My top five vegan-friendly London restaurants

Leaves Eggplant Vegetarian Vegetables NaturalVeganism 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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):

  1. The new vegan fried chick’n shop everyone is talking about: Temple of Hackney, which is, funnily enough, in Hackney.
  2. The community Hornbeam cafe, Walthamstow, which uses local-sourced, organic produce.
  3. 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.

Have you visited a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I shouldn’t miss out on? Please comment below if so; I’m always looking for new places to try.

Veganuary ideas: vegan banana bread pancakes

Happy New Year to you! If, like me, you have decided to take on the Veganuary challenge, I’m sure you’re looking for vegan recipe inspiration all over the web. 

After a week back at work following Christmas, I wanted to treat myself to a tasty and rich breakfast at the weekend. 

I’ve found so far on my vegan journey that cooking involves a fair bit of planning. However, I put this recipe together with just a couple of vegan staples and otherwise usual storecupboard ingredients.


These pancakes accidentally taste like banana bread. I added mashed banana as an egg substitute, but unknowingly, it also adds extra natural sweetness which is a real treat. The banana is also a great energy booster.

I used coconut milk as I wanted my pancakes to be creamy and sweet, but you could use any dairy free milk depending on your preference. A lot of recipes recommend almond milk; I imagine its nutty, earthy flavour would contrast well against the sweet banana and sugar.

The self-raising flour and baking powder together make these pancakes so light and fluffy. Eating them made me feel like I was in the film, Matilda. Whenever I think about thick, American-style pancakes I think of that film. It’s one of my faves.

I adapted this from a non-vegan recipe, which says it should make 4-6 servings. But my version serves 2! 

Ingredients

  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 medium, ripe banana
  • 130ml coconut milk (or your preferred dairy-free alternative)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Dairy free spread for frying
  • A generous drizzle of Maple syrup and your favourite toppings to serve 

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
Makes 7-8 pancakes (2 portions)

Method

  1.  Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
  2. Mash the banana in a jug or bowl and pour in the milk. Stir well with a metal spoon and then add the olive oil. Stir again until smooth. Don’t worry if there’s an occasional lump of banana.
  3. Tip the milk and banana mix into the dry ingredients and whisk well, until you have a thick batter.
  4. Put a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and add a knob of dairy free spread. When it’s melted, pick the pan up and move the spread around so it covers the base of the pan.
  5. Add slightly less than a ladleful of pancake mixture at a time. You should be able to fit three pancakes in the pan. Cook until golden, roughly 3-5 minutes on each side. Flip them over with a fish slice. When they’re cooked, remove them from the pan and either put in the oven on a low heat to stay warm, or put to one side. Repeat this process until you’ve used up all the batter.
  6. Serve stacked on a plate with a drizzle of maple syrup and your favourite toppings. I recommend washing them down with a fresh cup of coffee.

This recipe was inspired by BBC Food.

Seaweed is the new superfood

I know what you’re thinking. Seaweed? That slimy, dull green algae we’re so used to seeing washed up along the British coastline? Yes. Move over kale, seaweed is the new superfood.

Seaweed is in fact a highly nutritious and versatile ingredient. Used widely in Korean and Japanese cooking, it’s packed full of minerals like iodine, which is great for the thyroid function and helps to strengthen the immune system. It contains more vitamin C than an orange, plus it’s high in protein.

Seaweed can be used in a variety of dishes, including stock, soup, salad, and, of course, sushi. Its neutral, earthy taste pairs well with flavourful dressings and sauces, and it will leave you feeling full. You can find the dried stuff in some big supermarkets, as well as oriental supermarkets and online.

Try it for yourself

  
Try making this adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi’s crusted tofu with seaweed and lime.

The seaweed soaks up the chilli dressing, contrasting wonderfully with the punchy coriander seeds and lime in the tofu coating. The seaweed ribbons have a thicker texture than you’d expect, similar to lasagne sheets, though with a fresher taste and more bite.

