A few weeks ago I took one of my best friends in the world on a date, dinner and a movie, to celebrate his aging one more year. The plan had formed around the oncoming release of Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight Saga. Yes the Twilight Saga, no I’m not ashamed; angst ridden vampires are hot, they just are, even if this particular series does stray frequently into wangst territory instead*. Initially this was to be paired with a trip to Brindisa, to satisfy my friend’s never sated lust for prawns, however like the cheap date that I am when I went to book the film tickets I immediately noticed that I could save six whole pounds if we cinema’d closer to home in Angel; that’s right six whole pounds. This meant Brindisa was off the cards, but no worry there were plenty of places for us to eat on Upper Street, and I had one in particular in mind.
So early in the week I made the call to Ottolenghi to book our pre-cinema table. We’d opted for the 11:20pm showing, reasoning that there was no way we’d make it there for the 6:30pm, and the 8:30pm would leave us tight on time trying to get dinner either before or after. With the late night showing we’d have plenty of time to leisurely eat and drink before tottering over to get our vampire gazing on, but then disaster; Ottolenghi were already booked up, the only remaining tables a 6pm or a 10:15pm sitting. Bollocks.
“Errr…” I stalled on the phone, willing the options to miraculously change. They could take my details and call me back if someone cancelled I was offered, but no, I knew that wouldn’t happen. So I tentatively booked in for 6pm, and hoped futilely that we would make it there in time. I don’t finish work until 6pm said my friend when I told him. Bollocks again. He could get there for 6:30pm though, so I called up the restaurant to change the booking, the table was only free until 8pm I was told, but they could leave a note in the book to save a couple of stools at the bar for us if we weren’t able to finish in time; an hour and half to eat dinner and stools at the bar for dessert, sorted.
I arrived slightly early in a sweaty state from the bus and rushed straight into the loo to de-public transport. When I got back to my table a waitress appeared and asked if I would like an aperitif while I waited. I scanned the drinks menu, gin; gin seemed like the best idea. By the time my date arrived 10 minutes later the gin was gone, but he ordered the same non-the-less, there’s a reason we’re such good friends. An assortment of fantastic bread had arrived with the gin, together with a generous bowl of lovely grassy olive oil to dipp in, and we munched happily as I gave him some time to look over the menu and sip his G&T, since I’d already decided I wanted everything. The suggested convention was three plates each, the menu split simply into two columns, food from the counter, cold, and food from the kitchen, hot.
It didn’t take us long to decide, prawns were a must for the birthday boy, and we both liked the sound of the seared tuna and the spiced baby squid. I suggested a meat dish might be a good idea, he wanted beef fillet, I wanted pork belly; we compromised and ordered both. That made five dishes and I suggested that for the six we really ought to order something vegetable based. After a short discussion we settled on the stuffed courgette flowers, but when the waitress came to take our order she recommended the asparagus and pea shoots topped with a poached egg as an alternative and it sounded so good that we went with that instead.
It’s a sign of just how good the food was that even now two weeks after visiting my mind’s mouth (if I can have a mind’s eye I can certainly have a mind’s mouth) is filled with the memories of how it tasted; memories and a certain amount of drool.
First to arrive were the cold dishes “from the counter”, beef and tuna. Both were incredible, but the tuna edged it for me, cutting like silk and tasting so incredibly fresh. Happily my companion preferred the beef as we’d been given three slices of each, so there was no fight over who got the last of either. With those swiftly polished off our hot dishes arrived in quick succession. Again although all wonderful the baby squid was probably my least favourite of the night and the only slight disappointment as I found the pieces slightly too rubbery. The prawns came nestled together with clams under a tomato and feta blanket. They were delicious, though comparably unremarkable and I gave my date the lion’s share in exchange for his rejected clams and a good helping of sauce and creamy feta; he loved them so much to tweet to that effect.
As it turned out my date didn’t actually want the poached egg that sat atop our grilled asparagus and pea shoots so I took full custody of that, prompting remarks as I audibly moaned cutting into to release the perfectly liquid yoke. I really wish I knew how to poach eggs this precisely and have tremendous respect for those who can.
By far my favourite dish of the night though, and quite possibly of my life thus far was the pork, oh the pork. Despite sixteen formative years of Catholic upbringing eating this was probably the closest I’d ever come to a spiritual experience. As it melted in my mouth like porcine butter angels sang and the universe blossomed and harmonised in my mind. For a brief moment everything was perfect and beautiful in the world, and I never wanted it to leave my mouth. Then I swallowed, the euphoria faded and the spell was broken. The accompaniments it came with worked beautifully too; the crispy apple salad with crunchy little fried pieces mixed in, the black pudding deliciously seasoned and meaty, and the gooseberry chutney providing just the right amount of sharpness to cut through the richness of the meat. If I ever had to ask for last meal it would be precisely this.
Halfway though our meal we’d been approached and told that there had been a cancellation so the table was now ours until 8:30pm and as we regrettably finished off we looked at the time, nearly 8:30pm exactly. Our waitress came over and asked if we’d like to consider dessert and we explained that we only had the table until pretty much now. She hadn’t heard anything about it and said she was happy for us to stay where we were, fantastic! So we tottered over to inspect the desserts on offer. Ottolenghi has somewhat of a reputation for its cakes and meringues, and after so much food a meringue was all I thought I could manage. Meringues are mostly air anyway I told myself, all air and sugar, eating a meringue will probably make you less full, somehow. My friend opted for a chocolate brownie with the offered crème anglais to go with it, whilst I accepted some whipped cream to accompany my blueberry meringue. I now know why Ottolenghi are so famed for their meringues; as far as I could tell from eating this I’ve never had a meringue before, not a real meringue, not like this. This was the Platonic Form of what a meringue should be, crisp on the outside, sticky and chewy in the middle. It was huge and I doubted I’d manage it all, but I did; there was no way I was leaving any of this behind.
We rounded off with a cappuccino for my friend and a cleansing fresh mint tea for me. Together with the cheapest bottle of white wine on the menu this came to a breath-takingly large amount on the bill, and certainly for this fairly recent ex-student much more than I’d normally pay for a meal out. That said, this was the probably the best meal out I’ve had in London and as a one off birthday treat for a friend it was worth it. I’ll definitely be back to Ottolenghi, perhaps after next payday, though I might reign myself in slightly more next time.
Afterwards we moved on to soak up more gin before eventually wandering across to the cinema. As for the film, there were fights, there was angst, there were shirtless werewolves and brooding vampires; we were happy, but my lingering thoughts from the evening remain not of the sparkly Cullens, but of that incredible pork.
* Oh no I linked to TVTropes in the first paragraph of my post, what have I done?! For those who escaped its evil wiki maze and managed to return to read the rest of this post, I salute you, however those of you who have only returned days, nay weeks, later to curse the one who lead into that addictive labyrinth of tabs, I can only apologise (it was totally worth it though right?).
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
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