I had already arranged, with D and his Mum (a real “Ottolenghi type”, according to our waitress at NOPI- D’s mum wasn’t sure whether she should be flattered by that but we tried our best to reassure her), to go to Islington Ottolenghi on Saturday 26th Feb. When I heard that NOPI was officially opening just two days prior to that I leapt online and swiftly amended our plans.
After finding their blog online about how the build was going and photos of them getting ready for launch, my excitement levels began to peak at an earth-shattering pitch. Come Saturday morning I had a fixed grin across my face for most of the morning.
We met up at NOPI around 1:30pm for our reservation and were greeted warmly and enthusiastically by the hosts. The style of the restaurant, I imagine, has been designed to feel like a ‘step up’ from the Ottolenghi eateries, but without stepping WAY off brand and into a terribly anally retentive fine-dining territory. All in all, it’s clean, it’s bright, it’s not too loud, and it’s perfect for a Saturday afternoon. Plus, the most obvious benefit over the Ottolenghi eateries is that you don’t have to join the back of a queue of 800 gaggling yummy-mummies, normally with impossibly large prams, to wait for a table.
We were shown to our table and greeted by our charming waitress. I struck up a slightly over-enthusiastic conversation with her asking how the first week had been and ‘dropping into conversation’ how I’d been keeping track of the progress on their blog etc. She must have felt the way celebrities do when fans eagerly dash up to them only to then find themselves completely dumbfounded and they just start waffling inanely about what they just bought at the shops, before walking off and smacking their head off the nearest wall. Needless to say D found that part of our NOPI experience just bordering on the ‘cringey’.
An impressive, but unpretentious wine list was presented to us and we ordered a bottle of the Biancodicaselle (being slightly impressed by the fact the grapes are grown in the soils of the volcano, Etna, in Southern Italy, and also being curious as to what white wines are like from that region given their impressive reputation for red wines). It was delicious. A perfect crisp, white wine for accompanying lunch.Then the exciting part came and we got to order our food. I had studied the menu, daily, on their website for the entire week running up to our booking, and the one (and only) thing I was sure of was that I was going to have the churros with dark chocolate and fennel seed sugar for dessert.
NOPI’s menu is presented in a similar form to tapas. You’re recommended to select main 2-3 dishes (we did 6 mains between 3 of us and that was fine for lunch) all averaging at around the £10 mark, which makes it rather pricey for a tapas-style lunch – although this is ‘not your average tapas’ by any stretch.
Here’s what we had…Undoubtedly, for me, the highlights of Nopi were the burrata, the prawn toasts and the churros dishes, but almost overshadowing the food at times was the charming, engaging and hospitable service from the staff. I’m sure they’re all trying hard as it’s a new opening, but they have now set a benchmark in my mind and I just hope that when I return (which will be soon) that their enthusiasm hasn’t waned. They’re a fantastic bunch of people, producing delicious food. What more could you want? (apart from maybe a slightly smaller bill at the end…)