Vanilla Black had been at the top of my ‘must-try’ list of London’s vegetarian eateries for a very long time. A friend’s birthday (and subsequent birthday gift voucher) was finally excuse enough to visit the high-end restaurant that boasts prices a little heftier than those of my usual hang-outs.
Located just off East London’s Chancery Lane, the restaurant is well-known amongst vegetarian circles for its beautifully presented haute cuisine. As the owners proclaim on their website, there’s not a pasta bake nor vegetable curry in site!
My first impression of the menu was that it was very dairy-laden as brie ice cream, blue cheese ‘toasties’ and carrot cake with sheep’s yoghurt all featured on the starters. They do advise that you can let them know in advance if you require vegan meals so the menu can be adapted, however, it would be nice to see more vegan options on the menu to start with to show that they too can be a little fancy-pants.
The food was all beautifully presented – the kind of dishes that you don’t want to eat for fear of ruining the art. My apologies in advance for the below par photography; camera phones and mood lighting are not the best of friends.
We started with the complimentary amuse bouche of Grapefruit Gel with Star Anise Foam. This was tart and refreshing and looked oh-so-cute served in little shot glasses.
For my starter, I picked the Soya Curd, Beetroot and Nasturtium Leaves. I’d never eaten nasturtium leaves before and the velvety leaves had an interesting texture to them. There was a mix of golden and purple beetroot, as well as balls of dehydrated beetroot. I wasn’t a massive fan of the dehydrated beetroot but I really enjoyed the rest of the salad with its interesting mix of textures and flavours.
My dining partner started with the Yorkshire Blue Cheese ‘Toastie’. This was a hunk of blue cheese served with crisp rye, grapes and puffed wheat. This friend’s expectations of a haute cuisine toastie were pretty high so he was a little underwhelmed by the dish. It certainly looked pretty but the flavours weren’t as strong as anticipated.
For my main, I went with the Seared Seaweed and Cabbage with Pickled Potatoes, served with a Soda Bread Sauce, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Foraged Seaside Vegetables. If I had to use one word to describe this dish? Salty. And as someone who isn’t particularly big on salty food, this wasn’t ideal. However, given that I chose a dish consisting of ‘sea vegetables’ and not ‘freshwater lake vegetables’ that is probably my own fault…
I really enjoyed the pickled potatoes and although I wasn’t entirely in love with the dish, I would recommend this to seafood fans or vegetarians who miss food from the sea. It had the smell and taste of the ocean and I imagine it to be the vegetarian equivalent of a fancy shellfish dish.
My friend’s main was the Fried Mushroom Mousse and Rosemary Sauce served with Mushy Peas and Horseradish, Fennel and Whipped Lemon. After the disappointing starter, things changed for the better for my friend, declaring this his favourite ever dish from a vegetarian restaurant. High praise, I assure you.
Meals are priced at two courses for £31 per person or three for £41.50 per person. Not extortionate but after adding a bottle of wine and service, the bill came to around £100 for the two of us, which was definitely well over my standard spend! For me, the restaurant is one for a special occasion, rather than somewhere to pop in to on a Thursday night after work.
I read a review somewhere in which the author stated that you either love or hate Vanilla Black; there is no in-between. Although I understand where he was coming from, I don’t strictly agree. I appreciate what the restaurant is doing for vegetarian fare – breaking out from the mould and serving beautifully presented, inventive haute cuisine. However, it didn’t hit quite the right notes for me, personally. I am not big on salty or very rich food and everything I tried was at least one of the two.
That said, I’d be very willing to give it another go, especially as the website now states that they have a separate vegan menu available and I’d love to check that out. But only if I had another gift voucher…