Roasted Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt and Pomegranate at Ottolenghi


As far as I can tell, no matter what time you turn up outside Ottolenghi there’ll be a long queue. I know, I know, he’s now Britain’s favourite food darling – at least according to the Sunday papers and Channel 4 – but it still feels like there’s something undiscovered about Yotam and his work. In fact, I still find that when, in a half self-deprecating (half aren’t-you-impressed-I-can-make-something-so-complicated-with-such-a-long-list-of-ingredients) way, I mention that a dish isn’t mine but “it’s Ottolenghi” I still generally get totally blank looks. I’ve made it to his Upper Street restaurant for take-away cakes before (yes, worth it just for that), and to Nopi – still a very different affair with much more formality – but this is my first time dining there. An initial conviction that I’d just have a small salad immediately gave way when I saw the proteins on offer.

[M]elanzane alla cioccolata – a dessert speciality on the Amalfi Coast – was (in my narrow-mind) just wrong”

I went for a plate of chicken with the required aubergine salad plus green bean salad plus simple tomato salad. Far more food than I needed, but I couldn’t choose between them. And no, I wouldn’t usually be unable to turn down grilled chicken: sure, I like it, but it’s usually okay to say no in favour of something a bit more exotic. But this time it looked so perfect and succulent, crisp and appetising that I couldn’t refuse. Same general ability to not eat green beans and/or tomatoes; same impossibility of leaving these uneaten in this special case. And I was right – the chicken was perfectly spiced, exactly the right juicy-but-crispy-on-the-outside texture and probably some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Ditto the tomatoes and the beans.

Okay, so it’s ridiculous to say this, but let’s forget the rest for a second: it’s the aubergine we were here for. Full disclosure: I love aubergine. However it is cooked – fried, grilled, baked, smoked, puréed, layered, chopped or sliced – I love it. Okay, one exception: melanzane alla cioccolata – a dessert speciality on the Amalfi Coast – was (in my narrow-mind) just wrong. But, to be fair, not quite as wrong as it sounds. But, generally, feed me aubergine and I’ll be in heaven.

In fact my favourite Ottolenghi dish is the one he says his mum makes when she wants to impress guests – aubergine with mango and soba noodles, a delicious spicy, sweet, tangy, refreshing, nutty salad. The most notable feature is that it starts by frying the aubergine in 300ml of oil. ‘No problem!’, you think, ‘It’s being deep fried and most of the oil will be left in the pan…’. But not so: every bit of oil is soaked up by the aubergine and you’re left with a dry pan. And some really delicious aubergine.

“Lucky me!”

This salad, however, is different. By roasting the aubergine, presumably for quite a while, it is tender and succulent without being at all greasy. In fact, the generous dollop of fragrantly-spiced yoghurt, whispering of saffron, seems vital to add creaminess to the dish. The pomegranate seeds offers bursts of fresh, juicy sweetness, though a little greater generosity in their sprinkling would certainly have gained my approval. The bulk of this ‘salad’ (in a loose sense of the word) is the meaty, pungent, faintly acid aubergine, silky in texture and luscious in the mouth. I could eat this all day.

Rachael, who has a phobia of yoghurt, didn’t get on well with this dish. Which meant more for me. Lucky me!

Radish, Celeriac and Pomegranate Salad at Bocco di Lupo


“Earthy”, “Deep”, “Woody”, “Complex” – words that you might naturally associate with truffle. The impact of these fungal morsels is usually to deliver a rich, comforting elegance matching a creamy sauce – the height of indulgence. So “crisp” and “fresh” wouldn’t normally be the first thing you’d expect from a salad dressed with truffle oil. Yet this is what Jacob Kenedy has achieved with Bocca di Lupo’s simple yet superb salad.

“[Y]ou’re not going to make a lunch of a plate of these roots”

Whisper-thin slices of radish and celeriac make up the bulk of the platter, with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds adding sweetness and titbits of pecorino hidden away to deliver a salty, nutty zing. A light, citrusy, truffly dressing plays off these simple, crunchy vegetables and makes what would risk dreariness something special.

Okay, so you’re not going to make a lunch of a plate of these roots, but the ethic of this up-market trattoria is to encourage the sharing of a number of plates from across Italian regions and cooking styles, and you should make sure you do so. Interestingly, prices are no real indication of sizes of dishes, and you can easily eat well here very cheaply, or quite expensively, as your budget, mood, and company takes you.

Just make sure you don’t forget to pop across the road to their sister ice-cream parlour, Gelupo, for surely London’s best cone!