Ingredients

  • 40g dried seaweed (we used kelp – you could also use wakame or a similar alternative)
  • 20g panko breadcrumbs
  • Grated zest of 1 small lime
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black (or white) sesame seeds
  • 15g coriander leaves
  • 150g tofu, drained and cut into 2cm chunks
  • 20g plain flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 50ml sunflower oil, for frying
  • Salt

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sriracha chilli sauce
  • A couple of drops of rice wine
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves 2-3 as a starter

Method

1. Place the seaweed in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring
to the boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients except the groundnut oil.
Gradually add the groundnut oil, whisking as you go.
3. Next, get your production line ready to coat your tofu. Put the coriander
seeds in a small bowl and crush them with the back of a metal spoon. Add the
breadcrumbs, lime zest and sesame seeds, a pinch of salt and stir in together.
Beat the egg into another small bowl. Pour the flour into a third bowl. Coat the
tofu in the flour, followed by the egg and lastly the breadcrumb mix.
4. Drain the seaweed, and cut into 2-3cm wide ribbons.
5. Put a large frying pan on a medium heat and add the sunflower oil. Cook
the tofu for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown.
6. Mix the seaweed, coriander leaves and dressing together in a bowl. Serve
on a plate with the crispy tofu. Squeeze some extra lime juice on top if you
fancy.

Tofu Singapore noodles

This light and nutritious noodle dish is bursting with aromatic flavours of lime, garlic and Asian spices. Crunchy tenderstem broccoli and firm tofu add great texture to silky ribbon noodles.

 

I love noodles. If I had to eat just noodles (for lunch and dinner, I like a conventional breakfast) for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t mind.

I love a strong taste of garlic. I’d say about 80% of the food I cook contains garlic. Where would we be without it? In an incomprehensible, flavourless world, that’s where. Pasta, noodles, curries, bread and dressings would all be bland without it.

I love most green veggies. Especially tenderstem broccoli. It’s fancier than the frozen or fresh regular stuff, so it’s a tasty and healthy treat to have now and again. You can taste the difference (without meaning to coin a well-known supermarket’s branding); it’s much sweeter and crunchier. Of course if you don’t have any in the fridge, you could use green beans, sugar snap peas, mangetout, or ‘normal’ broccoli of course.

These three elements combined with tarte lime, salty soy and flavourful curry powder soaked up by firm baked tofu, make for a satisfying supper inspired by the rich flavours of Canton.

This recipe is a little more complicated than a standard one pot dish as the vegetables, tofu and noodles need cooking separately, but it means each ingredient soaks up all of the lovely flavours, so it’s worth doing this way.

Ingredients

  • 2½ tbsp sesame oil
  • ½ white onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 tsp curry powder
  • 100g tenderstem broccoli (or alternative crunchy green vegetable)
  • 2 fresh noodle nests (I used pad thai noodles)
  • ½ pack or 200g tofu (I used Cauldron)

Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves 2

Method

  1. Firstly you need to extract the moisture from the tofu. Place the tofu on a plate and balance something heavy on top. I used a chopping board with two heavy pans balanced on top. Leave the tofu to drain for as long as you can – 15 minutes should be fine.
  2. While the tofu is draining, put the oven on to gas mark 7.
  3. When the tofu is ready, remove the heavy objects from it and tip the excess water on the plate into the sink. Chop the tofu into rectangles, around 3-4cm long.
  4. Place the tofu on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown, turning half way through.
  5. Meanwhile, finely slice the pepper and onion.
  6. Put a large non-stick pan on a medium heat and pour in 1 tbsp of sesame oil. Add the onion and pepper and fry for 4-5 minutes, or until the onion turns translucent, stirring frequently.
  7. Add the broccoli and mix in 1 tbsp of soy sauce and 2 tsp of curry powder. Fry for 3-5 minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and put to one side. Heat a further tablespoon of sesame oil in the pan
  8. Prepare the sauce by adding the remaining soy sauce, crushed garlic, lime juice and brown sugar to a jug. Whisk together.
  9. Remove the tofu from the oven when it’s ready and turn the oven off. Carefully peel the tofu from the baking paper and add to the pan. Pour over half of the sauce you’ve just prepared, ensuring it coats the tofu. Cook for a few minutes, until it’s well marinated. Remove from the pan.
  10. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of sesame oil to the pan and add the noodles along with the remaining 2 teaspoons of curry powder. Stir the powder in with the noodles. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  11. Return the vegetables and tofu to the pan and stir well. Pour over the remaining sauce and cook for another couple of minutes.
  12. Serve in large bowls with a side of sweet chilli sauce and chopsticks.

