It’s not often that I’d travel over 100 miles to attend a supper club, but sometimes you have to make an exception. For me, that exception came earlier this month when Yotam Ottolenghi bought his team from NOPI to No.38 The Park in Cheltenham during the literary festival, to celebrate the launch of his new NOPI cookbook.
Originally from Israel, Ottolenghi has, through his group of eponymous delis (four now) and the more formal NOPI restaurant, along with various books and TV shows, become a household name. With his signature Middle-Eastern-rooted, European-twisted style that gives equal emphasis to veg and meat, he has changed the way we cook in the UK forever.
The grand building of No. 38 The Park is more like a house than a hotel and, with chequered tiles and natural, muted tones, it treads a perfect line between luxurious and relaxed.
Dinner started, as all good ones do, with cocktails from the fresh, produce-focussed Ketel One Vodka Kitchen which had popped-up in the courtyard. This premium Dutch vodka brand is steeped in history, and produces a beautifully smooth, full vodka with fresh notes of citrus and black pepper – the perfect base for a Middle-Eastern-inspired sumac martini which guests sipped alongside NOPI’s signature fluffy truffle polenta chips with rich roasted garlic aïoli.
The intimate dining room seated just 50 at long, communal tables in full view of the open kitchen where the NOPI team worked their magic. Yotam weaved his way through the room, chatting to guests and explaining the dishes. The first course was served family-style, with diners encouraged to help themselves from plates of mixed cauliflower with sweet, golden raisins, creamy ricotta and tangy capers, butternut squash with ginger tomatoes and lime yogurt, and the stand-out dish of the evening, smoky roasted aubergine with rich black garlic, pine nuts and basil.
A main of venison fillet with date labneh, blackberries and peanut crumble was an intriguing mix of sweet and savoury, with the sharp blackberries cutting through the gamey richness of the meat, and peanut providing a much needed salty kick. This being NOPI, though, meat eaters looked on enviously at the veggie urid dal purée with hot and sour aubergine. Both mains were accompanied by roasted carrots flavoured with coriander seed and garlic, comforting fondant swede gratin, and purple sprouting broccoli with skordalia – a Greek-inspired dish of unctuous mashed potato spiked with garlic and zesty lemon, all of which were, again, served in big communal bowls. For those that could squeeze in pudding, baked chocolate ganache with spicy hazelnuts and orange oil was an indulgent finale, the rich, smooth ganache playing well against the crunch of the nuts and zing of the orange.
Book a room at No. 38, and it’s a short stumble from the table to your luxuriously soft bed. There are three types of room; cosy, very good, and excellent – but they all come with an Apple TV, iPod docking station and Nespresso machine and many of the larger rooms also have free-standing baths. Décor is chic and stylish but still comfortable, and there are lovely personal touches, like artwork by British artists and 100 Acres toiletries. In the evening, you’ll be welcomed back to your room with hot water bottles with hand-knitted covers and a thermos of hot milk with chocolate stirrers – what could be more comforting?
The NOPI supper club was one of a series The Lucky Onion group is running at its sites. The next is on 12 November at No. 38 The Park with Richard Turner of Hawksmoor, Pitt Cue Co. and Meatopia (£60pp), and there’ll also be a nose-to-tail pigfest with Fergus Henderson at The Chequers in Churchil, Oxfordshire on 31 January. Rooms at No. 38 The Park start from £120 per night (although there are deals to be had – so check the website for details).
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