kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
[personal profile] kaberett
On Tuesday I turned 27; [personal profile] me_and got me a set of lockpicks and a practice padlock, and took me to Ottolenghi Spitalfields for dinner.

The morning of, they called A to confirm the booking -- and, he tells me, followed up with "... and there's a note about a wheelchair in the booking...?" So, naturally, he braced, and was very pleasantly surprised when what they actually wanted to say was "... we've got a folding ramp and we can get it out for you."

We arrived. "Just one moment," said front-of-house, and went to get the ramp. They did not try to grab me as I was going up it. "Through this way," they said, and showed us to a table for two that was easy for me to get to, adjacent a wall neatly out of the way of everyone's path, with the sensible chair already removed for me to just slot in.

This is much better than even fancy restaurants normally manage; I was -- we were! -- impressed.

Also, they fed us really very well.

The thing about Ottolenghi, from my perspective, as distinct from Vanilla Black (and A had already sort-of told me this), is that where Vanilla Black will serve me a gorgeously-presented plate of delicious food where I will have absolutely no idea what quite a lot of it is let alone how to make it (I think in particular here of the crispy custard, and of the sweet richly-flavoured gelatinous cubes that turned out to be the "demerara sugar" part of the dessert), Ottolenghi serves up food that, fundamentally, I could make at home. If I could be bothered with the faff, and if I could get my act together to source good enough ingredients, because what it does is homefood very well. (I'm at an advantage here in that Ottolenghi is of Italian-Israeli heritage, so we have significant overlap in what constitutes comfort food.)

Having said all which, I'm going to actually talk about the food, and also (briefly) the alcohol.

Olive oil and bread (white sourdough; chilli cornbread)
Absolutely exquisite olive oil. Sourdough had an excellent variety of textures and flavours; the cornbread was slightly sweet and very full of flavour. The two gave very different impressions with the olive oil; both were great.

Saffron chase: Chase English gin, chase elderflower, lemon, saffron syrup & Champagne
Sumac martini: Ketel one vodka, sumac, velvet falernum, lime, pomegranate juice
Pear and basil: pear, apple juice, lemongrass and baby basil

Yes. -- the pear & basil in particular benefitted from being left to sit over the course of the meal; it started out all pear all the time and beautifully textured with it (you know the kind of velvety feeling some cultivars of ripe pear manage? yes, that.), and then the basil gradually worked its way in. Both cocktails were delicious and complemented the food very well, in startlingly different ways. (About halfway through the glasses, so most of the way through the meal, A (re)discovered what happens when you get me slightly tipsy and relaxed in a moderately-fancy central London restaurant: my language register ratchets up abruptly as I start to chameleon with my more general surroundings rather than my immediate interlocutors, i.e. as I get more tipsy I get significantly more cut-glass. He thought this was hilarious.)

Mixed seed lavosh with [some form of spice-and-pomegranate-and-mint-leaf dip]
Ordered off the nibbles section of the cocktail menu: A had not previously met lavosh (it's part of the flatbread/cracker family), had completely overlooked it on his previous visit(s?) to Ottolenghi, and was Very Pleased to make its acquaintance. Seeds were definitely sesame (black and white) and pumpkin; there was at least one more in there too, but I'm not sure what. Crisp and textural, earthy and sweet, went very well with the dip and with quite a lot of the other things that arrived subsequently.

We asked about how much food to order; we were told that 2-3 dishes per person was probably about right, and plumped for six of them. (This was not all the vegetarian options -- there were two cold and one or possibly two hot options we did not go for. We were spontaneously asked, as we placed our order, if we were vegetarian; we were informed of a couple of menu quirks that meant that things that looked probably vegetarian weren't.)

Burrata, rhubarb, dates and nigella seed caramel
Apparently burrata is one of the hipster things of the moment? I was introduced to it by A, who met it in the context of Waitrose lo these several years ago; if you're not familiar (as you very well might not be!), it is -- broadly -- a bag made out of mozzarella filled with buffalo cream that's been very gently encouraged to consider turning into cheese, sort of like cottage cheese if it grew up a lot and was actually nice (they say, unfairly; my actual problem is that cottage cheese is a texture that does not play nice with my sensory processing, rather than actually being in any useful sense Objectively Wrong). The nigella seed caramel gave the whole thing a nice complex spiced flavour, and having been actually made on top of the burrata also did interesting things to the texture of the cheese; the rhubarb appeared to have been lightly stewed, and was a wonderful sharp contrast; and the dates were sweet and dense and chewy. Very good ingredients, put together fairly simply, and left to get on with it. Also: another step toward rehabilitating rhubarb for me.

Heritage tomatoes with grilled mastelo cheese, red onion and basil pesto
Now this was approximately my canonical tomato salad, with the addition of the cheese (which was a very pleasant textural contrast) and some leaves. (Tomato Salad According To Alex: take some nice tomatoes, slice them thinly, slice a red onion so thinly you can read newsprint through the strips, dump it all in oil + lemon juice + salt + sugar, optionally garnish with parsley or basil.) The red onion was cut more coarsely than I'd do it but had been left to marinade in the dressing for longer so had softened and sweetened; the tomatoes were a good showcase of textures and flavours, from large and knobbly and red-streaked-with-dark-green to small and dense and chewy (think beef tomato) and entirely green, with a detour via small, round and orange. They all smelled and tasted like tomato, and I had great fun making their various acquaintance. Particularly well-complemented by the saffron chase.

