Veganism is all over the UK press at the moment. With the rise in popularity of the Veganuary initiative – committing to go vegan for the month of January – magazines and newspapers are bigging up their pick of London’s vegan-friendly restaurants.
But, a lot of the suggestions, I think, are a bit of a cop out! Recommendations such as pizza places serving you a Marinara, i.e. a pizza with a tomato sauce, some oil and herbs, are far from inspiring for me. Or, suggesting visiting a restaurant where there is one delicious vegan side dish on a predominantly meat-oriented menu.
I can understand the reason for listing eateries that cater for meat eaters and vegetarians/vegans alike, in that you still want to be able to eat dinner out with your carnivorous friends should you choose to become vegan in January and beyond. However, a cheeseless pizza doesn’t excite me. Neither does the prospect of a lonely vegetable side dish.
I have taken on the Veganuary challenge this month. When I eat out as a temporary vegan, I want to feel excited when I pick up that menu. I want numerous options to choose from. I want something tempting, creative and satisfying to eat. I want to guarantee that when I turn up to a restaurant that my dietary requirements have been catered for; I don’t want half-arsed, ill thought-out food. That’s why, I would much rather go to a wholly vegan (or vegetarian) restaurant.
Some of these places may be obvious to those already familiar with London’s meat-free dining scene. But they’re worth a mention, in case you’re new to the veg game.
These restaurants are in no particular order, but they are all tried-and-tested, and very much worth a visit:
- Itadaki-zen: for organic and vegan Japanese dining. The first vegan Japanese restaurant in Europe, in fact. Despite being situated in the central chaos of Kings Cross, this small restaurant exudes both tranquility and quality. We arrived around 9pm on a Tuesday night and the place was almost full. With an extensive menu, you can expect to find deep-fried goodness in the form of vegetable tempura and spring rolls, freshly-made, aesthetically-pleasing sushi maki rolls filled with exotic mushrooms, avocado and raw vegetables, udon noodles in a vegan-friendly broth topped with tofu steak, as well as a wealth of organic, vegan wines. I’d recommend the Itadaki-zen bento box as you can try a range of dishes that way. Main courses start at around £12.
- Vanilla Black: for an unforgettable fine-dining experience. Recommended in the Michelin guide, this is the place to try inspiring, innovative and unusual flavour pairings from an ever-changing, seasonal menu. Not everything is vegan on their main menu, but helpfully, they do have a separate vegan menu. Every detail is thought about: the food is presented beautifully, brought to you by friendly, welcoming and attentive staff. I even marvelled at the lovely crockery and glassware on both of my visits. Also, if you’re on Instagram, you must follow Vanilla Black’s account. The owner, Andrew Dargue, posts up behind-the-scenes photos of their food, interspersed with hilarious, everyday musings. Also, Andrew always likes my Instagram photos, which brings me joy. Two courses for £31. Three courses for £41.50. Treat yo’ self; have three.
- Ethos: for colourful salads and gourmet buffet grub. This elegant, pay-by-weight buffet restaurant is a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street. With indoor trees, marble tables and striking blue decor, the restaurant is spacious and modern. As about 50% of its menu is vegan-friendly, Ethos offers a wealth of vibrant, animal-free dishes. The salads have Middle Eastern and Meditteranean influences, there are plenty of homemade dips like houmous and guacamole on offer, and hot dishes using fresh vegetables and pulses. Oh, and vegan cakes and sweet treats of course. Depending on how big your eyes and belly are, you can get a decent plate of food for about £14. My tip is to pick the less weighty options like salads to get more bang for your buck.
- Buhler and Co: for a hearty, meat-free brunch. This compact, vegetarian cafe on the busy Chingford Road in Walthamstow makes the best use of its space. What was probably previously a ground floor flat has been made into a light and airy eatery, with a Scandinavian feel: white walls, low-hanging light fittings, lots of green, leafy plants, and simple, wooden furniture. This feels like an exciting place to be. With a small room up front, a covered garden with heaters and a small room out the back, you’ll find space to have a decent coffee and a delectable brekkie. Try the vegan version of their Indian-inspired vege fry up, and a soya flat white on the side. From £5.50 (cheaper if you just want toast).
- Ottolenghi: for sensational vegetable small plates. Okay okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this choice. This isn’t a vegan restaurant, it’s not a meat-free restaurant, but oh my, is it worth a visit. Ottolenghi is one of my idols: the king crusader of vegetables playing the hero on the plate, his restaurants are top notch. I mean, I’m a huge fan of vegetables, but never had I thought they could taste as good as they did when I visited Yotam Ottolenghi’s Islington restaurant. Small plates of the freshest of ingredients, cooked to perfection. As some of his vegetable dishes are cheese- and yoghurt-oriented, call ahead and ask about vegan alternatives. £30-£40 a head for sharing plates and wine.
Other tried-and-tested big veggie players you should visit: The Gate, Mildreds, Manna, Amico Bio.
Vegan-friendly restaurants I need to try, stat (watch this space):
- The new vegan fried chick’n shop everyone is talking about: Temple of Hackney, which is, funnily enough, in Hackney.
- The community Hornbeam cafe, Walthamstow, which uses local-sourced, organic produce.
- South Indian vegetarian restaurant, Rasa, in Stoke Newington, Hackney. I’ve been to the non-veggie sister restaurant off Oxford Street, but I’m intrigued to try the 100% veggie place.