Vanilla Black London: Green Is The New Black
The philosophy behind the Michelin-recommended Vanilla Black is simple: making great vegetarian food that anyone can enjoy. But even such a simple idea can be difficult to execute well.
Vegetarian cuisine in London tends to fall into two categories: simple, café-style food, or the sort of trendy fare that isn’t very appealing to the average diner. A good restaurant that consistently delivers on quality is hard to find, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across Vanilla Black.
Established in 2004, Vanilla Black focuses on contemporary vegetarian cuisine. It’s tucked away in a side street near London's main legal centre in Chancery Lane, which makes it a popular spot for quiet office lunches during the week, while over the weekend it has a more casual and buzzing atmosphere. The menu is seasonal, using locally sourced ingredients including foraged greens and seaweed. Vegans and people with food intolerances (gluten, dairy) are also provided for. Just let the restaurant know of any dietary requirement at the time of booking.
I visited Vanilla Black during my lunch break one day and had the opportunity to meet head chef Andrew Dargue, who endeavours to bring more originality to vegetarian dishes, borrowing elements from various regional cuisines and experimenting with different techniques to create some unique flavour combinations.
My meal started off with an appetizer of dried yeast ice cream with peppers and avocado brioche. It was essentially a deconstructed Mexican breakfast of bread, avocado and peppers, recreating the individual components of the dish in new and unusual ways. The resulting dish had a flavour that was very distinct, yet familiar. The ice cream was made with nutritional yeast, an ingredient used in vegan cooking as a source of protein; it was more like a savory parfait, with a pleasant nutty flavour and a creamy texture thanks to the addition of almond milk (made in-house).
For the main course, I had seared seaweed and cabbage with pickled potatoes, soda bread sauce, pickled mustard seeds and foraged seaside vegetables. This dish was inspired by a combination of Irish and Swedish cuisine, hence the main ingredients of heritage potatoes and cabbage. The seaweed (foraged in Wales) was presented as a mini bread block with a smoky truffle flavour to complement its saltiness. The dish came with a side of crunchy samphire, a plant native to the UK’s coastal areas, whose savoury and bitter taste rounded off the meal nicely. The main course was surprisingly filling, leaving me with no room for dessert.
On the whole, Vanilla Black crafts a memorable dining experience by playing with a variety of flavours and textures. What you end up with is some great food that can please anyone’s palate, vegetarian or not. Being an omnivore myself, I must say this meal has blown my mind in terms of the possibilities that exist in vegetarian cooking.
Paolo Bassanese is a London based guest blogger for VeggieBuzz. For more from Paola, check out her article on 10 Vegetarian Wild Food Recipes for National Vegetarian Week.
Featured image by @handsomelondon via Instagram.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: ✔
Pros: Warm atmosphere, creative menu.
Cons: For a vegetarian restaurant, it could use a couple more vegan options.
Price: $$$ (200 - 500 AED)
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