Poached pear and roquefort with spicy walnuts, bitter leaves and orange blossom
I did not, I confess, particularly notice the orange blossom. The walnuts I did not experience as spiced so much as caramelised, but this is not remotely a complaint. The roquefort was excellent: very small dabs of it, but very assertive, and very well balanced in volume with everything else on the plate. The leaves were, I think, endive and radicchio (as might be expected!): crisp and flavourful. The pear segments were brilliant: I failed to take proper note of what they'd been poached with, but I suspect there was vanilla and cardamom in there. Possibly slightly heavier on the leaves than I'd consider optimal, but very tasty and I got to eat most of it because this was one I was after rather than one A particularly wished to partake in beyond polite interest.

Roasted mixed beetroot with miso, tahini and wild garlic
Beetroot: also something that's very much in the process of being rehabilitated over here. These days I will actively seek it out, to my mild horror, which suggests that I might actually... like... it? Anyway: this was big chunks of roasted beetroot with thin shaved slivers of a much smaller root, raw, for textural and flavour contrast. I belatedly realise that the greens I'd assumed were chopped beet leaf must, in fact, have been the wild garlic. The white sauce went very well. In summary: it was beetroot, I liked it enough to go back for seconds, I'm still deeply suspicious of the stuff and not particularly attuned to its nuances, A was a fan. Went well with the lavosh; particularly well-complemented by the sumac martini.

Spring vegetables, ricotta di bufala, blood orange and walnut
The first of the two hot dishes we had. The spring vegetables included radish, fennel, gem lettuce, a bean (!), some more beetroot, and probably some other bits I didn't pay proper attention to; they'd all been griddled and slightly charred. The ricotta di bufala was a small piped tower, mild and fresh and in excellent contrast; the walnuts were walnuts; the blood orange was a segment or so, in peeled chunks. Good flavours, good textures; very much "ehhh I could do that at home but I can't be bothered"; I was less in the mood for charred food than I normally am so skimped on this a little. I adored the radishes, though.

Aparagus with romesco sauce and slow poached egg
I think we were both a little underwhelmed by this, through no fault of its own: A had been hoping for a runnier poached egg, as opposed to the wonderfully creamy not-quite-solid thing we actually got, and I'd been anticipating steamed asparagus (having not had anything like enough of it yet this season) and got grilled. Nonetheless: good flavours and textures, small decorative leaves (plausibly including dill?), excellent ingredients handled well, and a very welcome part of the meal.

We dithered significantly over dessert, but ended up getting the thing we each liked the sound of most rather than compromising on two we were both interested in and sharing. This isn't actually a problem, not least because we both thought we'd won.

Apple, vanilla and sultana cake with maple glaze (ingredients)
My attitude to this was broadly "if I wanted an Apfelstrudel I'd make one" and also "wow, that is way too sweet". Big and pillowy and moist, though; perfectly respectable apple cake, with maple icing and a maple glaze, but not to my taste. A was pleased with his life decisions.

Pistachio and rosewater semolina cake (ooh w8rose dot com have a recipe)
Full of cardamom, bitter and textural as well as sweet, decorative rose petals as well as the rosewater syrup. This was not served with the rose cream the Waitrose recipe includes, but it was glorious and I was very happy with my choices. I intend to recreate it.

Ottolenghi hot chocolate
I got this mostly out of morbid curiosity: Vanilla Black does incredibly indifferent hot chocolate; so does David Bann. Honourable mention goes to The Anchor Inn, but honestly Ruby Violet (which does ice cream) and Le Pain Quotidien (which is a chain specialising in sandwiches) are just as good and far less expensive. Ottolenghi impressed me on this one, largely by dint of actually trying: it started out sweet and had a gloriously complex aftertaste. I probably still prefer the stuff I make at home, but this was Not Bad.

At this point, A visited the bathroom while we waited (or so we thought) for the bill. Instead, upon his return to the table, we were presented with...

bonus white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake tart with a candle in it
... and I stared at him in mild disbelief while the serving staff laughed at us. "That actually wasn't me," he said, indignantly, at which point our server explained that they'd overheard mention that it was my birthday. I am mildly horrified not least because this presumably means they also heard me telling A the cheerful anecdote about my early-morning trip to the gynaecologist, which I did not phrase terribly delicately -- but given how amused they were at us, I sort of get the impression that they'd also decided we were adorable. ... they left us to it; I continued staring at A; he prompted me to blow out the candle. I remarked, wryly, that I'd been going to raise an eyebrow about the refilling-our-water-glasses having been somewhat obtrusive, but I no longer felt that criticism had any foundation of note. As for the food: it was white chocolate I didn't find cloying; the raspberry coulis was a nice bright contrast; the fresh raspberry was an excellent example of the genre. A ate most of this one and enjoyed it a great deal. We were very charmed. I apparently turned very pink.

... and then, after a little extra faff involving buying one of the cookbooks, they got the ramp back out and held the doors open and cheerfully let me back out into the outside world, with some commiseration about the part where it had started drizzling gently. However, as I said to A, while it might not have been the best kind of rain it was definitely in my top five, so I was absolutely fine with that.

I had a lovely evening and was delighted; A has, as mentioned, been before and been a fan, so I rather suspect more visits are (however sporadically!) in our future.

Unrelated (except insofar as it's about food, and specifically pistachio cake): someone I know tweaked last month's Smitten Kitchen pistachio loaf cake recipe to include blackberries and lemon.
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kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)

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