Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ottolenghi

I don't know exactly when it happened or why but one day I woke up and was all but over the fancy junk food and burger craze that has been en vogue for it seems an eternity in the London culinary scene. Maybe it was because as my favourite places to enjoy a (veggie) burger and fries slowly became chains, the freshness and flair of their initial offerings slowly deteriorated or maybe I just faced one too many carb comas after one of those sittings. Who knows but what was to fill the gap now that I wouldn't make my regular trips to the Honest Burgers and Lucky Chips of the world ?

Especially as now pescatarian ( the last time I had chicken too long ago to remember) it isn't easy to find fresh and also flavourful offerings in London and even more difficult well prepared vegetable dishes to suit the warmer season. I mean lets be honest England isn't famous for it's salads, usually drained in dressings, topped with mayo and with questionable add ons like tikka spices, they aren't exacttly the definition of health. One place I had discovered in London that did successfully strike that balance of health and taste was of course one of my favourite restaurants Honey & Co whose owners, after conducting a little research, had unsurprisingly previously worked in the kitchens of someone often described as the "man who sexed up vegetables", a title that made me more than curious to check out his cooking for myself. I am of course talking about Yotam Ottolenghi, somewhat of a celebrity chef and with his regular Guardian column, numerous cookbooks and now 4 branches of Ottolenghi in London's best neighbourhoods, enjoying a bit of a cult status. Though his offerings aren't the cheapest ( a light lunch around £18 and a dinner around £30)  and my visits won't be on a weekly basis,  after lunch at his largest London locations on Angel's Upper Street I had no choice but come to the conclusion that indeed he is a true master of cooking vegetables (plus much much more) and the food fully worth the hype. Walking in, it is a bright and welcoming space with a big communal table around which the willing diners, more often than not queueing for a good half an hour or longer beforehand,  eagerly perch to pick from the fresh offerings on show because boy is it impressive to look at. Of course I have failed to mention yet that Ottolenghi is also one of the best bakers in town, like his savoury offerings showcasing a unique fusion of Jewish, Israeli and European culinary tradition, similar to that of Honey & Co, that results in unique flavour explosions, whether in the form of a cheesecake ( their macademia nut and caramel cheesecake the best I have ever had in my life) or of course the several platters of different vegetables stacked beautifully for the diner to choose from. 

Whether you go for the roasted sweet potato and endive with lemon yoghurt, Urfa chilli, hazelnuts and mixed herbs or caramelised Chantenay carrots with dill tahini yoghurt, dukkah and red basil or both as for lunch you can choose between three or four salads for under £15, the plate presented to you could not only be straight out of one of his bestselling cookbooks, colourful and fresh, but is also full of unfamilliar yet delightful flavours. Though I may be biased as I love cooking and eating just vegetables anyway even the most carnivorous of eaters would not miss their meat one bit ( and if their must one can add seared beef or chargrilled salmon to your plate of vegetable goodness). It is the type of food that will remind you of the best of holidays in its virbrancy and one that will make you come back time after time to see what this magician rather than just chef can create out of the humble vegetable too often simply neglected as side dish, here successfully the star of the show.

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