After decades of confinement to hemp-filled juice bars and health food shops populated with wide-eyed, spirulina-chugging salespeople, vegan choices have finally found their way into the kitchens of some of the world’s top restaurants.
Vegetarian options have been given a similar promotion. No longer simply a cheese tart afterthought at the bottom of a long line of meat; veggie dishes are finally getting the thought, care, and refinement they’ve so badly needed.
In order to discover what London’s top eateries have to offer for vegetarians and vegans, I set out on a tour of the city’s best restaurants in order to better understand how top chefs are bringing fresh and exciting ideas to the world of meat-free food.
Stepping into Gauthier is like stepping inside a friend’s cosy London home, if said friend was a wealthy eccentric Regency era socialite. To be let inside, visitors must ring the doorbell, after which you’ll be greeted by several members of the ridiculously friendly Gauthier staff. Inside, the carpet is thick, the fireplace is warm, and the cosy armchairs are so comfortable, you’ll never want to leave.
My guest and I sampled the Les Plantes vegan tasting menu, which provides eight courses of unadulterated (and, incredibly, vegan) foodie bliss. Highlights included stuffed Roscoff onion with vegan potato cream, roasted cauliflower with truffle purée, and the best tofu dish I’ve ever eaten: a tofu and swiss chard gratin paired with a punchy roast garlic purée. Who said the French can’t do veggie?
If you opt for wine, a knowledgeable sommelier will talk you through each course’s perfectly-matched glass. Just don’t expect to be sober by the time you get to the sumptuous dark chocolate and passionfruit tart for the final dessert which, by the way, is utter perfection.
After tasting this incredible menu, it comes as no surprise that Les Plantes was the winner of Best Vegan Menu at the PETA Vegan Food Awards 2016. You can purchase it as a gift voucher here.
The OXO Restaurant
If you’ve already heard of Redemption, it’ll most likely be because every year as Dry January rolls round, the media collectively points its finger towards its famous alcohol-free cocktails, labelling the bar as the salvation for your poor mint and crushed ice-deprived tongues.
However, Redemption is so much more than its alcohol-free cocktails (which are, incidentally, brilliant). As the cheeky sandwich board sign outside explains: “We are vegan, sugar-free, alcohol-free, wheat-free. So WTF are we serving?!”
It’s a good question, but one that the delicious, filling, wholesome menu will immediately answer for you. The firecracker cauliflower, maki rolls, and decadent vegan cheesecake were personal favourites. If you’ve got a particularly tricky eater to feed, take them here. They’ll be overwhelmed with the sheer number of things they’re able to eat.
How would you feel about sampling your first meal of the day 500ft high in the air? Sure, it’s not exactly a typical way to kick off your morning, but who could deny the joys of extravagant munching before 10am? Enter Darwin Brasserie, one of the handful of eateries located in the Sky Garden of one of London’s most impressive skyscrapers: the lovingly nicknamed “Walkie-Talkie”.
The relaxed restaurant – well, as relaxed as you can be while floating 500ft above London – recently teamed up with Natasha Corrett, co-founder of Honestly Healthy, to encourage early risers to give a healthy, vegetarian start to the day a try.
Options include a caramelised coconut and cinnamon pear porridge made with naturally sweet rice milk, cinnamon-infused pear cubes, coconut pear slivers and a sprinkling of flaked almonds. This is oatmeal on another level.
If you’re more of a decadent breakfast type, make sure you give the caramelised banana pancake stack slathered in chocolate a try. Trust me: it’s incredible.
The Gate has three separate locations around London, and has been going since 1989. As you’d expect, the well-established vegetarian restaurant truly knows a thing or two about catering for its meat-free customers.
Giving its newest at Seymour Place in Marylebone a whirl, we were treated to a comforting, hearty selection of wintery vegetarian dishes. For starters, the mezze platter was a good mix of vegetarian and vegan options, consisting of couscous fritters, mizo glazed aubergine, a three lentil pate terrine, and hazelnut and honey-crusted goats cheese.
For the main, the aubergine schnitzel was good enough to impress my resolutely omnivorous guest, and my butternut rotolo with wild mushrooms, chestnut stuffing, and maple parsnip puree was what vegan dreams are made of. Oh, and if you’re feeling like pushing the boat out, I’d highly recommend spicing things up with a round of jalapeño margaritas.
Itadakizen is a hidden treasure nestled deep in the heart of London’s King’s Cross. We tested the tempura and noodle courses, which came with some incredible sushi made with a variety of veggie ingredients including tofu, mushroom, green beans, pepper, beetroot, and carrot. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that absolutely everything on the menu is vegan.
Unexpectedly, the desserts were one of the best parts of the meal. The vegan cheesecake was passably cheesy without being cloying, and the small cake was a comforting end to the meal. If you’re considering making the trip to Itadakizen, you can check out the menu for yourself here. They’re also offering a new catering service, with chapche, bibimpap, and sushi on offer.
After sampling some of the very best vegetarian and vegan food London has to offer, I’m even more certain that eating out doesn’t have to mean missing out. In fact, by eliminating fine dining’s go-to ingredients, chefs are forced to get creative, push plant-based ingredients to their limit, and create some of the most inventive dishes ever made.