Ta­ble talk

Michael Dea­con at Rovi in London

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Michael Dea­con

59 Wells Street London W1A 3AE 020-3963 8270 ot­tolenghi.co.uk/rovi

Star rat­ing


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

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