This recipe was inspired by Minimalist Baker’s Vegan Singapore Noodles

Aubergine and green bean jambalaya

This hearty vegan rice dish is as flavourful as it is vibrant. Soft cubes of aubergine soak up the wonderful aromas of garlic, paprika and chilli, while the green beans and pepper add a satisfying crunch.

Turn the heat up on your taste buds with this veggie variation of a Louisiana classic. It’s super healthy, simple to make and it’ll be on the dinner table in half an hour. Perfect for a mid-week meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped into small cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 aubergine, cut into small cubes
  • 150g long grain rice
  • 75g frozen or fresh green beans
  • Plenty of salt and pepper
  • Green salad to serve

Method

  1. Put a large pan on a medium heat and pour in the oil.
  2. When the oil has heated up, tip in the onion and pepper and fry for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Take the pan off the heat while you add the chilli, paprika, garlic and thyme. Combine the spices with the onion and pepper using a wooden spoon and return to the heat.
  4. Stir in the aubergine, ensuring the spice mixture covers it all. Then add the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and rice. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring to combine everything.
  5. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
  6. Pour the green beans in, season the mixture, stir well, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir 2-3 times while it’s simmering to check the rice isn’t sticking to the pan.
  7. After 20 minutes, try a bit of the jambalaya to check the rice is cooked. Season well and leave to stand for a few minutes. Serve in bowls with fresh green salad leaves.

This recipe was inspired by Leon’s Aubergine Jambalaya.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto

I conjured up this tasty rice dish with ingredients in the fridge and cupboard. It’s tasty and simple to make. Pearl barley is a healthy wholegrain and is a great substitute for risotto rice. It brings earthy, nutty flavours and adds wonderful texture with a bit of bite.

The vibrant, green asparagus has a satisfying crunch with a striking and fresh flavour. The creme fraiche and cheese add a layer of richness, but these ingredients can be left out to make the dish vegan friendly. And the soft cooked mushrooms on top balance out the crunchy textures.

This dish is cooked using the same method as risotto. It’s a great meal to make one evening after work.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 160g pearl barley
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 3 closed cup mushrooms
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 dessert spoon of creme fraiche
  • A handful of mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • Plenty of seasoning

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 2

Method

  1. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes, or until it has softened.
  3. Pour in the pearl barley and mix in well with the onion. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cut off the woody ends of the asparagus spears and chop each spear into thirds.
  5. Turn the pan down to a low heat and add a ladleful of stock to the pan, stirring occasionally. When the stock has been absorbed by the barley, add another ladleful and repeat the process.
  6. Put the chopped asparagus into the pan and stir in with the mixture. Add the next ladleful of stock as before, and continue this process until all of the stock has been added. This should take about 30 minutes.
  7. While the risotto is cooking, add the butter to a small pan and put it on a medium heat. Chop the mushrooms into thin slices and add them to the pan. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown. Set aside.
  8. When all of the stock has been absorbed by the barley, give a grain or two a taste. It should be fairly softer, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a splash of water and wait for that to absorb, for a further 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the barley is ready, take the pan off the heat and season well. Mix in the creme fraiche and cheese and serve in large bowls with the mushrooms arranged on top.

Where to eat vegetarian food in New York City

I recently got back from a week in New York; the longest city break I’ve ever been on. While I was of course looking forward to doing all of the touristy things and sightseeing, as with all holidays I go on, the top activity on my to do list was to eat, drink and be merry; to seek out all of the lavish American food and drink I could get my greedy mitts on. We ate and drank out a lot. I researched some eateries before heading out there, a couple of which we visited. Some great, some not so good. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this holiday is: never eat vegan cheese. No enjoyment can be had, just sheer disappointment. I’ve picked out my top five edible highlights of the week, covering everything from burgers to sushi in and around Manhattan and Brooklyn:

Mac ‘n’ cheese: Teddy’s Bar and Grill, Williamsburg

Mac and cheese

Teddy’s mac ‘n’ cheese

First and very much foremost is the ultimate comfort food, mac ‘n’ cheese. The warm, creamy, cheesy hug in a dish. Teddy’s Bar and Grill is a historic gem in amongst the trendy offerings of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Established in 1887, it’s no wonder this historic drinking hole looks like a traditional Sam Smith’s style pub you’d find in central London. The place is bursting with character, the staff are friendly and we had no trouble getting a table. I’m not sure that the photo above really does this meal justice, but it’s up there with the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve ever tried. I’m salivating just thinking about it. With a mixture of three cheeses – gruyere, parmesan and cheddar, breadcrumbs and mixed greens with a simple side salad, each creamy mouthful leaves you feeling warm and happy. Wash it down with a pint of local Kelso pilsner and you’re in for a top night.

