Food & Drink, London

Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street

A Breakfast of the Emperors

At the beginning of the year, I had two friends from Finland visiting me. The touristy side of the journey was well planned (my librarian friend hurried to the British Library on her first morning in town), and also the nutrition side of the stay was covered from the beginning: a breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner – whatever! – as long as it was in Ottolenghi’s establishment. The table had been booked for Sunday morning as soon as Nopi would open at ten, and we were behind the doors when they still remained unshakeably closed, even despite the tugs from the more greedy and optimistic customers.

Finally we got in and sat down. The décor was a mix of elegantly light brown wood, brass and other metallic elements, and shiny white tiles. The waiting staff glided esoterically from one party to another: the morning at Nopi was quiet and the atmosphere serene.

It was a quiet Sunday morning at the Nopi.

It was a quiet Sunday morning at Nopi.

I am a great friend of morning porridges and mueslis so I made up my mind instantly after taking a glimpse at the menu: black rice with mango, banana, suryp and coconut milk. I had read that black rice is even healthier than blueberries, and because my ground sea-buckthorn had just finished I needed something to convince my body that I was still looking after it. So black rice it was, with some black coffee of course, as I have a principle of setting a limit on any kind of over-excessive healthiness.

In ancient China black rice was called the Forbidden Rice (capitals here used to resonate Doom): the rice was prohibited from the peasants and other common Chinese, and the black grains were allowed to enter only the emperor’s imperial intestines. Eating this rice illegally might have cost you your life. However, even though black rice is now free game in the globe’s gastro-markets, it is relatively little used ingredient despite of its health benefits – perhaps because of its long cooking time.

Nevertheless, in Nopi it was enjoyable to wait the rice to arrive (and it didn’t take that long), and when it arrived I did feel my spirits rising to an imperious level: the colour of this dark porridge was alluring, and the yellow pieces of mangoes brought a delightful contrast to it. The porridge was served in a white bowl on a wooden plate on which were placed little cups of coconut milk and syrup. Each spoonful was a joy, and I understood instantly why the emperors might have wanted all these delicious and nutty grains for themselves – if I had the opportunity to do so (or, if I had had a little bit more coffee) I might find myself guilty of this megalomaniac hoarding of rice.

But things being as they were I had to make do with just booking a table for lunch too.

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Nopi, I love thy black rice.

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