Who: Brainchild of Yotam Ottolenghi, Jerusalem-born chef and cookery writer, and Sami Tamimi.
What: Taking origins from his Israeli roots, Ottolenghi’s food is best described as Middle Eastern with a Western twist.
Where: Upper Street, although the original deli is in Notting Hill and outposts in Spitalfields and Belgravia have since opened. Don’t be put off by the hoards of Sweaty Betty-clad Islington mums who like to see Ottolenghi as their local caf…
A trip to Ottolenghi’s Upper Street deli never fails to impress with its artful window displays of roasted vegetable salads, drizzled tahini dressings, and beautifully constructed towers of cakes and sweet treats. Given that they don’t take lunchtime bookings, the 30 minute wait was to be expected on this recent visit, and made all the less painful by the fact that it gave ample opportunity to eye up the platters of salads we would later get to eat (although I was admittedly miffed that one member of the party artfully timed his late arrival to avoid queueing at all). We were eventually led by an ever-helpful waiter to our seats at the long and clinically white communal table that dominates the restaurant floor.
The menu is simple enough to navigate – offering explosively flavoursome and mainly vegetable based Israeli fare, you either select a plate of three/four salads or opt for a chilled main from the counter with two/three salads on the side. I went for the latter. Beetroot, walnut and goat’s cheese croquettes were bursting with flavour, the sweetness of the beet perfectly contrasting with the sharp tang of goat’s cheese. Any hint of dryness was immediately dispensed by the smooth cool of an accompanying dill and lemon yoghurt. As always with Ottolenghi, however, it was the salads that stole the show. Roasted aubergine with black garlic yoghurt and Urfa spiced peanuts proved to be every garlic-lover’s dream, the fermenting process behind black garlic leaving it sweeter and kinder on the breath than a typical bulb. Sweet potato wedges were honeyed and creamy; green tahini and dusted za’atar provided the perfect contrasting bitterness. All in all, a vegetarian meal that would make anyone fully prepared to give up meat (though for more stubborn carnivores, the majority of the counter mains are actually meat or fish based).
My sole disappointment was that a plate of croquettes and salad could prove to be so painfully filling. Not to be defeated, I took a five-minute breather before ordering a couple of puddings ‘for the table’ (take one look at the display of cakes in the window and you will understand why I couldn’t decide between the two). A lemon and pistachio polenta loaf was found to be a little dense if not otherwise spot on, and the chocolate tart with hazelnut brittle and vanilla cream was cracked open to reveal an unexpected but unsurprisingly heavenly salted-caramel filling. A fresh mint tea was ordered to finish off. Amazing, how following up any over-indulgence with some leaves wilted in a glass of hot water has the wonderful capacity of making you feel as good about yourself at the end of a meal as you did at the start…
Coming in at £14.20 for the main and £4 to £5 for each cake, Ottolenghi isn’t the cheapest deli in town. Forking out so much for a plate of salad may put some off, but I’d say the term ‘salad’ is misleading here; given the quality of the ingredients, the depth of flavour, and size of the portions, it’s worth every penny.
Would I go again? This was the third time of visiting, fourth including a visit to the Spitalfields branch, and 100% not the last. One of the few popular eateries that are definitely well worth the queue (though if you’re heading there for dinner, reservations can be made).
Star rating? * * * * *