Nopi, Dinner at Mandarin Oriental, and The Pig [UK]

We had friends in town, so a good chance to try some restaurants that we’d been saving for a special occasion.

First, we went to Nopi on Thanksgiving night. The shared dish concept felt appropriate for the holiday and Ottolenghi cookbooks have been a big hit among my friends, so this seemed promising. In late summer I tried and loved a roast eggplant with black garlic dish which I hoped they’d still have, but the season had passed. However, the winter menu let us find new favorites. Food comes out very quickly as many of the dishes are prepared in advance like deli-style salads (though I’d note that Nopi is much more comfortable as an experience than the more casual deli-style communal seating at Ottolenghi). Big hits were the venison with blackberries, savory cheesecake, and butternut squash dishes. Though our order was veg-heavy, even the stubborn carnivores delighted in our choices.

Dinner’s a Heston Blumenthal restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, with menu roots in the history of English cooking, then updated with contemporary techniques. The menu includes a bibliography of references to cookbooks in the years 1500, 1780, etc, up through 1940. The meat fruit is a visual stunner–chicken liver shaped to look like a mandarin orange. I really enjoyed tastes of “powdered” (brined) duck breast, chicken cooked in lettuces, and the beautifully saffron “rice and flesh.” Everyone was bonkers over the “tipsy cake” dessert, which needs to be ordered with dinner because of the long cooking time. We loved the luxurious vanilla and rum-soaked sponge served with caramelized spit-roasted pineapple.

Further afield, we went to The Pig in Brockenhurst, an easy train journey from London. The Pig is a gastro-inn with a focus on sourcing ingredients from foraging and its kitchen gardens, with most (all?) of its ingredients coming from within 25 miles. The menu was much more extensive than I expected for their approach, and I think that was the downfall. Much of what we ate was underseasoned and not particularly flavorful; we had to call back the server to flag that a key ingredient in one dish had been left out. The best thing someone ordered was a straightforward steak.

The Pig’s menu has sections for piggy bits, starters, “picked this morning,” sides, and various entree categories, each of those with multiple options listed–I can’t help but suspect that if they narrowed the menu, quality would have improved. I’ve heard great things about their grilled pizzas (prepared only in warmer seasons in the outdoor pizza oven) so I’d stick to that on the summer menu if we returned.

May I ask if there was a particular reason that took you down to deepest Hampshire for the Pig? Had you heard good things somewhere (I see it gets a mention in the Good Food Guide, not least for the very local sourcing you mention)

Friends visiting from the US wanted the “English countryside” experience, and I would say the Pig was great for that. One of the highlights of staying there was the (again, locally-sourced) cocktail bar. So nice to sit in front of the fire in the sitting room on a cold day, a drink in one hand and a book in the other.


Must go back to Nopi…

I think it’s my favorite restaurant in London. The changing menu is great because a new visit always brings something unexpected, and I like that even my meat-crazy veg-phobic dining companions can find something there to love (a dish which might even be–gasp!–vegan).