Michael Deacon at Rovi in London
59 Wells Street London W1A 3AE 020-3963 8270 ottolenghi.co.uk/rovi
Dinner for two
About £80 without alcohol
IF I HAD TO SUM UP Rovi in one word, there’s no question what it would be. Guardian. It’s just so Guardian .Nota surprise, perhaps, given that its proprietor is Yotam Ottolenghi, who’s been contributing recipes to the Guardian for over 10 years. But even so. The sheer Guardian-ness of it is a sight to behold.
Every sustainable, ethically sourced fibre of its being is pure Guardian .It couldn’t be more Guardian if it invited Polly Toynbee to stand on a table and give a £400-a-head talk on the plight of Peruvian quinoa farmers.
Where to start? How about at the area near the door, which is given over to tables and shelves flogging the most fabulously middle-class produce – including a small bag of granola for £7.50, a packet of spicy grissini (Italian breadsticks) for £5.60, a packet of lavosh (a Middle Eastern flatbread) for
£4.80, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses for £7.95.
Then there’s the menu. On the back is printed a whimsically childlike doodle illustrating Rovi’s supply chain. It includes ‘hydroponic micro-herbs grown in London’s Zone 1’ and ‘amazing biodynamic fruit’. Inside, meanwhile, we find dishes featuring such delicacies as skordalia (a garlicky Greek dip), bkeila (a Tunisian condiment made from spinach), dashi (Japanese cooking stock), and fermented daikon (Chinese radish). I love it. So Guardian . So
Remain. So metropolitan, so liberal elite, so coconut water, so Greenpeace-reusable-shopping-bag in jute. (Sorry – I’ve just read through what I’ve written so far and realised I haven’t yet mentioned where Rovi is. On the other hand, I didn’t really need to, did I? I mean, come on. It’s the country’s most Guardian new restaurant. It’s in London. Of course it’s in London.)
Perhaps the most Guardian thing of all about Rovi, though, is this. Originally, the kitchen was fitted with
‘a state-of-the-art heat recovery system’, in order to be ‘environmentally responsible’. Within days of Rovi’s opening, though, the environmentally responsible system had failed and died – forcing the restaurant to close for three whole weeks while they replaced it with an old-fashioned, not quite so environmentally responsible one. It, thankfully, seems to be working just fine.
I’m not knocking Rovi, by the way. It’s great when a restaurant has an instant sense of identity. A clearly defined personality. An idiosyncratic ethos or psyche (now I sound as if I’m writing for the Guardian).
And anyway, whatever, because I loved the place. The food is terrific.
As you’d expect with Ottolenghi, or indeed the Guardian, the menu is largely vegetarian – but not exclusively. There’s meat and seafood too. What makes it different from Ottolenghi’s other restaurants is its ‘theme’: ‘fermentation and cooking over fire’.
My friend and I started with the crumpet lobster toast with kumquat and chilli sauce. Outstanding. Warm, rich, in parts floatily soft and in others satisfyingly crunchy. Do not order this to share. You’ll regret it. One each. Absolute minimum.
Next, the squid and lardo (pork fat) skewers, with red-pepper glaze and fennel salad. Lovely skewers, thick, tangy, but cooled nicely by a blob of aioli.
Now the celeriac shawarma. Normally, a shawarma is like the kind of kebab you, or at least I, might buy at an unsuitably late hour while operating at less than maximum mental capacity: basically, a pocket of flatbread stuffed with the shavings from what appears to be an elephant’s leg rotating on a spike behind the counter. Not at Rovi, of course. Rovi’s sensibilities are somewhat more refined. Here, they instead fill the pocket with celeriac, along with fermented tomato and that bkeila business I mentioned earlier. That’s right: a Guardian kebab. Personally, I liked it (juicy, chunky, glowingly spiced), although after six pints I suspect that the elephant’s leg would still edge it.
Back to meat with the congee, in origin an east Asian rice dish, served here with braised beef and the fermented daikon. The beef was just about the softest meat you could taste. We weren’t
so sure about the onglet skewers, though, which to us seemed a bit dry.
Pudding time. The ricotta doughnuts were feather-light gooey whiteness, airily delicate. We also had the lovely apricot clafoutis, which was served on top of a large fig leaf. We spent a few awkward moments wondering whether we dared risk embarrassing ourselves by asking if we were expected to eat the leaf as well. To spare anyone else: the answer is no. Which in situations like this is always the worst answer the waitress can give you. You can just picture them all laughing in the kitchen, as if you’d asked whether you were meant to eat the napkins, or the candlestick.
Rovi is great. Every dish has so many layers and shades and subtleties. I admit: at one point there was a small and unworthy part of me that, all Guardian-ed out, was itching to belch, thump the table and bellow, ‘No! Just bring me some white bread, a vat of HP Sauce and a copy of the Daily Star!’
But it passed. I’m fully Guardian-ised now. I’ve just knitted a kaftan out of couscous and donated it to a yoga retreat for sociology lecturers.
We started with the lobster toast. Outstanding. Do not order this to share. You’ll regret it
Above Apricot clafoutis. Below Celeriac shawarma