Monday, 25 August 2008

22.08.08: Out to Ottolenghi

On the way to a friend's gig, we stopped in at Ottolenghi, which We believe originated the practice of displaying heaps of impossibly gorgeous and varied veg salads next to stacks of impossibly gorgeous meringues, tarts and cakes to lure innocent passers-by. Their menu and window dressing have been imitated in lesser cafes all across London.

Fun fact: It was their broccoli salad that inspired Her to try
stirfrying broccoli on high heat for that yumsome charred flavour, and for that We are forever grateful.

He had actually booked us a spot at the long communal table, where we ordered a series of small dishes to share - they don't really do main-sized plates, apparently.

Broad beans and peas with globe artichoke, parsley, thyme, pink peppercorns, and preserved lemon...Seared tuna with a pistachio crust served with wasabi sour cream...

Marinated roasted aubergine
with chilli, coriander, oregano and green tahini...Grilled pears, red endive, rocket, fried manouri cheese and caramelised macadamias with an orange blossom and balsamic dressing...

...and, most unusually, dessert. Lime-infused cheesecake with roast strawberries, plus a white coffee for Her and a latte for him. (Can you tell We didn't manage to snag a dessert menu?)

HE SAYS: The atmosphere at Ottelenghi is informal yet slightly snobby, but the food is fantastic and where else can you order 4 cold salady starters and call it a meal? It's like posh salad tapas. Everything tastes very fresh and they have a knack of putting a new spin on your average tired vegetable selections.

Apart from the tuna which may have been out on display a little longer then perhaps it should, the quality was great. My fav dish being the aubergine with the ever-so-moreish tahini dressing. Unlike Her, I really enjoyed the broad bean plate; admittedly, broad beans can often taste like feet on a hot day but these had a springy texture and were slightly sweet.

I wasn't expecting any dessert and the cheesecake was not anything spectacular, tasty but not either inspired or different from what you'd get at any restaurant, which is a shame 'cause I love what they do with macaroons and meringues.

SHE SAYS: The first thing I ever had from Ottolenghi, some years ago, was their chilli cornbread. the sight of it stopped me cold: cornbread in London? Unheard of. And if it was a little dry, it had lots of cuminy, spicy goodness in its favour. The triple-salad takeaway boxes, if not exactly a deal, made for exceptionally gourmet grazing.

So - I heart Ottolenghi's food. But I don't like it for a sit-down meal. This was my second time, and again I found it an oddly sterile experience. Service was v. good, and the overall effect of the decor is a sort of candy-glazing, which is not unpleasant in my book. But the minute I sit down I want to leave. Shrug.

On to the food:
Best by far was the grilled pear salad - that dressing was utterly amazing, I think I actually opened my eyes wider when I tasted it. (And I just realised we have orange blossom water hiding in the cupboard...oh yeh, baby.) The manouri cheese was like baked ricotta, quite nice for sauce-sopping.

I liked the tuna more than Him, though it was not special. The 'crust' was damp and bland, and the wasabi cream somewhat timid. Still it was nice to have a slice of properly dark, rich tuna.

Was not impressed by the broad bean salad, except for the happy inclusion of preserved lemon, but then broad beans are that rare legume I don't care for - they're like hard lima beans on steroids. The aubergine was tender but not mushy, and the sauce was a few notches above your average hummus, with a nice fresh note of herbiness.

Finally, I was feeling grumpy and ordered dessert at the last minute by way of mood elevation. It was a little chalky, but had good lime flavour.

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