Ottolenghi, Islington: A Pilgrimage
I took my mother to the Ottolenghi in Islington for her birthday. To us it was more than just another trip to another eatery, it was a pilgrimage. My mother owns the Ottolenghi recipe books which to her are more like food bibles. She loves the flavours and variety of recipes they hold and delights her family and friends with creations from it. She even created an Ottolenghi inspired menu for a wedding she catered for in the summer of 2011.
The food at Ottolenghi is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and Middle East. The philosophy is to experiment, invent and approach food from all angles in order to make it ‘even tastier, more sensual and vibrant’. Everything is made from scratch, no preservatives are used and food isn’t spoilt by freezing or refrigerating for too long.
We arrived at Ottolenghi and were blown away by the vast array of stunning cakes that adorned the window. We promptly joined the queue (which we had been warned about) and eagerly awaited a table. As the queue moved into the restaurant our senses were heightened by the delicious smells coming from within. To our left was a feast for the eyes… big mountains of food which was being served that lunchtime.
The setting and atmosphere
As soon as you enter the restaurant you are offered a drink and are immediately made to feel like a well valued customer by the friendly and approachable staff; this is really important when people were queuing for around 40minutes. The same friendly face gave us the day’s menu to look at, which immediately left our mouths watering and stomachs rumbling. After that it didn’t take long for us to be shown to our seats. Visitors dine communally around one long table at the back of the restaurant. There are also a few tables of two should you be going for a romantic meal. Initially, were a bit unsure about the communal dining but we left converted after we spent half our meal having a good old chin-wag with a couple sat next to us.
Choosing our meals was difficult, if we had enough stomach space we would have ordered one of everything. In the end we decided on a selection of breads to start then the three salads with a main (meat, fish or tart) reasonably priced at £16.50. A sample of what we chose was:
Roast Aubergine with turmeric yoghurt, fried onion, curry leave, mustard seeds and coriander
Red cabbage, beetroot and apple slaw with red onion, walnut, mixed herbs and cinnamon
Roasted sweet potato with burnt aubergine yoghurt, pomegranate, nuts, seeds and spring onion
Roasted cauliflower with red peppers, coriander sauce and rosary goats cheese
Seared English fillet of beef with sour cream, grain mustard, horseradish and rocket sauce
Each mouthful was a step into heaven, total bliss and nirvana. The volume of complimentary flavours and textures in each bite was astounding. We were constantly muttering ‘yum’. Even the olive oil to accompany the bread was delicious. We were totally blown away. Despite our high expectations Ottolenghi somehow managed to exceed them. It was totally faultless: clean simple decor, beautiful looking, smelling and tasting food followed by friendly staff and efficient service 10/10.
Unfortunately for us it was a case of ‘eyes bigger than our bellies’ which meant we had no room for desert but, luckily for us all food and cakes can be bought and taken away. We bought some cakes to take home, by which time we were ready for more. Of course these were as fantastic as our main courses.
Our bill came to £50 (excluding service and cakes) this included 2 of the normal sized mains, 2 soft drinks, a glass of prosecco and a glass of dry white wine; our selection of four cakes cost about £10. It is fair to say, and I think you will agree, that a visit to Ottolenghi won’t break the bank.
Ottolenghi was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best meals of 2011 and well worth the queue.I would even go as far to say that it is my favourite restaurant to date; everything I ate the week following that visit tasted bland and lifeless. Nothing I write will do the food justice so you will just have to go and try it yourself. If you can’t reach Islington then there are three other Ottolenghi branches in London for you to try, however Islington is the one with the sit down restaurant.