London’s a world-class destination, with millions of tourists visiting every year. And in the last few years, it’s reputation for ‘dubious cuisine’ has vanished — indeed, it’s rumored that even the French are crossing the Channel in their droves to try out the edgy new restaurants in the UK capital.
But what about vegetarians? For years, in London’s restaurants we had to make do with cheese salads, the odd quiche or some rice and veggies…and feel fortunate that we were served at all! After all, what are the Brits famous for, if not their roast beef dinners, steak and kidney pies and fish ‘n chips?
Whilst the above might be true, there’s good news for veggies. Despite British traditional fare being as popular as ever, there are all sorts of new options out there for anyone wanting to avoid meat and fish on their plates. From cheap eats to fine dining, London’s vegetarian scene has never been more hip and happening so if you’re looking to have your omnivorous taste buds tickled, look no further than the following:
I became a vegetarian in the 80’s, when it wasn’t terribly trendy, and this place was my ‘go to’ favourite. In business for well over a quarter of a century now, their flagship restaurant is in Soho, though they’ve now branched out to King’s Cross and Camden Town.
With an emphasis on organic produce, they endeavour to maintain an internationally-themed menu Their veggie burgers are delicious, their ‘Tokyo Bowl’ is amazing (think black rice, purple pickled egg, miso glazed aubergine, and edamame) and their white chocolate and rhubarb cheesecake is divine. It’s always crowded, so if you want to avoid the lunch rush get there before 1pm. As for dinner? Just try your luck.
45 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1
2. Palm Vaults
Known for its beautiful (and ‘Instagrammable’) food, this East London cafe began by serving little more than coffee, but has now branched out to real food. And whilst it’s not the cheapest lunch option (it’s only open from 10am to 5pm) it’s a lot of fun. Their classic avocado toast also comes with ‘vegan bacon’ (apparently made out of coconut) and they bake delicious too (some gluten and dairy free).
Wash it all down with a beetroot latte, made with almond and cashew milk. Oh — and enjoy the decor — as its name suggests, the place is chock-a-block full of palms…
411 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8
3. Wild Food Cafe
Located in beautiful Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, this first-floor eatery is full of long pine tables — perfect for gathering in groups (especially if the sun is shining!) The restaurant specialises in wholefoods, with an emphasis on ‘raw’ too.
They’re famous for their ‘Samurai burger’ which is layer upon layer of healthy, tasty goodness, and their lentil and sweet potato pie is also great. For an amazing drink, try their Medicinal Mushroom Raw Hot Chocolate.They don’t have an enormous choice — 4 starters, 4 main courses, 5 deserts — and they aren’t a super budget option, but it’s certainly an ‘out there’ experience. (Or as they say, ‘an oasis of wellbeing!)
14 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London WC2
4. Vanilla Black
If you didn’t think vegetarian cuisine could be gourmet, then look at the 2017 Michelin Review of this restaurant:…”delivers an array of interesting texture and flavour contrasts…modern techniques are subtly incorporated and while there are some original contributions, they are well-judged.”
And it’s true — real thought has gone into Vanilla Black’s dishes. As the owners themselves state, their mission is create dishes that challenge preconceptions and smash stereotypes. This they certainly do!
Starters include smoked aubergine, flatbread and green harissa, or sweet potato and lentil dhal. Moving onto mains, there’s shiitake mushroom, pine nut puree and crispy couscous and also tomato shortbread, sheep’s milk and broccoli. And if you’re wanting to live on the wild side, order the liquorice pannacotta with bergamot curd and coriander for desert.
Pricey but recommended. The chefs here really do know their job!
17–18 Took’s Court, Chancery Lane, London EC4
Manna’s been around since the dawn of time (or that’s how it feels for London vegetarians anyway), although it underwent a revamp in 1995.
Some describe it as a place for ‘comfort food’ — cauliflower tostados, veggie burritos, and organic bangers and mash, but there’s a lot more than just ‘comfort’ here. The basil cashew cheese croquettes are popular, as is the Baja California plate and deep-fried tofu.
The restaurant is vegan-friendly and also ideal for Jains (no onions or garlic are used in food preparation). The recommended desert is raw carrot cake with coconut ice cream (vegan options are also available). A tried and tested favourite.
4 Erskine Road, Primrose Hill, London NW3