How I Met Yotam Ottolenghi

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Okay, before you get too excited and jealous, I really didn’t meet him. But I thought I did. For about one minute.

My husband and I were visiting my London-living daughter last month, and because her time there is coming to an end, I knew we had to go to an Ottolenghi restaurant. So I made lunch reservations at Nopi, in Soho.
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As we’re being led to our table, I see him. A handsome, Israeli-looking man. With glasses. He’s tall, and handsome. Did I mention that?

Since I’m such a geeky, chef stalker fan, I immediately shake his hand and tell him it’s nice to meet him. So dumb.

By the time this picture is taken, we all know the truth, and he’s cracking jokes about selling us his signature. Thankfully, this restaurant manager had a great sense of humor.

But there is a similarity, isn’t there? (not really) Of course, Mr. Ottolenghi is somewhat older, with some greying, but I was just too quick. I have coincidentally met chefs at their restaurants before, so it could happen again, right?

Throughout lunch, the real Mr. Ottolenghi was staring at me from his book cover behind my husband’s head. Taunting me.
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If you’re wondering about the layout, we sat in the basement at one of the two communal dining tables. Thankfully, it was very cool in the room; London was a piercing 85 degrees outside that day in July.

Here’s the other table:

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In any case, I wanted to write about Nopi, because it was a vibrant foodie experience. I’m probably the only food blogger who doesn’t own Jerusalem, but I’ll have to buy it after this experience. The only way our lunch could have been better is if the real Yotam had been there… chatting with me.

The menu was very exciting. I don’t know if you can read it, but you can check out Ottolenghi.co/UK for more information on his restaurants and updated menus.
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There were four of us for lunch. My daughter, left, brought her lovely Yorkshire-bred friend and co-worker along. It was like lunching with Julie Andrews. (Obviously, my linguistic skills equal my face recognition skills.)

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We each began with a starter. Mine involved scallops and pork belly, a polenta chip, with an apple-yuzu sauce. Fabulous, needless to say.
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The young ladies got passion fruit juice, although they later switched to wine. I love lunches in London.
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We were served some complimentary veggies, in a delicious carrot sauce. I could have simply eaten these vegetables for lunch, they were so perfectly prepared and vibrant. Except for the beets, which were rock hard.

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For our main meal, we all picked lovely plates, including the popular courgettes and manouri fritters. Incredible. I opted for a couple of Aperol spritzers, to cool myself down, of course. But not at the same time..

A lovely lunch indeed, in spite of the absence of Mr. Ottonlenghi. The look-alike manager said that this has happened before, but I still think that the kitchen staff had gotten quite a big kick out of the mis-identification on my part. They were quite accommodating to let me take their photo!
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Nopi was everything I hoped it would be. If you’re in London, stop by for lunch or dinner. You won’t regret it.

L’Escargot

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There is a restaurant in the Soho district of London called L’Escargot that is owned by the famous/infamous Marco Pierre White. My daughters and I have dined there three times, and each time has been a perfect experience.

The food is exceptional, and not too over-the-top. The service is perfect. The ambiance is lovely. And we’ve always relied on the in-house sommelier, who has always been successful with wine choices, as well.

The reason I wanted to write a post on the restaurant has a lot to do with Marco Pierre White. He’s a hulking monster of a man, with a kind of bad-boy sexiness that really intrigues me. It’s also what’s gotten him into trouble on many occasions, according to his autobiography*.

In one post earlier this year, I wrote about my food experiences in the U.K., and how things have obviously changed from the days when the U.K. culinary world had a terrible reputation primarily based on its bland food. I’ve been lucky enough to spend weeks in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, as well as in England, and have been thrilled with the obvious “improvements.”

In this post I wrote that Marco Pierre White played an integral role in changing the course of all things culinary. I’ve read his book, but many others as well that focus on that period of time in culinary history, and it’s pretty obvious that he was one of the first of few to shake things up in restaurant kitchens.

Recently I was watching Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations, and on this show he actually met up with Marco Pierre White. They went hunting together and it was a very interesting show. They make quite a bad-boy pair, although ever since Mr. Bourdain had a baby he’s mellowed. He even quit smoking. Mr. White still smokes.

But in the show’s introduction, Anthony Bourdain said that Marco Pierre White had single handedly changed the course of England’s culinary journey. Single handedly!!! I had only said that he played an integral role! So take that Mr. Obnoxious male commenters!!!

Another really interesting tidbit, for those of you who don’t know, when Mr. White retired some years ago, he withdrew all of his Michelin stars. He felt he didn’t deserve them when he wouldn’t actually be at his restaurants. I feel that is very humble and noble.

He still owns quite a few restaurant other than L’Escargot, but I wanted to mention my experiences there because of the perfection involved. Here is my daughter’s starter of sardines one night.
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If you have ever watched the show “Hell’s Kitchen,” then you’re aware that Gordon Ramsay is a stickler for the highest level of quality. The competing chefs are supposed to have perfection as their goal. Risotto must be cooked properly. Fish must be cooked properly. No piece of rotten lettuce on the plate. Medium rare is medium rare – nothing other.

And having unfortunately dined in establishments over many years where perfection is never aspired to, I take having a great meal in a great restaurant very seriously. That means you’re never bothered by the staff. Every one is polite. You can ask questions and you get answers. And the food is perfect. And this is why we continue to return to L’Escargot.

I can’t remember for the life of me what this is, but I know it was good!!

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Here is a photo when I went with my younger daughter on our apartment-finding trip to London in 2010.
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Here I am with my two daughters a few years ago when we went in December. I didn’t have bangs yet, but that’s me.

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I absolutely adore going to a perfect restaurant. It’s what they all should be. Thank you.

* Marco Pierre White’s autobiography, The Devil in the Kitchen is a fabulous read. It’s on my kindle, but here’s the photo of the actual book.

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update: The restaurant, L’Escargot, is now no longer owned by Marco Pierro White.