North of Piccadilly
Ooooh yes, Nopi is right up my street. Well, not exactly geographically speaking, since it involves a bit of a trek from where I live into the West End, but as much as I moan and groan at having to make my way by public transport into the crazy anthill in the city centre, once I’m there, it all turns out to be very worthwhile indeed.
A completed prior appointment in that neck of the woods makes me very early for my lunch meeting with my friend, a charming German who has lived in London for 12 years and who works as a dentist in Carnaby Street. She’s an interesting and attractive young woman, highly skilled at her job, with a holistic approach to dentistry, an interest in cranial osteopathy and other progressive complementary treatments, and of a seriously esoteric bent, which makes our conversations fascinating, enlightening and inspirational. There’s always something to be learnt, discussed and evaluated, so time absolutely flies by whenever we meet up. Today we are here to celebrate her 12 year London anniversary and I’m flattered that she wants to share such an important date with me.
As I wait over a coffee at the long bar at the back, I’m treated exceptionally nicely by the bar staff, who go out of their way to make me feel comfortable. The restaurant is fresh and clean looking, predominantly white with copper accents, and very busy with a warm and welcoming vibe. Compared to Yoram Ottolenghi’s other small café type eateries, this one is bigger and a tad more formal, but still easy going and unpretentious. His mouthwatering salads are in evidence, of course, but here the menu offers up a lot more variety and all of it incredibly tempting. It’s perfect for grazing, with lots of sharing dishes, but can also satisfy those who wish to eat in a more conventional starter, main course, pudding sequence. Most of the fare here has a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean slant and a strong emphasis on vegetarian food, but there are also some very good sounding fish and meat options, which stand up in their own right rather than being a token nod to carnivores. Just reading the menu makes me feel quite spoilt for choice.
When my friend arrives and we’re seated at a cosy table for two along the wall, we start chatting. There’s so much to catch up on that our waitress needs to carefully nudge us several times to take our order. As we both have similar preferences, we decide to share our food. We order Roasted Butternut Squash, Tahini, Pine Nuts and Za’atar (Middle Eastern herbs and spices) and Courgette and Manouri ( a goat’s or sheep’s whey cheese) Fritters with Cardamom Yoghurt from the Vegetable Section, and Chickpea Pancake, Spiced Peas, Tomato, Pickled Chilli and Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) from the Mains section. There are so many other things that are sorely tempting, like the savoury Valdéon Cheesecake, the Burrata with Peach and Coriander or a gazillion other yummies, but it’s only lunchtime and we mustn’t let our hungry eyes overrule the capacity of our stomachs now, must we?
The food, when it arrives, is faultless. Not just that, but it is insanely delicious! This is seventh heaven! The tastebuds are tickled with a magnificent combination of textures and tastes, everything is perfectly spiced and seasoned. The crispy little fritters with a squeeze of lemon juice are beautifully offset by the cool and smooth cardamom yoghurt, the slightly sweet and mushy, but not too mushy, butternut squash combines well with the crunchy pine kernels and lightly spiced peas, with the tahini giving it just that little bit of nutty moisture to save it from being pappy. And the chickpea pancake! Wowzers! Chickpea and chilli are a divine match, highlit by the fruity cherry tomatoes. There’s truly no way in which this food could be any better or more tasty. Every mouthful is a thrilling discovery, thoroughly satisfying, completely exciting and utterly joyful.
We gobble it up with glee and then sit there smiling from ear to ear in a state of out and out bliss. And yet, unbeknown to us, the absolute pinnacle of deliciousness is still to come. The Coffee and Pecan Financiers with Maple Cream may not look like much on the photo, but they are so wonderful that they defies all superlatives. Moist and spongey with a good kick of coffee for character, slightly warm, and dipped into the only very slightly sweetened maple cream, these are a fingerlickin’, eye rolling, orgasmic culinary pleasure. When the bowl is empty, we almost feel like crying that it is all over so soon. I have been day dreaming about them ever since. In *******credible!
After two and half hours of fabulous conversation and mindblowing food – what a great combo!- we get the bill. At £67.50 including some bread to nibble on, two coffees, a bottomless mint tea and service charge, it may not be the cheapest lunch for two in London, but it seems a mere trifle considering the amazing quality and taste of the food we have just eaten. Service has been smiley, helpful and efficient. Will I be back? The sooner, the better! You can bet your last Coffee and Pecan Financier on that!
Nopi is an all-day restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, apart from Fridays and Sundays, when it closes late afternoon. The menu changes regularly and seasonally.
What I wore
Salt and pepper cigarette pants from Reiss, white Baukjen double bell sleeved shirt, oxblood Hermes belt, oxblood Jimmy Choo high heels, dark red vintage bag.
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