Chef, author and delicatessen owner Yotam Ottolenghi has launched a new venture, the all-day brasserie Nopi in London's Soho. He speaks to Hilary Armstrong about the challenges of branching out and the pains his team went to to ensure a smooth opening
The Yotam Ottolenghi who opened his first restaurant proper in Islington in 2004 is not the same Yotam Ottolenghi who opened Nopi in Soho at the end of last month. That Ottolenghi didn't have a Guardian Weekend column; he hadn't written two best-selling cookbooks; and he didn't yet have four cafés in London's most chi-chi neighbourhoods to his name. He therefore got away with what he admits was not the smoothest of starts.
Fast forward to 2011 and experienced restaurateur Ottolenghi is not going to let that happen again. This time, the former pastry chef and one-time journalist with a MA in philosophy is going about his second restaurant far more systematically. "Ottolenghi is a well-known brand now and expectations are high," he says. "We're going to be very exposed."
Ottolenghi in Islington was his first go at a proper restaurant. He'd opened one of his now widely acclaimed take-away-focused deli-cafés in Notting Hill in 2002 but hadn't reckoned on the differences between a deli operation and a restaurant. "When we opened in Islington we were really surprised by how busy it got so quickly. That's a great problem to have, but we discovered there were too many things we hadn't thought about. We found out how much we didn't know - particularly about service. We were all a bit traumatised. We learnt as we went and by bringing in people more experienced than us."
This time around it's been a very different process. "A really much more informed process," says Ottolenghi. He is putting his faith in his set-up team (see panel, right), a group drawn from key players at the Islington restaurant. The set-up team started meeting at least once or twice a week six months ago to go into the nitty gritty of the new operation that was to morph into Nopi (so named after its location: "north of Piccadilly").
Once they had their site - the Warwick Street site was once the Sugar Club and was most recently the Club Bar and Dining - they rented an office and co-project managers Noam Bar and Sarit Packer began working full-time on the project. "We had very long discussions about how we wanted it to run. A lot of things had to come together at the same time: service, food, kitchen structure. And we chose a small-dish menu, which complicates things slightly," says Ottolenghi.
"We've all learnt together and it's worked quite well as we divided the planning to play to our individual strengths. Even now, we're constantly in a meeting. There are always fires to put out."
|###### The restaurant interior's graceful curves and brass fittings|