6 June 2011

NOPI, London – Restaurant Review

I’ve always loved going to Ottolenghi. When I lived in London it seemed no Sunday would be complete without a stroll up to Upper Street for a spot of lunch at their Islington branch. There by the window would be the most beautiful array of dishes from their unique menu of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/Asian fusion dishes. I loved the food, the simplicity of the design, and the communal tables. And I always, but always made sure I left room for cake (see here for my favourite).

Nopi is the latest offering from Yotam Ottolenghi and Noam Bar, half of the founding team of the wildly successful Ottolenghi mini-chain of restaurants. The name seems to come straight from the estate agent’s handbook and is short for ‘north of Piccadilly’. But doesn’t that area already have a name? Oh wait, yes, it’s called Soho, which is short for, erm, Soho. Dodgy naming aside, this is one restaurant that certainly doesn’t need a fleet of liveried Minis to succeed. It’s simply great.

From the outset Nopi was designed as a more upscale version of Ottolenghi's casual eateries, and architect Alex Meitlis has created a glamorous space with plenty of marble, brass trim, and white brick tiles. But don’t come here expecting starched white tablecloths and silver cloches. Instead expect the same wonderfully vibrant fusion food and minimalist design but with everything turned up a couple of notches. If restaurants were people then Nopi would be the more refined and elegant older sister to Ottolenghi – Kate to Pippa, Kylie to Danni … erm … Joan to Jackie.

Nopi is open all day serving everything from the first cappuccino of the morning right down to a last Vin Santo for the road. The kitchen is presided over by Aussie/Malaysian head chef, Ramael Scully, formerly head chef of Ottolenghi's Islington branch. Some 70% of the dishes on Nopi's menu are his creation. The restaurant is split between two levels; a basement houses large communal tables with prime views of the chefs working in the open kitchen, while the ground floor is home to a more traditional dining room. It was here that Mrs. Nibbler and I were seated at a cosy table by the wall.

The menu is simply divided into sections titled “veg”, “fish”, “meat” and “sweets”, with around half a dozen or so dishes available to order from each. As currently seems to be de rigueur for any new restaurant in London, sharing plates are the order of the day here. I generally like this idea; it means you get to sample a wider variety of dishes, although it does usually tend to lead to higher bills. We were advised to select three savoury courses each, which proved a pretty difficult task given how everything on the menu seemed to tempt us.
With a zingy and fresh grapefruit and lychee vodka cocktail in hand, we were served slices of sourdough bread with olive oil and a dip of cocoa beans, tahini and pomegranate seeds. Think of it as turbocharged hummus with pretty pomegranate jewels that burst satisfyingly between the teeth. It was delicious, but very filling.

The food arrived three dishes at a time in no particular order. Chargrilled broccolini with smooth skordalia (a Greek garlicky potato mash) and chilli oil (£8) was a tasty riff on perhaps Ottolenghi’s most famous vegetable dish – chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic.
Twice-cooked baby chicken (£7) was a revelation in its simplicity and purity of taste. Chicken pieces had been boiled and then grilled, leaving them juicy on the inside but with crisp charred skin. A liberal sprinkle of lemon myrtle salt and a dip in a sweet and sour chilli sauce really lifted the flavours. This was a dish to get your hands dirty with as you picked every last morsel of meat from the bones.
Next, one of the standout dishes of the evening – softshell crab (£12) had been coated with panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It was served with a coil of green tea noodles, pea shoots, and a small bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping. I adore softshell crab, so this dish was always going to be a winner in my book. The panko crust was extremely light and crisp and gave way to the juicy and steaming hot crab beneath.
A little pause, and then the second lot of three dishes arrived. Chargrilled octopus (£10) was another star dish. Here were pieces of grilled octopus that remained perfectly moist and tender with absolutely no hint of rubberiness. Beneath this were fat rounds of crumbly morcilla (Spanish blood sausage with rice), while a wonderfully smokey salmorejo sauce made from tomatoes, garlic and bread tied everything together nicely.
Then some slow-cooked pork cheeks (£10) that came served with a celeriac and barberry salad. One bite of this was enough to induce my own little ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ moment. Succulent nuggets of pork flaked at the slightest touch of the fork and were coated with an intensely rich glaze. The crisp tart salad balanced things up nicely. Wow! What a dish.
Last – but by no means least – of the main courses was yet another stunning number. A skillet contained seared prawns that swam in a sauce of tomatoes, fennel, white oregano and feta cheese (£12). It was a heavenly dish. I was sceptical of the feta at first but it served as a sort of seasoning, adding a creamy saltiness to the dish. The prawns bordered on being overwhelmed by the aromatic sauce, but the balance of flavours was absolutely spot on. We mopped up every last drop of the sauce with our remaining bread.
As full as we were by now, we still couldn’t resist desserts. My dessert of doughnuts, plum wine anglaise, and berry compote (£7) was OK, but nothing special. The waiter had recommended this dish without hesitation so I was expecting something a bit more special. Mrs. Nibbler’s roast hazelnut and chocolate ice-cream scoops came with a warm chocolate sauce (£6.50) and tasted pretty much how you’d expect it to taste. Both were solid desserts, but without the fireworks of the previous main courses.
Throughout our meal, service was wonderfully friendly and efficient. I struck up a pleasant conversation with Basia Murphy, Nopi's restaurant manager, where we had an enthusiastic debate about shakshuka recipes (a Middle Eastern egg dish). Nopi uses red peppers in their version, whereas I believe this to be sacrilegious! It was all good fun and light hearted, and one thing that became apparent was just how passionate the Nopi people are about food. It was also nice to spot Yotam Ottolenghi at a neighbouring table enjoying dinner with friends and presumably putting his mouth where his money is.

Much has been written about Nopi’s prices and I can see why. The total bill for two came to a surprisingly expensive £167 (including service), although half of that cost came from booze alone (two cocktails and a rather nice bottle of La Négrette from Le Rocher des Violettes). The high price did seem a little out of whack for the laid-back style of the place, but I had a great time and enjoyed some wonderful food, so I suppose it’s worth it.

In summary though, Nopi is one of those feel-good places, where enthusiastic service comes with a smile and small plates of food come with big, bold flavours. It is a place you can’t help but like and I, for one, will certainly be back for more.

Food:        8 / 10
Service:     8 / 10
Ambiance: 8 / 10

21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 9584
NOPI on Urbanspoon
Square Meal


  1. All of that looks amazing! One to look out for when I am next at home. Thanks! Emma

  2. The dishes you had sound really great. I am put off by the prices, which do seem high for this kind of offering, but perhaps will pop in at some point and try just a couple.

  3. Tremendous stuff. Looks like you had a memorable feast.

  4. Hi Emma - it's well worth a visit when you're next in town.

    Hi Kavey - agree, prices do seem on the high side. It would be great if they offered a cheaper fixed price lunch option.

    Hi Jonathan - very memorable indeed, there's such a nice "feel good" vibe about the place.