If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
I’d wanted to get food from one of the Ottolenghi locations for a picnic when we were living in London in 2017 but somehow it never came to pass. Despite this we hadn’t planned to eat there on our visit this past June—I guess it wasn’t that high on our list. But then we rather serendipitously happened on their Islington location while walking to the Little Angel Puppet Theatre with the kids for a performance of Sleeping Beauty. Our plan was to take a long bus ride to Battersea Park after but we hadn’t figured out what we would do for lunch. So when I looked across the road on our walk to the theater and saw the Ottolenghi sign I was relieved to have the solution potentially fall into our laps. I crossed the road to check out the menu and discovered that they were still doing breakfast service. By the time we came back after the play the lunch menu was up as were the salads that are the centerpiece of the Ottolenghi experience (you can make meals entirely out of salads and even if you get a main it will come with a minimum of two salads). We took a look at the menu and confirmed that we’d be able to eat there with the kids.
What did we get? From the mains we selected the seared filet of beef with mustard, horseradish and rocket sour cream; the char-grilled sea-bream with cauliflower and apple picalilli; and the cherry tomato and goat’s cheese quiche with caramelized onion. Each came with two salads, which meant we could try six of the eight on the menu. We got the following: the roasted aubergine with feta yoghurt, almonds, pomegranate and mint; the char-grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic; the green beans and samphire with watercress, shallots and roasted grapes; the basmati rice and beluga lentils with fennel, pickled apricot and crispy shallots; the roasted jersey royals with rainbow chard, pine nuts and basil pesto; and the crushed peas and edamame with wasabi, cucumber and pumpkin seeds. Instead of giving you evaluations of each dish it may be simpler to say that everything was very good and that we preferred the salads to the mains (not that there was anything wrong with them).
The Islington location is bright and cheerful and full of expensive looking people. Given the long communal table that makes up the bulk of the seating (though there are also two-tops along the wall), many of those expensive looking people had kids with them as well and so our monsters didn’t ruin anyone’s lunch. As we were leaving we picked up some pastries to eat at Battersea Park later in the afternoon.
For a look at the space and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for cost, service etc. and to see what’s coming next.
All of the above, not counting the pastries we took away, came to £60 before tip. Not cheap by any means but not exorbitant either in London for what was a lot of good food for effectively three adults. Service was friendly if occasionally a little harried. I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to eat at the Islington location again—if I was in the neighbourhood, sure—but it is not out of the realm of possibility that one some future trip we will actually pick up some salad from one of their other branches for a picnic lunch at a park. Maybe along with some good Neal’s Yard Dairy cheese.
Okay, I’m almost at the end of my London reports—only another two or three to go—and I’m also almost at the end of my Bombay reports too—only another three to go there as well. I won’t get them all done by the end of the month as I’d hoped but soon. Next up a Bombay report and then probably a Minnesota report (from Hyacinth? only if the weather cooperates on Saturday).