London: OttolenghiFebruary 5, 2015
63 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2AD
Bonjour from Paris! I’m currently on holiday in Europe (which explains my length of absence from the blog) with my brother Alex. Prior to Paris, we spent ten days in London hitting up the museums, street markets and, of course, restaurants. I’ve got plenty of delicious things in store in a series of London posts – I hope they’ll be useful to anyone who is travelling there in the future. I might also post a list of all the places I’ve had recommended to me by reputable sources, but that I didn’t get to visit.
First up is a favourite of mine from Notting Hill: Ottolenghi. Cafe and foodstore, it’s run by chefs and food authors Yotam Ottolenghi and business partner Sami Tamimi. Many of you will know that I am a huge fan of Ottolenghi. Like, a serious, girly fan that went weak at the knees when hearing him speak at a Wheeler Centre event in Melbourne last October. I had a bit of a moment walking into his chic cafe on Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill (i.e. I lost my shit) and took so many photos I think I embarrassed myself. But anyway, they’re here now for your viewing pleasure!
Ottolenghi’s big thing, the thing that has launched him into the kitchens (and hearts) of so many is his focus on vegetarian food. It began when he agreed to write a weekly vegetarian column for the Guardian, and panicked after about six weeks when he realised his vegetarian repertoire was pretty limited. Forced to experiment and be creative, he’s become quite the expert at coming up with original and interesting flavour combinations. There’s a rumour that, visiting one of his London cafes, he once removed a plate of food and brought it back to the kitchen because he wants all his food to “smile”. Probably just a rumour, yes, but it’s a great idea all the same. Food that smiles is something I can definitely get around.
True to form, the food was absolutely grinning when we arrived on a cold and drizzly London afternoon, to pick up some lunch. The salads, prepared in the kitchen, are then laid out on enormous platters and displayed on a tiered table in the front room. The front window is similarly covered with a mountain of cakes and patisserie (Ottolenghi originally trained as a pastry chef, which explains the very precise instructions and technique in his cookbooks). If you’re lucky enough to get a table at the communal table, you can eat in, but most people tend to get a box of salad to take home or to work. Plenty of choices, including my favourite, the roasted aubergine with tahini yoghurt, pickled beetroot, dukkah and dill.
Similar to the aubergine, there’s a roasted butternut squash salad with lime yoghurt, chilli and coriander.
Slightly more substantial is the salad of basmati rice and puy lentils with cumin, lemon, fried onion and mixed leaves.
Alex chose a little box of the basmati rice salad, and some of the roasted baby potatoes with lemon, mint, red onion and gem lettuce. The baby potatoes were especially delicious. As many salads as you like can be mixed into a box, and price is calculated by weight, so you can pick as much or as little as you like.
There is a limited range of meats available, like this roast free-range chicken with saffron, paprika, thyme and red onion. Rare roasted beef with horseradish and grilled salmon also feature. If words like ‘free-range’, ‘saffron’ and ‘puy lentil’ aren’t enough of a hint, this is an up-market sort of place, so don’t come expecting a bargain. Do come expecting absolutely delicious, fresh food.
And then there are the cakes. Oh lordy, lord. Hip to head height was this huge table loaded up with all sorts of delicious cakes and slices. It was incredibly tempting to say, ‘one of each, please!’, but I managed to restrain myself. I think I’ll let these photos speak for themselves.
The cafe also sells Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (natch), and many other foodie goods made under the Ottolenghi brand name. Jams, relishes, biscuits, muesli and meringues – you name it, he’s made it!
Back at home, we laid out our lunch and tucked in.
Alex, in typical boyish fashion, got a spiced meat pasty to go with his salads. It was really delicious, with Moorish spices and beef mince, and a really buttery, flakey pastry.
Here is my mix of salad: clockwise from the front is the roasted aubergine; mixed green beans, peas and edamame with confit garlic and sesame seeds; char-grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic; and roasted red and yellow peppers with green chilli salsa, red onion, goat’s cheese and pumpkin seeds. All were delicious, with the broccoli and aubergine being my particular favourites. The mixed green beans salad is very similar to a recipe he has in his latest book, Plenty More, which I cook from regularly.
Finally, dessert – a blackberry financier with mascarpone cream and pistachios, and a white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry. Both were fantastic, my favourite being the silky smooth cheesecake.
As we were visiting some good friends in Somerset later that week, we also bought a little packet of cranberry and oat biscuits which I hope went down well.
Another day we popped back to Ottolenghi late in the afternoon and had some coffees with a pair of cakes.
Alex had the lemon and blueberry tea cake with a fresh lemon icing, which was light and summery.
I couldn’t go past a piece of the plum and rhubarb meringue cake. A crisp shell of meringue on top of a simple cake with slightly sour plums and rhubarb – extraordinary. If this post hasn’t convinced you to visit Ottolenghi, I don’t know what will. His food is fresh, modern and unbelievably tasty. And the best part about having salad for lunch is that you feel deserving of a cake for dessert!
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