Sami Tamimi on ROVI, 'waste' ingredients and Ottolenghi

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

ROVI Sami Tamimi

Related tags: Restaurants, Middle eastern cuisine

Chef restaurateurs Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi opened their first restaurant in six years late last month. Located in Fitzrovia, ROVI serves a vegetable-centric menu that explores fermentation and cooking over fire.

What sort of restaurant is ROVI? 
Our Middle Eastern roots show through, but ROVI is very different to anything we’ve done before because it’s focused on vegetables cooked over fire and fermentation. Most of the menu is cooked on a wood-fired grill in the centre of the open kitchen. It’s also sustainable.

How so?
We try and use every bit of the ingredients we buy, but in a way the customer won’t notice – we’re not serving a few leaves of cauliflower and calling it a dish. A lot of thought has gone into it and we use lots of creative techniques to get the best out of our produce. We will turn leftover wine into vinegar and use coffee grounds to cook some dishes, including our hasselback beetroots.

What else is on the launch menu?​ 
It includes runner beans with peach, goat’s cheese, smoked almonds; sweetheart cabbage with dashi and anchovy; asparagus skordalia and capers; and shawarma made with celeriac bkeila and fermented tomato.

Is there any meat and fish at all?​ 
Yes, there are a few items, including onglet skewers with beef fat and fermented green chilli; and Jerusalem mixed grill with baharat onions and pickles. We’re working with a fish supplier that gives us different fish each day, whatever is good. We can do that because we’re changing the menu ever day. I don’t think people like specials. As a chef, I would not go for the special in a restaurant because it’s often not a finished, thought-out dish.

What about the drinks?
Our wines are perfect expressions of from where they come. All the wines at ROVI are low intervention and thoughtfully vinified to reflect their environment and traditions. Our cocktail list will use a lot of spices. We have a great sumac martini, for example.

Your head chef used to work at Grain Store...
Yes. Neil Campbell is very open minded and creative and his time with Bruno Loubet at Grain Store is very relevant in terms of what we’re looking to achieve at ROVI. He’s a nice guy too and gets on well with the team. That’s important because this business is like a big family, we would not want to employ anyone that was not happy in their work.

Tell us about the group’s food development process...
We’ve been in this business for a long time and have a very organised approach. We have a dedicated kitchen under railway arches where we develop everything. Myself and Yotam are involved and we also have two strong female chefs who run that kitchen. We test dishes then distribute them to the restaurants in the group.

What attracted you to Fitzrovia?
We’d been looking around that area for a while. It’s not just the location, the space is just as important. It’s a new development. The building’s owners wanted an Ottolenghi there but we wanted to do something different.

How similar will ROVI be to your Soho restaurant NOPI?
There’s obviously a link with the names and they both have an open kitchen and similar price point. But that’s where the comparisons end. NOPI works with a lot of Asian influences and has a different look and feel to ROVI.

You haven’t opened a new place for six years, why wait so long?
We always take our time. We’re not in a rush to open. If it’s not right for us, we won’t do it. Restaurants are complicated. There’s a lot of logistics needed to open one properly, not least getting the right team in place. Money is good, but money it is not our main motive.

How do you split the workload within the group?
Yotam and I have very different roles. He’s the public face of the company and is a hugely successful author. I’m more hands-on and oversee the kitchens and how they function. Nothing goes on the menu before I say it’s OK. We also have Cornelia Staeubli, who oversees front of house, and Noam Bar who is the drive and brains behind a lot of what we do.

How did you and Yotam meet?
We met at Baker & Spice in Knightsbridge. I was working with Dan Lepard on the savoury side of the business and Yotam pulled up on a scooter and asked if we needed a pastry chef, which we did. It was an odd situation – we were both born in the same year in Jerusalem and had also moved to Tel Aviv at the same time. But we did not meet until we were in London. We opened the first Ottolenghi together in 2002. I think there is an advantage to two chefs working together. We have been collaborating for a long time. We understand each other and the flavours – we almost have the same palate.

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