My most recent dining experience certainly has been a long time coming. Having been a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi ’s fresh and innovative style for years (and the proud owner of all of his cookbooks) I finally found the time for a candlelit soirée at Ottolenghi Spitalfields. Expectations were dangerously high. It was a busy Thursday evening and the restaurant was already bustling with action. Inside, the décor is modern and minimalist but with touches of originality; mismatching candlesticks on each table, a rustic feature wall. With bags and coats hung up for us, we sat down chatting away and were handed the menu.
We ordered a bottle each of craft beer, and were given freshly baked sour dough bread with a generous dish of Iliada extra virgin olive oil to nibble on, whilst we drooled over the menu. The food is all served on small plates so there isn’t a set starter or main course, but the opportunity to mix it up and try a little bit of everything. Ideal. We went for a zingy green and yellow bean salad with coriander seeds and capers, which was crunchy, fresh and full of flavour. Next up was hands down the best aubergine dish I have ever eaten (and that really is saying something as I am ardent about the aubergine!) It was roasted in thick slices, drizzled with lime yogurt, and served with a generous handful of chopped chilli and toasted almonds. The texture of the aubergine was so succulent, it was almost meaty, and the earthy flavour married perfectly with the heat from the chilli and the cooling lime yogurt. Divine.
A small pause to sip our beers, and take in the atmosphere, before we were on to the hot dishes; first up was the Urfa chilli lamb rump with sweet corn, feta and olives. Urfa is a dark crimson Turkish chilli pepper and has a sweet, spicy and smoky flavour. Used as a marinade for the seared lamb rump, the Urfa paired excellently with the saltiness of the feta and olives, and the sweetcorn chunks added the necessary crunch as well as a touch of colour to the plate. Finally, my favourite plate of the night: braised leeks with a smoked onion purée, goat’s cheese and sour cherries. The dish was packed full of flavour; a big punch from the smoky onion purée, the tartness of the goat’s cheese and the earthy flavour of the leeks. For me this dish defines Ottolenghi ’s cooking style: adventurous, packed full of interesting flavours yet exceptionally well-balanced.
For the finale, we were invited to go up to the dessert counter, to see what sweet treats the kitchen had prepared that day. It was a close call between a sumptuous looking apple cake with maple syrup butter cream and a lighter orange chiffon cake topped with coconut frosting. The orange cake won out after a tip from the waitress, who assured me that the sponge was as soft as it looked. Zesty, fruity and exceptionally light, it was a lovely dessert to satisfy any sweet tooth and the perfect way to end an outstanding dinner. Hats off to Ottolenghi and his team, I will certainly be going back for more.
Written by Chloë Riddle