Thursday, 20 September 2012

Ottolenghi - Part 1

Ottolenghi is hands-down one of my favourite places to eat in London. This deli-cum-café/restaurant was amongst the first attractions I sought out when I moved here: having poured over the incredible photgraphs in my boyfriend’s mother’s Ottolenghi cook-book, I was excited to find that the flagship restaurant lay a mere 10 minutes’ stroll from my flat.

I adore cookery books, and of the many publications lining her kitchen shelf, this one caught my eye the most: bursting with a wealth of jewel-coloured salads (emerald greens, ruby pomegranate seeds, the rich gold of sweet potatoes), this was food photography at it best: enticing, tempting, and begging to be sampled. And the ingredients – za’atar, ras el hanout, zumac, pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons – none of which I could easily find as a student in Durham - intrigued me even more

Since my first visit to Ottolenghi, almost 2 year’s ago now, I have returned more times than I can count – brunches, lunches, girly catch ups over coffee and cake in the afternoon...I'm sadly lacking in photographic evidence of the majority of these meals, but I will attempt to write about a few of my favourite dishes below.


Bread board

In the mornings, fire-engine red toasters line Ottolenghi’s stylish white tables – a DIY approach to breakfast which makes it all the more enjoyable (as well as resolving the age-old issue of cold, soggy toast). While Ottolenghi offers a number of hot brunch meals, the breadboard is excellent value - at only £5.50, it is easily large enough to feed three.

The sourdough bread, once toasted, goes perfectly with the accompanying array of spreads: a dark chocolaty ‘nutella’, sexed up with the addition of whole hazelnuts; glossy raspberry jam (seedy, sweet and runny); and an incredible banana preserve, whose smoky caramel depths and sticky sweetness make it the star of the show.

I always ask to switch the grape focaccia (too savoury to be comfortably paired with the fantastic spreads, with its strong flavours of olive oil and rosemary) for one of their delicious brioches – glossy golden brown domes hiding light, buttery interiors, milky and sweet. [Note: despite having done this at least 6 times at the time of writing, the waiters are always hesitant to make this switch…however, a hunk of gorgeous brioche, slathered in raspberry jam, makes it worth any hassle]

For the pastry option you can choose between croissant (almond or plain) or pain au chocolat. I would recommend the latter – I’ve tried the almond croissant and found the filling to be somewhat too heavy, while the pain au chocolate (flaky, crisp outer shell, soft innards, and a dark chocolate centre) hits the spot…but each to his own!


This is by no means an exhaustive sample of the cakes I’ve tried at Ottolenghis – if I include the stolen forkfuls I've speared from the plates of my dining partners, I think I've tasted at least three quarters of the impressive array of cakes which grace the window display. But here are a few of the most memorable:


Crowned with a blob of smooth, tangy marscapone and a colourful cluster of berries (which seem to change with every visit), the financiers are my first choice when it comes to dessert at Ottolenghis. The texture of these cakes – made with ground almonds and egg whites – is unspeakably delicious: a dense chewy crust surrounds an incredibly moist golden centre; sweet and buttery, with a hint of almond nuttiness, and, baked into the middle, a hidden treasure of the same fruits that decorate the top.

Orange and almond cake with dark chocolate ganache

I have yet to meet someone who hasn't been blown away by this gorgeous orange and almond concoction. As handsome as it is delicious - sunshine yellow cake topped with a thick smear of glossy chocolate and a sprinkling of flaked almonds - this is a proper 'grown-up' dessert: the fragrant notes of orange and almond pairing perfectly with the intensely dark chocolate ganache.

Apple cake with maple icing

This cake - served in very generous slices - is the perfect comfort food on a damp autumnal day (or any time really!). The cake is good; moist and (predictably) apple-y, but the icing is the crowning glory (both literally and figuratively) of this decadent treat. The maple syrup – an unusual addition to a cream cheese icing – is sweet and smoky, combining with the cake below to produce an overall flavour pleasantly reminiscent of toffee apples.

And for a light, refreshing accompaniment to a decadent treat, go for the fresh mint tea – a glass cup filled to the brim with mint leaves steeped in hot water, this is the perfect palate cleanser between forkfuls of lucsiously rich cake.

Review of Ottolenghi to be continued - with more pictures, I promise (and maybe even some salads!) - after my next visit.

Ottolenghi on UrbanspoonSquare Meal