1. The restaurant: Gauthier Soho
Fine-dining, classical French fare isn’t your obvious opportunity for an entirely animal-free dining experience, but for the last 18 months the unapologetically elegant Gauthier Soho has offered the Les Plantes vegan tasting menu to satisfy the demands of its high-end, oft celebrity clientele.
The dish: whole-roasted parsnip, liquorice broth, parsnip crisps and minted parsnip purée (pictured above)
Sous Chef Tom Brown says: “The dish was one of the first times we were brave enough to really present a whole vegetable in its entirety as a centrepiece. The slow roasting of the root softens it to a buttery texture which you can just drop a knife through. The parsnip crisps and crispy mint and parsley leaves add a little texture and prettiness to the presentation. After trying various aromatic broths, we settled on liquorice; its anise perfume compliments the sweetness in the parsnip very well. There’s something about pairing a root with a root that really works.”
2. The restaurant: Tibits
This Swiss mini-chain takes the salad bar to the next level while offering a hot-and-cold buffet-style concoction of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Zero danger to your health but its pay-by-weight concept might be a threat to your wallet.
The dish: beetroot, fennel and ginger crumble
Founder Reto Frei says: “This crumble is always the one that staff get the most enthusiastic feedback about. The crumble itself is made by blitzing the breadcrumbs, cashews, ginger and orange peel, then adding in rapeseed oil to bind it all together without affecting the flavour. When roasting the veg we only use a small amount of olive oil to ensure that it doesn’t overpower the taste of the vegetables. With all the seasonal flavours within this dish, it really does taste like autumn on a plate.”
3. The restaurant: Flat Three
This Japanese/Korean/Nordic mash-up serves a vegan tasting menu (from £69 per person) alongside its fish and meat options. In fact, the plant-based section is the longest on the menu which says something about priorities – the menu may fit the flexitarian model but its vegan elements aren’t just a bolt-on. Head Chef Pavel Kanja uses techniques like fermenting, salting and smoking to give vegetables the same taste qualities as meat.
The dish: roasted kimchi cabbage with shishitou pepper dressing
Head Chef Pavel Kanja says: “Kimchi is one of the fermented foods that people are most aware of or associate as Korean, so its popularity doesn’t surprise me. Like every other dish on my menu it began as an experiment: I wanted the mild, earthy, slightly sweet flavour of the napa cabbage – predominantly used by the Koreans for its great, fermented flavour – to shine through. That meant using no other flavours and only limited salt, as too much destroys the subtle sweetness. Great kimchi is about getting that sweet-sour balance. Napa cabbage also gives brilliant texture when it’s fermented – even after five or six weeks it remains silky. The shishitou dressing is simply a vinaigrette made with sweet Japanese pepper and garlic. A perfect sweet dressing for fermented cabbage.”
4. The restaurant: Mildred’s
Soho’s original veggie hangout – there are also outposts in Camden, Dalston and King's Cross – has long ensured its vegan clientele are duly catered for. Alongside colourful curries, grain bowls, burritos and burgers, there’s a healthy offering of organic wines, beers and ciders. More playful than puritan.
The dish: Sri Lankan sweet potato and green bean curry with roasted lime cashews, pea basmati rice and coconut tomato sambal
Executive Chef Daniel Acevado says: “The overwhelming popularity of our Sri Lankan curry means it’s quite rightly one of our signature dishes. It’s a celebration of Asian; sweet and creamy with a mild heat. Texture is so important when it comes to vegan food, so alongside the velvety sweet potato we add cashews toasted with chilli and lime and green beans to give a fresh crunch. The sambal – a hot relish-style sauce, served on the side – offers some optional added heat for those who can handle it.”
5. The restaurant: Farmacy
Camilla Fayed’s Westbourne Grove haunt for the chicer sort of wellness warrior brings a touch of LA-style healthy-living to West London. From its earth bowls (grains, leaves and green-powder dressings) to its syringe shots (high-potency ‘superjuices’ delivered in an actual syringe), it’s a haven for the health-focused diner. Its vegan reinventions of classic dishes (Full English, Farmacy Burger) appeal to the slightly shyer vegan-curious.
The dish: peanut and jam nice cream sundae
Founder Camilla Fayed says: Many of the dishes on our menu have surprised customers, in particular some of our choice comfort foods, such as our 'nice cream' sundae – one of our most popular dishes. We home-make the base of our sundaes with cashew cream, which gives it the rich and ‘creamy’ flavour people enjoy. We also churn it daily, giving it that fresh, light and smooth texture.”
6. The restaurant: Vanilla Black
Sumptuous, sophisticated and yet managing not to take itself too seriously, the ambience matches the cuisine at Vanilla Black, London’s first dedicated fine-dining vegetarian and vegan restaurant. The food can be as experimental as it is eccentric, and yet somehow – perhaps thanks to the ongoing personal touch of founding duo Andrew Dargue and Donna Conroy – it remains accessible. And, yes, delicious.
The dish: puy lentil and sweet potato dhal, crispy lentils and curry oil
Founder Andrew Dargue says: “We always want to offer something surprising in our dishes. So for this dhal, the puy lentils are simmered as usual – we chose puy because they hold their shape and have more value – but we also soak some overnight then drain them to serve deep-fried and crispy. It’s a technique I’d never come across until an Indian member of staff introduced us to it and I think it’s great for adding interest and texture. The sweet potato cubes are cooked sous vide then roasted to order so they keep their velvety texture, while the purée is made with coconut cream as opposed to dairy, which is how the dish became vegan.”
7. The restaurant: 1847
With restaurants in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, this out-of-London collective does modern, imaginative vegan and vegetarian food that’s neither too try-hard nor too intimidating (which is all nicely echoed in its décor and drinks offering). Each outpost creates a bespoke offering meaning it’s as far from standard, identikit veggie fare as you’re likely to get.
The dish: textures of beetroot
Jilisa Barnaby, the head chef of 1847 in Bristol, says: “The main components are beetroot spaetzle, beetroot reduction, golden beetroot carpaccio, hay-baked beetroot and walnut pesto. I think it’s so popular because people are intrigued by how versatile one vegetable can be. The hay-baked beetroot is baked in salt dough with roasted hay added to it – this helps to lock in the taste of the beetroot and adds a slightly smokier and earthier undertone. Spaetzle is a type of European noodle that’s normally made with eggs which I have substituted with gram flour, which works as a binder and leavener so you still get a light and fluffy texture.”