Over the years I’ve made a few pilgrimages to London.
A decade ago I spent a long afternoon chasing the spirit of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon at the famous Troubadour folk club in Earls Court.
A couple of years later I visited St Bride’s, the tiny journalists’ church on Fleet Street, where the ghosts of my trade lingered on, both in the pews of the church and in those of the nearby bars.
Another trip saw me sample the bitters in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, following in the gloomy footsteps of Dr Johnson and Arthur Conan Doyle.
In the past my visits have been marked by music, history, London ales and, well, more history.
While I’ve eaten well in the city at times over the years I’d never, until last weekend, undertaken what I’d regard as a food pilgrimage.
And yet that’s what my wife and I found ourselves embarking as we walked through Soho last Saturday evening, to arrive at 21 Warwick Street.
This is the location of a restaurant called Nopi.
Plenty (sorry) has been written about Yotam Ottolenghi, Nopi’s co-owner, in recent years. A journalist turned pastry chef turned food icon, his London delis have attracted consistently good reviews since the first one opened in Notting Hill more than a decade ago.
He didn’t appear on my radar until I came across his 2011 TV series Jerusalem On A Plate and subsequently picked up the accompanying book, as well his earlier volume, Plenty.
After salivating over the books for a while my wife and I road tested some of the dishes, devised by Ottolenghi with his culinary partner Sami Tamimi.
Two in particular stood out: their puréed beet root with yoghurt and za’atar, and a mushroom and herb polenta.
Both were unlike anything I’d tasted before, in flavour (the za’atar) and texture (the polenta, served with Parmesan).
We immediately swore we’d visit one of their London establishments (a pledge I inscribed on our copy of Jerusalem); not least because, in the back of my mind (flipped past in their book or maybe from the series) I’d an image of a polenta chip dish there which looked incredible.
But then time passed and Ottolenghi slipped off our radar. We visited LA and Japan and the Ottolenghi’s salads were lost, smothered beneath a smorgasbord of Mexican, Californian and Japanese cuisine.
This was until a weekend trip to London came up and, with it, a reservation for dinner at the bar at Nopi.
And so we arrived last weekend to dine at the hub of the Ottolenghi phenomenon.
We took our seats and picked up the menu. There it was – the dish I’d craved a year ago but hadn’t thought of since. Not just polenta chips but truffled polenta chips, by way of truffled aioli.
Cut a size up from the ubiquitous gastropub jenga chips, Nopi’s polenta variety combined a chip lighter than potato with a semolina-like exterior. The truffle sauce was served on the side.
It was all the glory of the Piedmont in one mouthful. Or four – as I proceeded to bogart the bowl.
The rest of the meal passed flavourfully – as we expected – but nothing hit the heights of the chips.
If Nopi was my first London food pilgrimage this was the grail. Get there, and get them.