Veggie has suddenly become uber cool – almost over-night it seems. In July The Observer Food Monthly dedicated an entire edition to the cause; end of August sees NY’s highly regarded Otarian comes to LDN (fast-food, veggie style); and pretty much every other week every other celeb (as long as they’re of the young, female and lithe variety – oh and Russell Brand) is name-dropping Meat-Free Monday as the new ‘in’ cause. It’s hippy-chic all over again – but this time we’re talking food, not fashion.
Over at Otarian ‘eating sustainably’ is lauded as a lifestyle choice. The menu lists the carbon footprint of every item; karma credits are up for grabs; and even the restaurant design boasts plaudits fit to impress the keenest of eco-warriors (Zulu chairs employ an ancient African weaving technique to secure recycled plastic onto recycled aluminium frames. Have they not heard of Ikea?) I’m kidding…
But is all this doing the veggie-cause any real favours? I myself am almost-total veggie (though I prefer the expression ‘fussy-with-my-meat’ – ahem) and have battled for years with the ‘pain in the arse hippy’ tag that invariably ensues whenever I ask for ‘the vegetarian option”. Is it possible to enjoy a sexy vegetarian meal? Yes – in a word – but you’ll need to be discerning. I’ve spent the last few weeks checking out what’s hot and what’s gazpacho – all in the name of research, and sadly only in London (yes I know there are some fantastic places elsewhere on the map, just give me time…)
Here’s what and who came up trumps:
I visited Vanilla Black – the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK. I so wanted it to work; I really wanted it to be top of the pile. It deserves to be, surely? I’m not going to slate the place. Let’s just say that it wasn’t what I expected. And I couldn’t get a table at The Gate. But don’t panic. If you fancy going-gourmet V-style in the big smoke, you’d do well to check out Pied à Terre (Charlotte St, W1). No it’s not veggie, but neither is it snooty about veggies, for which I’m always stupidly grateful. The 10 course vegetarian tasting menu comes in at £80 – and is a gorgeously sensual experience. Highlights for me included the Cherry Tomato Salad with Caper Berries, Red Basil and Tomato Essence; and the Poached Quail Eggs with Emulsion of Smoked Butter and Peas. The service is impeccable – what did you expect with ‘TV’s David Moore’ at the helm (ooh, he’ll hate me for saying that). David by the way is also one of the most fun hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining with (don’t let him buy you a drink – you’ll end up half cut and almost missing the last train home). Head chef (and co-owner) Shane Osborn is an absolute gem too (we chatted briefly upstairs in the bar – a rather glam and bijou west end hide-out – and within moments I could tell that he was authentic in every sense of the word). A truly refined menu and a dazzling wine list to boot. Highly recommended.
I was dubious of visiting Aldo Zilli’s Zilli Green (another celeb jumping on the veggie band wagon?) but I just loved this place. The location (buzzy Dean Street); the menu (Mushroom & Fresh Truffle Risotto, Grilled Asparagus & Mascarpone – seriously, what’s not to love?) and a young and gorgeous Soho crowd. As I sat savouring Aldo’s veggie fusion menu (it works I promise) I simultaneously enjoyed nosing at the rich and shameless spilling out of the Dean St Townhouse and eavesdropping – closer to home – on some of the most fabulous conversations and bitchery I’ve ever heard. I’ll be back…
Let me draw your attention to Tibits (Heddon St off Regent St) – if the celeb alumni doesn’t draw you in (Gordon Ramsay; Bianca Jagger…) the food certainly should. Funky salads; strong flavours; and even a play area downstairs so the yummy mummies can pre-occupy their annoying two year olds (hey, I’m a parent, I’m allowed to say these things). The location is super-cute too (Californian phraseology to fit with the ‘wholesome’ valley-girl vibe…) It’s slightly on the pricey side, but there again I had absolutely no complaints with what I ate. Again, great service – and you can eat-in as well as take-out.
Wholefoods Market really should get an honorary mention here too (I could lose myself for days in the High St Ken branch).
Nando’s: I love you (please come to Taunton!) and Pizza Express: in an emergency you’ll do. But when it comes to High Street, really there’s only one chain that truly embraces the veggie vibe and that’s Giraffe. The Farmers Market Vegetable Burrito really hit the spot when I visited the Holland Park branch (genuinely lovely service too). Equally I loved the veggie-feta salad (anything that renders mung beans and bulgar wheat both tasty and digestible) and as with Zillis and Tibits, the juices and smoothies really inspire those taste buds. Relaxed and fun.
So that’s my potted-tour of veggie London. It’s not a definitive list and doubtless somewhere down the line there’s a two-parter to be had. See you next year then??!