Sunday, December 15, 2013

Let Down by Ottolenghi

Ever since I've first explored the area of Islington last summer, I've been dying to try
Ottolenghi's restaurant on Upper Street.  Some of you may be familiar with this talented Israeli born chef who's known for his vibrant and imaginative flavor and texture combinations - especially in his salads.

My cousin Jenine who's studying here for the semester met up with me and we tried it for a late lunch.  I'm sad to say that my high expectations were shattered a bit, which was attributed to the strange service and almost a blatant disregard for the customer.

We weren't surprised to walk into a very busy cafe, which was nearly at capacity in the front.  Expecting to wait for a table, we were shocked to be seated right away at a small two top table with comfy white plastic chairs with flexible back support.

We looked around the small dining room and observed a few communal tables, quickly captivated by the hustle and bustle of this popular spot.  The front of the restaurant cleared out soon after we sat down, and we spied a few enticing foods they displayed up there such as their gargantuan meringues, various cakes and cookies, as well as the beautiful salads and meats.

Assuming this would be a bank breaking meal, given Ottolenghi's impressive reputation, we were pleasantly surprised to see they offer a nice little combo deal for a medley of two salads and a main course.  It seemed like a good value, and it was nice to see there was plenty to choose from.

Lunch Combo Plate - Jenine and I purposely chose four different salad sides so we could try a variety of things.  Slightly disappointed by the fact they were missing the pumpkin salad, we chose the fennel cabbage salad, the mixed peppers with tabouleh, the wild basmati rice salad and a roasted sweet potato salad.
 I'm happy to say these were all very delicious and a big highlight of the meal, with the basmati rice leading the pack.  Surprised by this discovery, the rice salad combined a bevy of textures, including a lot of crunch from hazelnuts, and a fabulously lemony essence.  The peppers and tabouleh were also to die for and reminded me of a salad version of stuffed peppers.

The mains were a huge disappointment, mainly because we both ordered different varieties of quiches including the smoked bacon quiche and a wild mushroom quiche.  Both looked absolutely lovely but were also freezing cold.  I couldn't understand why Ottolenghi's proteges would be serving us cold eggs in an ice cold pastry crust, and said something about it to our waiter.  To my dismay, he was dismissive, conveying that they couldn't heat it up because they didn't have the proper equipment to do so.  Absolutely baffled (aren't they a restaurant?!), and even after further persistence, I was unable to get what I wanted so we begrudgingly proceeded to eat our cold eggs (sad face).

Service and Cost:
As I've already insinuated, I was pretty displeased with the service overall - not only because of the cold quiche aspect, but also because of the way the staff didn't seem to care about us. I was sad to see that a culinary master such as Ottolenghi wouldn't take great care to treat his customers in the best way possible.  Even though I continue to love his style, I can't say that a part of me has lost my enthusiasm for his retail business.

Costs are expensive for what you get (cold food!) and we paid 42 pounds (or $68) for the entire thing, including 2 glasses of wine.

1.5 Mmmms

Ottolenghi - 287 Upper Street, London N1 2TZ
020 7288 1454
Underground - Northern Line to Angel

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