#Restaurant #Review NOPI – Five Years On

Front of house can make or break a restaurant. A cheery welcome wins hearts, but not this time on going into NOPI. Much lauded for its food and founders’ back story, the Soho outpost is a busy, shiny shrine five years on – and you still need to make a reservation. So we did.

NOPI

NOPI in Warwick Street celebrates 5 years in 2016

Tellingly their website reports “salads greet customers as they arrive” – and I’d rather a friendly lettuce than the reception we got from a slinky blonde, beautifully lit in the ice-cold blue of the reservations screen. A blank ‘computer says no’ look and we’re lined up against the white-tiled wall pending our fate.

In such circumstances I am quite likely to turn on my heel, but I’ve waited five years to come here and it’s a surprise meal with friends. So hold steady. A few minutes later, and some dramatic tablecloth paper pulling  from hidden pockets in the wall, and it’s half smiles and a table is ready. The staff reminded me of the launch of the Sanderson hotel – a big deal in its day, all Swedish-looking and slightly haughty.

There’s a curious thing about design in restaurants and you can tell the serious players by how they do their loos. Jay Rayner christened NOPI “a glitzy bathroom – with fabulous food on tap.”  Headed downstairs catching a glimpse of the untidy theatre kitchen and past a huge Alice in Wonderland communal table you’ll find a small but amazing bathroom. Bevelled mirrors with brass fittings feels like you are in an ornate terrarium.

Thank god the food is good. Not just ‘worthy’ super salads for the yoga fit bodies but very tasty, fresh and interesting dishes.  Veering from Pan‑Asian to Middle Eastern, there are a few things on the menu that you might need explaining.

Diving straight into the ‘orange’ wine, which is a white wine made like a red wine, at £40 a pop is an expensive but delightfully coloured and tasting 11 per cent proof juice.

Courgette and manouri fritters, cardamom yoghurt at NOPI

Courgette and manouri fritters, cardamom yoghurt at NOPI – menu changes but this gives you an idea…

The food is made for sharing – and it works. Chickpea pasties with coconut chutney and crispy shallots is moist and falafely, not the usual bottom of the budgie’s cage.chickpeasThen there’s sweet potato, burnt skinned aubergine and pomegranate – just reading the menu is tasty. A highlight among many is the whole twice-cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt and slightly sour chilli sauce. Creamy burrata, at room temperature, gets cut through with bright blood oranges and then sweetened with lavender honey. I remember it as a breakfast dish in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon gazing out over fertile plains in warm sunshine.

Pearl barley and malt ice cream, chocolate soil, date fudge sauce

Pearl barley and malt ice cream, chocolate soil, date fudge sauce

We enquired about the desert Tau fu fa, ginger gula gawa –  a Malaysian custard with palm sugar but plumped for the barley ice cream with hot date sauce and chocolate soil. Such a clever dish – a sort of self assembly pudding with sprinkles and utterly divine.

Waiters are a little too keen to take away the plates – twice,  and I know someone who stabs the hand of those who try to reach in too soon. Let me enjoy every mouthful, I’ve waited long enough and now I am in too deep.

The food here is clever, warming like the early morning sun, with bursts of sweets and sours, added crunches and delicate spicing. You are steered away from meat so that you leave light and ready for that yoga class that I am planning to book – not.

Happy birthday NOPI, it was worth the wait.

Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1 (020 7494 9584).

Meal for two, including wine and service £110

Great for a few friends sharing, or a fancy date.

Square Meal

Square Meal

 

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