Together, it was a little disappointing after the ingenuity of the mains.
Nopi is amongst one of the most interesting restaurants we have been to in a while. We are not sure for how much longer they can continue selling it as “typically” Middle East meets Asia, as there are many other strong regional influences on each of the plates. Each dish was an experimental delight and we love to see Chefs break the rules and succeed. This was not a food scientist moment, rather the musings of a cupid chef who encourages foods of all genres to indulge in each other. The service was slow to commence, but our waitress was polite, friendly and well versed in selling the dishes. By the way, enjoy the toilets, they are hauntingly strange in a Japanese horror film way, but again it is all fun, fun, fun– and it will put a smile on your face.