(My version of) Ottolenghi’s Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango

In his (vegetarian) cookbook Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi mentions that this is the meal he cooks to impress people, and I do too – especially if I’m heading to a picnic. That said, unlike many of his dishes, it’s actually surprisingly easy, with no very unusual ingredients. You can find rice vinegar (and soba noodles) in Sainsbury’s ‘special selection’ area, but I’m sure any light, low-flavoured vinegar will do if you can’t put your hands on it (especially since it’s a little expensive). Ditto other noodles, but soba does have a deliciously nutty buckwheat tang.

“Delicious salad, with the freshness of mango, sumptuousness of fried aubergine and oriental bite of lime and chilli dressing”

Basically you just fry the aubergine, mix the dressing, and combine the rest of the ingredients. Easy!

This is based on his recipe, in the fantastic bible of fresh and delicious veggie food that is Plenty. You can see a (slightly different) version on Guardian Food.

I have made a couple of changes, for my preference:

Firstly, don’t use 300ml of oil. That would be COMPLETELY disgusting. The recipe in the book actually says 220ml (and 250g noodles rather than 300g, which is handy, since they tend to be sold in 250g bundles), but I used about 100ml, doing it in three batches (which is only moderately disgusting). The most important thing to realise about the step of frying the aubergine is that it will immediately suck up all the oil in the pan. But just keep stirring when it’s on the heat, and slowly but surely most of the oil will leak back out into the pan. Each batch will take about 5-8 minutes.

Don’t peel and chop a mango: life’s too short. Buy it pre-diced (though you might want to chop it a bit smaller).

(My version of) Ottolenghi's Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Delicious salad, with the freshness of mango, sumptuousness of fried aubergine and oriental bite of lime and chilli dressing
Recipe type: Vegetarian Main / Salad
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Serves: 4-8
  • 120ml rice vinegar
  • 40g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt (plus 1 tbsp to dust aubergine when draining)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 300ml sunflower oil
  • 2 aubergines, cut into 2cm dice
  • 250g soba noodles
  • ½ red onion, sliced as thinly as you can
  • 1 large pack chopped mango, cut into 1cm dice
  • 40g basil, chopped
  • 40g coriander, chopped
  1. Heat a third of the sunflower oil in a large pan (I use a wide-based wok-like pan with a flat centre), and heat on a really hot hob. Carefully fry a third of the aubergine for 5 to 8 minutes until golden-browned. Be patient, and you'll see that whilst the aubergine soaks up all the oil initially, after a while quite a bit will leak back out. Remove and drain in a colander, sprinkled with a tsp of fine salt. Add some more oil and repeat with another two batches.
  2. Cook the noodles according to packet - 5-8 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and pat dry.
  3. Mix vinegar, sugar and salt in small pan, and heat for a minute to dissolve sugar. Add garlic, chilli and sesame oil, cool, then add the lime zest and juice and stir together.
  4. If you're eating straight away, mix all the ingredients and serve. Otherwise, reserve half the herb and the dressing while combining everything else, and mix in just before serving.


Som Tam at Kaosarn


Papaya is an interesting fruit. When really ripe it’s sweet and aromatic. Overripe and it can take on a revolting vomitty taste. But when underripe it has a crunchy texture and a (relatively bland) vegetable flavour almost like kohlrabi.

“[It] rendered both Tom and Rachael unable to speak”

Here it is sliced into matchsticks, mixed with lettuce and tomatoes and dressed with a sour-sweet sauce of (I’m guessing) lime, holy basil, fish sauce and similar Thai flavourings. Oh, and of course no Thai salad would be complete without slivers of the hottest red chillies to be found, which rendered both Tom and Rachael unable to speak when they were unlucky enough to happen upon a piece.

It’s perhaps unfortunate that we scheduled this (okay, that I scheduled this) right after Rachael had just come back from Thailand, since it wasn’t likely to compete. Even so, and to my UK-acclimatised palate as well, it was fairly underwhelming. More Thai coleslaw than blow-your-mind dish it’s clear there are other more tempting options on offer in Brixton Village (in fact, we had a superlative British cheeseboard for dessert in next door Market Row).

I’m afraid I won’t be rushing back.

Beyti kofte at Mangal Ocakbasi


If there’s one good reason to head to deepest, darkest East London it has to be for the Turkish food. With hundreds of local grills, it’s a big claim for Time Out to have picked out a particular kebab as one of the hundred best dishes in London, but since it had, we were duty-bound to head to Mangal Ocakbasi to try it.

“Cooked perfectly, it was juicy and soft”

Rather foolishly we shared a mezze to start (well, you have to try out a place’s hummus, don’t you? This joint’s: the grainy, bland sort), fully aware that our mains would be enormous. Sure enough, two kofte kebabs rested on piles of salad, pickles, chillies and flatbread.

It was clearly good meat, with a freshness of flavour enhanced by crisp herby hints in the mix. Cooked perfectly, it was juicy and soft. But that’s about where the compliments end, because, to be honest, it was nothing special. Sure, it was a decent kebab, and goodness knows you can get terrible kebabs which are downright unpleasant eating. Would I cross London, or recommend this to a friend as the place to go for authentic grill? Nope.

