Ottolenghi is a strange beast, I refer to the Islington branch as it is the only one I have visited. I have been twice so far and am not sure I will go back. Both times we went before going to see a play at the Almeida (this time, Parlour Song, which we both thought was awful but which everyone else seemed to find hilarious) as it seemed to suit a pre theatre type dinner, what with it’s cafe style tables and piles of food on the counters.
The decor is all white, the waiters attractive and clad in black. There are several long shared tables in the centre of the restaurant and other smaller, bookable tables around the side. The menu is divided into ‘From the Counter’ (cold) and ‘From the Kitchen’ (hot). From the Counter dishes cost between £6 and £8 and From the Kitchen cost about £10 on average. Dishes are ‘for sharing’ which means that they are small and you have to order a lot, they recommend about 3 each.
There is nothing wrong with this concept it is just that really what it means is cold food and hot food and I slightly resent the tarted up labels. Particularly as when you order a hot dish the waiter leans in and says ‘that dish is From The Kitchen and will take a little longer, we will bring it when it is ready (ie not with the rest of the food) is that ok?’. And I suppose it is ok, it’s just that what they mean is that they are going to cook it and bring it when it is cooked, which is what usually happens when you go to a restaurant.
The food itself is very good. As a vegetarian you are basically getting small plates of vegetables, but they are very well seasoned, inventively presented vegetables, green beans with chili jam, ricotta stuffed courgette flowers, griddled courgette with artichoke and black lentils. All delicious. However, there is also something unsatisfying about it all. Probably because it is well cooked, simple buffet/tapas style food presented as a ‘concept’. And it is expensive for what it is. £8 for a plate of green beans, however delicious, seems like a lot.
I want to like Ottolenghi, which is why I went back, and I think I would like it better if they were a little more honest about what they were serving and presented themselves in a less earnest and aspirational way.