Veggie burger and fries: Shake Shack, various locations across NYC

Shake Shack mushroom burger and fries

‘Shroom burger and crinkle cut fries

Shake Shack is the new fast food craze. On the flight out to NYC, I read the latest edition of Glamour magazine, where Taylor Swift rated it as one of her favourite places to eat. And the girl speaks sense. I found myself in two different Shacks over the week, once for frozen custard ice cream and the other burger and fries. I think veggie burgers are really hard to get right. Often unimaginative and either horribly soggy or bone dry, it’s unusual to come across a show-stopping meatfree patty. But Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger is an absolute delight: a succulent portobello mushroom filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheese in crispy breadcrumbs with fresh salad and signature ShackSauce. And their crinkle cut fries are amazing. If you’re in NYC any time soon and after some fresh and tasty fast food, stop by a Shake Shack if you can – there are branches all across the city. The only downside is that they list the number of calories in each different dish. This is an occasion when ignorance is most definitely bliss.

Contemporary Japanese dining: MoMo Sushi Shack

Vegan gyoza

Vegan gyoza

We ended up in this place by chance; having been told we’d have to wait up to an hour and a half to get a table at Roberta’s Pizza next door. I don’t care how good the pizza is, I’m not being told by a blase hipster that I’m going to have to wait that long. I’m getting too old to be bothered about the hype of those kind of places. Luckily, MoMo was an absolute delight. They got us a table within minutes, the staff were really attentive and the food was healthy and innovative. With a wealth of vegan and vegetarian options, we got a mixture of Japanese-inspired dishes, including rice croquettes filled with squash, sage, walnut and mozzarella, vegan gyoza and sushi inside tofu skin.

Classic margherita pizza pie: Grimaldi’s

If you want a traditional, freshly made Italian-American pizza from one of the best rated pizza places in New York, then get yourself to Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. What makes it special? The freshly made pizza pies (as the locals call them) are cooked in a coal-fire oven which gives them a unique taste; the buffalo mozzarella is delivered daily from a local supplier; and the place is family-run (albeit with a history of ridiculous feuds).

Grimaldi's pizza

Grimaldi’s margherita pizza

Be prepared to wait as there is usually a queue out the door, unless you go on the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour – which I highly recommend – then you can skip the queues and get straight down to eating. It’s a bus tour hosted by local Brooklynite tour guides that shows you some interesting sights of Brooklyn, including locations from famous films like Saturday Night Fever. They take you out to Coney Island and back, and you get to eat good pizza at two stops along the way. It’s my kind of tour.

Eco-friendly vegan dining: Candle 79

Mezze platter

Mezze platter

Candle 79 was the fanciest place we ate at while in New York. Located in Manhattan on the Upper East Side, the exclusively vegan restaurant prides itself on its local, seasonal and organic produce. I kicked things off with one of their eco cocktails, the ‘Tree Hugger’, made up of a number of ingredients I’d never tried before, including hibiscus liquer and huckleberries. It was a classy start to the meal. A lot of the starters were quite traditional, like a mediterranean inspired mezze platter of houmous, babaganoush, flatbread et al, and options like vegan nachos.

Cannoli

Cannoli with a chocolate chip vanilla cream filling, coconut ice cream and a chocolate drizzle

Where as, the mains were really innovative including dishes such as spaghetti and wheat balls and herb-grilled cauliflower steak. There’s a wealth of choice to either dare to try something new and exciting or stay safe with something classic. The atmosphere was romantic, the service was slick and the vegan coconut ice cream we had with our cannoli dessert was amazing. Candle 79 proved to me that vegan food can be rich and decadent. Recommended for a special night out. I know there are hundreds of great places we didn’t get a chance to visit, but I hope this gives you some food for thought if you’re going on a veggie adventure to New York City anytime soon.