Ottolenghi Restaurant & Deli Review (Islington)
Published 20 December 2009
My first encounter with Yotam Ottolenghi’s food was when I was still a student, living near High Street Kensington. I had passed by his takeaway branch numerous times on my way to lectures, and one day decided to pick up a quick lunch on the way.
I can still remember looking wide-eyed at the plates of delicious and visually tantalizing food laid out on the counter, and like a kid in a candy shop asked to try a bit of everything. However, my student wallet was shocked when the bill came up to £10 for a small combo box; everything was sold by weight, and I had underestimated the cost of the artisanal food!
Over the intervening years since then my financial situation has improved vastly, having since graduated and started getting a regular monthly pay cheque. I therefore found myself again at an Ottolenghi-branded restaurant, this time his biggest branch in Islington on Upper Street. Unlike the branch on High Street Kensington, the Upper Street branch has seating area at the back for proper sit-down dining, and the kitchen offers hot food in addition to their signature cold salad-style dishes on display. However, hot food is only served in the evenings, and even on a cold wintery Saturday evening the popular Islington hangout was fairly packed and we were given a time limit of 2 hours per sitting.
The dinner menu at Ottolenghi reads like a tapas menu, with all the dishes come in small sharing portions like Greek meze or Spanish tapas, except that the cuisine is distinctly British/Western European. There are about 7 hot dishes on offer every night in addition to a similar number of cold starter dishes available.
The menu recommends that you order 3 dishes per person, but we decided to go with 2 dishes each initially, which proved to be more than enough and left us thankful that we hadn’t ordered more. As we had just stepped out from the freezing sub-zero cold outside, we also decided to go for only the hot dishes. However, the hot dishes take about 15-20 minutes to prepare, and so hungry souls are advised to order some cold starters that are served almost immediately.
The bread selection came first, and as a sign of the fine food yet to come, each slice of bread was something special and artistic; one had cheese and chilli toppings, another with aniseed and rosemary. Yet another tasted like carrot cake but was slightly oily and salty. All very tantalisingly unique, yet the flavours all seem to complement one another well and we ravished the bread basket and sat there looking at each other wishing they had given us more!
Our main dishes finally arrived all at once, with the presentation very pleasing and reminded us of the Michelin-style presentation seen on BBC MasterChef! Great care was taken in the presentation, and while they looked amazing aesthetically, they tasted even better! Not every dish was of the highest quality though; the best we had that night was the scallops with chopped mangoes and potato rosti. The whole scallops were really fresh and the mango added a nice acidic complement to the sweet shellfish. The duck leg with cranberry sauce was a nice Christmassy take on the traditional roast turkey and cranberry sauce, and the best part was that even though it was a massive duck leg there was a minimal amount of fat and the meat was still extremely tender. However, the mullet with a tapenade-style accompaniment was very bland and unexciting, while the pork belly with apple slices and watercress was meant to replicate the classic taste of pork chops and apple sauce, but the pork belly cubes had way too much fat than meat.
In the end though each dish was empty when we finished, a testament to the yummy food, and although I levelled some criticism above, every single one of the dishes was of a higher level than most run-of-the-mill restaurants. The only gripe is that while the dishes were meat heavy, no side dishes such as potatoes, rice, or even bread was on offer to accompany the dishes, and even on polite enquiry for something staple to go with the dishes we were not even offered an extra portion of the yummy table bread.
While the food looked as good as Michelin fare, the taste itself was somewhat still not there yet, and perhaps a reason why Ottolenghi still has not been awarded a Michelin star despite his raved-about food. The other criticism is that while the food is good and of high quality, the prices asked for are a bit on the high side, especially since we were dining elbow to elbow with other couples on a long canteen style table. The hot dishes range from £9.80 to £10.80 each, and if you order the recommended three per person that comes up to about £30. For about £10-20 more, you can get a proper 3 course dinner at a Michelin star restaurant, and a higher level of service. Ottolenghi seemed like a high class Wagamama-style Michelin star dining establishment, but way overpriced.
I will definitely be going again in the future to Ottolenghi’s, but not if I am paying for the meal out of my own pocket.
Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
Cuisine: Fine international cuisine with a strong British influence
Price Range: £42 for two, not including drinks (and without dessert)
Address: 287 Upper Street, Islington & Highbury, N1 2TZ (location map)
Nearest Tube Stations: Highbury & Islington Tube Station (10 minutes walk), Angel Tube Station (12 minutes walk)
Tel for Booking: +44 020 7288 1454