70/100 best dish from Time Out London’s list

Baby Gem Salad with Anchovies and Pancetta at Fino


“How good can a salad be?”

It seemed a bit rich coming from Rachael who’d expressed horror at Tom’s asking ‘How good can a doughnut be?’ of St John Bakery’s top 100 option. But sure enough, that’s what she asked when hoping for an explanation of the dish she admitted having low hopes about. Perhaps it was low expectations, but she ate her words with her lettuce!

Crunchy. That’s the main selling point of good baby gem lettuce. It offers a crisp taste in an onomatopoeic physical form.

“Eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things

Salty, with depth. Anchovies offer that umami richness alongside a salty bitterness that contrasts well with the crisp lettuce.

Salty, with bite. Pancetta (in crispy-bacon form) completed the dish with a velvety, indulgent, fatty bite that didn’t punch too strongly and obliterate the other flavours, but melted into them.

Okay, so eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things (high, commercial) concept, in which you put together three main ingredients which complement one another and forget about the other twenty ingredients Ottolenghi (for example) wants you to pile on. And, to be fair, he’s probably onto something: this dish is simple, yet surprising. I found myself actively trying to get a little of each flavour onto every forkful, and they did match well.

If anything – and this obviously isn’t a criticism – the only thing that meant I didn’t come away shouting about this salad was that the other dishes (Fino is new to me) were equally delicious and faultlessly executed. Chorizo Tortilla oozed softly-done yolks. And I couldn’t believe the Presa Iberica wasn’t beef steak – a revelation.

I have a bit of a fear that, somewhere down the line when I’m trying to squeeze in and shuffle round later dishes, I’ll want to drop this down the rankings because I’ll have lost its immediacy and think ‘How good can a salad be?’ This here is a note to remind myself that I shouldn’t: it was delicious.

26/100 best dishes in London

Lobster Roll at Burger and Lobster


Wow! Perfection! I genuinely cannot fault this dish. In fact, if anything, the complaint to be made against this restaurant is that it should ditch the flawed ‘Burger and Lobster’ craziness, rename to ‘Lobster Roll’ and be done with it! Oh, and move to a food van, because, frankly, this is blissfully simple, naughty fare, and could easily be sold out of a hatch at a festival.

Where to begin? Well, obviously lobster is delicious, we all know that. But it’s not without its issues.

Firstly, lobster is fiddly. I’m one of those people who fears having a meal of diminishing returns, where you have a delicious mouthful, but find yourself scraping around in claws and tendrils with less and less joy rewarding you. This meal solves this by doing all the hard work for you, and providing all the meat with none of the implements. And there wasn’t a mislaid shard of shell in sight.

“The result was crispy, but melting, delicate but flavoursome, subtle but with real wow-factor. It’s possible this is the perfect sandwich”

Secondly, lobster is just too damned delicately flavoured. Pair it with anything with more taste than soggy cardboard and it can be overpowered. But here they match it with a sourly-sweet toaster brioche roll, fluffy Japanese mayonnaise, and, well, nothing else. It’s paired with chips (or rather, fries), and a small Caesar salad, but let’s be honest, neither of these are what the queues are lining up for.

Thirdly, lobster is expensive. Okay, so I’m more of a seven-to-fourteen-pounds-per-main kinda guy. Well, actually, more seven-to-ten-pounds, but who’s counting? So I could easily have blushed at the £20 price tag attached to this (and the burger, and the simply-steamed lobster), in a way that the clientèle who I shan’t say anything about because, er, I was one of them yesterday, presumably wouldn’t. But along with the fries and salad this was a generous meal, and one that filled me up – so in fact I’d say it was pretty good value, and way above, say, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, where you’d pay the same for a similar amount of food.

The result was crispy, but melting, delicate but flavoursome, subtle but with real wow-factor. I pity the fools who’d asked for the burger (though I love a burger) or the lobster (though I love straight-up lobster), but will have to go back with others to order those so I can have a taste. It’s possible this is the perfect sandwich.

Cocktails, at £9.50 were strong and delicious, but £9.50. Service at the table was super-smiley, but sadly a little frosty before we were seated.

The only (small) criticism I’d level was that the desserts were a real let-down – disappointingly served in cardboard pots from the fridge. Chocolate brownie mousse was passable chocolate mousse on top of passable chocolate brownie served too cold to really taste, and I doubt it would have been especially thrilling even if it had been at a more appropriate olfactory temperature. Desserts, rightly, aren’t where the fireworks are supposed to be in the restaurant, and it would probably be a shame if they stole the thunder. In fact, I reckon they should just not bother with puds at all.

I’ll definitely be back. Potentially often.

10/100 of the best dishes in London.