Nopi is a London institution – it has been around for a while and it is the sit-down version of Ottolenghi’s casual grab and go outposts. I like Ottolenghi. His food is tasty (though usually overpriced) but I had never tried Nopi.
My mother was visiting from Brazil, and she said that the one thing she wanted to do was to go back to Palomar, as she loved it when she was here last time. Since I am not the most obedient daughter, and had just been to Palomar two weeks before, I decided to take her to Nopi instead, claiming that it would be much better to open our horizons. Luckily, she agreed, and more importantly, was not disappointed.
It was a last minute decision to have an early dinner there before heading to the not to be missed Ai Wei Wei exhibit at The Royal Academy. I have actually had several bookings at various times that ended up getting cancelled for one reason or another, and one of those was with my mother on her last visit to London.
The restaurant is bright and there are various seating options: the more traditional upstairs dining room, the more casual counter seating, which is what we did to try to replicate our Palomar experience with the downstairs communal table.
What we ate:
Cauliflower with celery and hazelnuts: this sounded amazing but it was slightly bland. Maybe I was dreaming of the joperized cauliflower steak at Palomar when I ordered it (a big head of cauliflower baked in the josper oven and served with a steak knife, no meat in sight). I wish the florets had a bit of a char and were firmer, and they were also in need a bit of salt and seasoning. The pomegranate seeds were a nice touch, and the herbs on top added some freshness.
Aubergine: it is shocking how much my perception on this goopy vegetable has improved. My mother loves it, so we ordered it and I really, really enjoyed it. It was nicely roasted and prepared with almond yoghurt and almond flakes and mixed flavours in a creative and interesting way, we devoured it.
Sea trout, koji rice, watercress pesto, sheep labneh: the fish was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin but pink on the inside. I couldn’t really find the koji rice on the plate (and it was not missed) but the pesto was green, vibrant and had a nice almost crunchy texture. Delicious!
Valdeon cheesecake, pickled beetroot, almonds and thyme honey: my friend Claire had recommended this dish and it sounded fantastic. Sadly, my mother is borderline diabetic and can’t eat things with sugar and they said that the honey was blended into the savoury cheesecake. Mom convinced me to order it still and said she would take a bite. All the other dishes came out very fast (almost too quickly) as they are pre-prepared (and showcased at the entrance when you walk in, Ottolenghi style), but this dish takes longer as it’s baked in the oven in a copper pot. The texture is a blend of cheesecake and soufflé and despite it saying honey, it is really not that sweet at all as the valdeon is a subtle blue cheese was the star ingredient, so Mom could share it with me after all. The beets sit on top and are beautiful and al-dente, while the cheese is tasty and has a nice crust on top. A really fantastic dish and one I started craving the moment we left the restaurant.
We skipped dessert, in spite of how good the peanut and caramel ice cream with hot fudge looked in front of our table neighbours sat next to us, but I wanted to go to Gelupo for their seasonal chestnut and chocolate gelato…..
In sum: simple and delicious food and a great spot for pre-theatre or quick healthy lunch or dinner in Soho. I actually think it would be even better for lunch, as the restaurant is primarily bright white and feels more like a daytime place as opposed to a dinner ambiance. I also went recently to Palomar for lunch and think it has a much better vibe at dinner, so I would say: Nopi for lunch and Palomar for dinner (but not on the same day)!
Nopi London http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/nopi/