You’re supposed to eat your vegetables before you get dessert.

At Ottolenghi this is not a challenge. For many reasons.

Yotam Ottolenghi is a bit of a darling of the fancy food set. Not because his books, magazine columns and three London cafe’s constrain themselves to high end ingredients or dabble in pyrotechnics. What he does is inject a good whack of life into the humblest of vegetables- and create some startlingly good desserts.

The Notting Hill outpost of Ottolenghi is on Ledbury Street. If you can make it past the bugaboo prams that crowd the curb and  squeeze inside the pristine white door you’ll be greeted by a cornucopia of salads and sweets. On large platters and friendly white bowls there are no fewer than 10 different salads and vegetable sides, laid out like the Christmas day buffet of your dreams. Next to that are portions of proteins for you to mix and match. The menu changes based on what is in season and everything is made fresh onsite.

At Saturday lunch there are plenty of well-heeled locals picking up six servings of seared beef fillet with horseradish sour cream sauce to take home for a late lunch with the girls. By neatly adding a serving Ottolenghi’s butter beans with burnt aubergine with garlic and pomegranate (available by the 100 grams), and some beetroot and ginger mash with dukkha, coriander and soured cream they’re all set.

For those who are keen to rest their feet after wading through the seething masses that snake down Portobello road you can eat on site. Downstairs in a very white room there is a very white communal table. Around it are limited shiny and ergonomically streamlined white chairs. Were slip into two just as a couple is leaving.

You can mix and match your choice choice of main course with two salads for close to 13 pounds. For The Hungry One it was a piece of smoked bacon quiche with sauteed leeks, parmesan and thyme. To the side there’s sweet potato wedges with cardamom and lime yogurt and chilli.

For his second salad there’s braised mushrooms with chilli, honey, lemon and coriander. The quiche arrives warm; the inside eggily fragile, with the smoked bacon giving the dairy a  pretty sexy lift.  The wedges are generous chunks of orange hued flesh, streaked with yogurt and black sesame seeds.

For me it’s a cube of tortilla made from mandolin-thin slips of sweet potato and potato with courgette flowers nudging between them. On top there’s some sour cream with smoked paprika. It’s tasty, but would probably be more festive if served warm. To go with there’s  jumble of puy lentils, jerusalem artichokes and salsify with chervil and truffle oil.

We’ll put any food snobbery about truffle oil to the side and simply say  it’s  another dish served cold that would probably really sing if it had a bit more warmth. One salad that was simply spectacular (though predictable for a fennel fan like me) was the slivers of fennel, marinated in lemon with pine nuts, ricotta, rocket and mint. A bowl of that and a few wafts of ocean troug or smoked salmon on a summer’s day and I’d be the happiest of campers. 

There were a couple of quibbles. The floor to ceiling mirror at the end of the dining room may be a neat design feature to help make the space seem larger , but it’s slightly disconcerting to watch yourself  chase  after the last bit of sour cream with a fork. Try and sit with your back to the mirror. Also, think carefully when you pick your sides. It all comes on the one plate, so if you don’t choose your salad combinations cannily it can seem a little like a mish mash of vegetables with the common and strident notes of chilli, lemon and coriander overpowering everying.

Also, it’s not cheap.

Coffees are nothing to write home about, but a follow up beverage of a hot chocolate drew murmurs of appreciation from The Hungry One.

When it comes to the sweet stuff, Ottolenghi really starts to shine. Choosing from the displays of galettes, brownies, individual cheesecakes and tarts is neigh impossible.  A slice of cheesecake with a caramel and macadamia nuts is outstanding. It comes on a fuschia plate the colour of a melted iced lolly. The cheesecake itself  manages to be slightly savoury, with a gluttons serve of vanilla seeds speckled throughout.

Glistening over the top are macadamia nuts caught in a crunch carapace of caramel.

And then there’s the carrot and walnut cake.

It’s moist and dense and studded with toasted bits of nut.  There’s a light lilt of spice from cinnamon and clove. And the icing…. I’m not even an icing kind of girl. I don’t go in for cupcakes. I’ll normally eat the cake and leave the frosting stickly on the side of a plate. But this dense cream cheese topping isn’t too sweet or sticky. It’s the perfect mid point between cake and carrots.

What do you know. Seems you can have your cake and vegetables and eat it too.

For those who can’t make it to London, here’s the recipe for the best carrot cake I’ve ever had  via Ottolenghi.co.uk

Best carrot cake I’ve ever had

Shopping/ foraging

  • 160g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 large free-range egg
  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 200g sunflower oil
  • 270g caster sugar
  • 50g walnuts, chopped
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 135g carrot, roughly grated
  • 2 free-range egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • Icing
  • 175g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 35g icing sugar
  • 25g honey
  • 30g walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted

1.  Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Lightly whisk the whole egg with the egg yolk.
3.  Put the sunflower oil and caster sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat for about a minute on a medium speed. On a low speed, slowly add the beaten egg. Mix in the walnuts,coconut and carrot and then the sifted dry ingredients. Don’t over mix.
4. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Wash and dry the mixer bowl, making sure it is totally clean, then put the egg whites and salt in it and whisk on a high speed until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the carrot mixture in 3 additions, being careful not to over mix. Streaks of white in the mixture are okay.
5.  Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 1 hour; it could take longer. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out dry. If the cake starts getting dark before the centre is cooked through, cover it with foil. Let the cake cool completely and then remove from the tin.
6.  To make the icing, beat the cream cheese in a mixer until light and smooth. Remove from the mixer. Beat the butter, icing sugar and honey in the mixer until light and airy. Fold together the cheese and butter mixes. Spread waves of icing on top of the cake and sprinkle with the nuts.

Ottolenghi, Notting Hill
63 Ledbury Road

London W11 2AD

020 7727 1121