Posted on Friday, 19th March 2010
I can never resist the patisserie delights at Ottolenghi. Whenever I walk past the branch on Ledbury Road in Notting Hill, I invariably end up gazing longingly through its shop window at all the treats on display and walking away with one a few minutes later. But Ottolenghi does much more than the sweet stuff. There is also a savoury selection at the display counter, and at the Islington branch (there are also branches in Kensington and Belgravia), there is a laid-back communal dining area, furnished in white, where you can choose from a menu (Islington is the only branch to offer this serviced dine-in area).
This menu is updated daily, and is split between dishes from the display counter and those ‘from the kitchen’. The dishes are all starter-sized, and so Ottolenghi recommends that you order three dishes per person. There were 15 choices on the menu on the evening of our visit (the menu is updated daily), and as there were 5 of us, K came up with the excellent idea of ordering all 15 dishes for us to share. I love to share! And I love to taste lots of little things, so this was ideal for me.
We started with the dishes from the counter selection. A line-caught seared tuna (£8.80) wrapped in nori (seaweed) and panko (breadcrumbs) was resoundingly fresh, and given a burst of life from the gentle heat of an accompanying wasabi cream.
The flavours of a grilled pear salad (£7.80) with pecorino and spicy macadamia nuts were heightened by a wonderfully aromatic orange blossom dressing.
Roasted pumpkin (£ 7.80) was delectably spiced with a light coating of curry. It was served with mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes, a fragrant basil sauce and fried manouri (a Greek cheese) which provided a savoury counterpoint to the natural sweetness of the pumpkin.
Char-grilled fillet of English beef (£8.80) with a coriander and mustard sauce was cooked to medium rare perfection.
Marinated roasted aubergine (£6.80) was perfumed by a mixture of sweet soy, chilli, spring onions and sesame seeds.
To the ‘kitchen’ section of the menu. Steamed razor clams (£9.30) were extremely tender and tasty, and were enhanced by lots of lovely fresh herbs, delicate pieces of samphire and a decadent creamy sauce.
Pan fried sea bass (£10.80) was cooked beautifully. Adorning the fish was a mixture of olives, pine nuts and parsley which, with its saltiness, slightly overpowered the sea bass.
Stuffed courgette flowers (£9.80) were exquisitely crispy. Filled with a lovely mixture of ricotta and goat’s cheese, it was finished with a delicate date syrup.
Generously sized pieces of succulent king prawn (£10.80) went swimmingly well with a buttery sauce rounded off with arak (an aniseed flavoured distilled alcohol), garlic, tomatoes and black olives.
A dish of baby aubergine (£9.80) was tasty, and worked well with the accompanying chickpea and tomato sauce, feta and coriander. However, I would have preferred the aubergine to be slightly softer.
Succulent chicken livers (£10.80) with seared mushrooms were soft and juicy. They came with a lusciously creamy sauce that had been sweetened with caramelised onions and finished with a touch of chilli which gave the dish a certain bite.
Pan-fried quail (£10.80) melded beautifully with some caramelised pears, mograbiah (pearl couscous), pine nuts and tarragon.
Desserts were also a dream. Clafouti (£5.40) with roasted rhubarb and blueberry was delicious, and had the texture of a light and airy sponge with a custard filling. A ricotta baked cheesecake (£5.40) was velvety smooth and was elevated by a topping of gooey caramel and crunchy macadamia nuts. A passion fruit meringue tart (£4.40) came with fluffy meringue and a zingy passion fruit filling.
It was hard not to be impressed by the food at Ottolenghi. We had 15 savoury dishes (I have touched on most but not all of them) and everything we ate was highly enjoyable. There were some wonderful flavour combinations and lovely contrasting textures. There were probably more sweet flavours coming through than what might normally be expected from a standard savoury menu, eg, the caramelised pears, the date syrup in the courgette dish, the caramelised onions used in the chicken liver sauce, etc. Spicing was done with a Mediterranean flair, and the ingredients exuded freshness and quality. Desserts were delicious, and the quality that we sampled throughout the large range of dishes that we had suggested a high level of consistency at Ottolenghi.
Given that the menu has such a large selection of salads, Ottolenghi also makes a great restaurant choice for vegetarians. Choosing everything on the menu was a nice way to explore what it has to offer, and I thoroughly recommend going down this route if you have a large group. Service was very good too and the pricing is reasonable. It’s a special little place, and with its large range of salads, it will make for an especially great place to eat as the weather gets warmer.