Category: Reviews

Restaurant review: World Vegan Month at Foxlow

Upmarket meaty chain flirts with veganism

Foxlow, 8-10 Lower James St, Soho, London W1F 9EL (020 7680 2710). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £26

★★★★☆

The best thing about eating in Foxlow, to be completely honest, is that you can get two courses for £10 on their veggie/ vegan menu. This, and the copper hanging lamps, teal subway tiles and gold table edging, give succour to the budget-ailed diner who would like to pretend she regularly meets friends for lunch in Soho.

For £3 more you can drink bottomless filter coffee until the caffeine buzz becomes unbearable, at which point you have pretty much won London.

Foxlow is a small chain of restaurants for meat lovers. It is the sister of steak chain Hawksmoor and its usual lunch fare includes rare breed ribs for starters and ribeye for mains. Not a place, then, where you would expect a vegan menu. But lo, in honour of World Vegan Month this November, Foxlow has devised one.

Kale, avocado & fresh herb salad, and carrot houmous with carrot top pesto and sourdough

We started with a smoky, creamy carrot houmous, on slices of sourdough, and a leafy pile of kale, avocado and herb salad. The houmous had a nice hit of tahini, which went nicely with carrot top pesto and pumpkin seeds. The kale was vinegary, offset by the avocado, and came with a meagre amount of squash. As it goes, the avocado, having been flown to the UK from lands afar, would have been unnecessary had there been more squash, which is in season and abundant in our own country.

Aubergine ‘steak’ with wild mushrooms and vegan béarnaise sauce, and spice-roasted cauliflower with chickpeas, wilted spinach and curried aubergine sauce

The aubergine steak sure looked like steak, and would please most people to whom the heavily lentilled vegan aesthetic does not appeal. As a meaty restaurant, it makes sense to ground the vegan menu in familiar territory, where diners don’t roll their eyes at descriptions of nut roast and tofu and the like.

The sauce was nice and sweet, the mushrooms added to the umami meaty vibe and and the béarnaise was cleverly veganised, although nothing will ever replace the taste of butter. I would only add that it could do with a side of veg or chips, which I suppose is my fault for not foreseeing.

The cauliflower, in the running for 2017’s most fashionable vegetable, was wonderful thanks to the sauces. The curried aubergine one tasted a bit like HP, and a cauliflower puree brought creamy goodness. The attention to detail of the spicing and seasoning was obvious and the fried chickpeas and wilted spinach helped mop the sauces up.

It’s worth pointing out that on the Thursday that I went to Foxlow with a friend, we turned up at 1pm without booking and were seated straight away. There are other branches in Balham, Chiswick and Clerkenwell.

Foxlow has a 3-star Sustainable Restaurant Association rating – the highest. The rating is based on ingredient sourcing, looking after workers, and caring for the environment. The introduction of more veggie/ vegan options is the cherry on top, given that beef, Foxlow’s specialty, is such a greenhouse gas-intensive food. Even better, rumour has it the dishes are staying put.

 

Restaurant review: Tibits

King of the veggie/ vegan buffet

Tibits, 12-14 Heddon Street, London W1B 4DA (0207 758 4112). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £46

★★★★☆

If you’re walking down Regent Street and realise you haven’t breathed normally in several minutes in an effort to dodge everyone, take a diversion down Heddon Street. It’s the type of street that Muggles don’t notice – you wouldn’t know there was anything to discover unless you were looking for it.

Suddenly you’re in a leafy enclave of restaurants, with strings of lightbulbs overhead. On a half-hot September day you can eat outside and forget about the bustle.

Tibits is king of vegetarian and vegan buffet. The food is so appealing because 1) it’s instant, just like Yo Sushi and 2) the quality and variety is excellent.

When I went on a Sunday lunchtime, there was a pleasant chattery thrum oozing out of the open windows. An oval table in the centre of the restaurant is filled with hot plates and salad dishes.

You pay by weight (£25/kg). So I set about filling up my plate with a little bit of everything…

  • gnocchi verde
  • beer battered onion rings
  • carrot salad
  • vegetable tartare
  • orecchiette pasta salad with tofu, olives and sundried tomato
  • houmous and za’atar
  • okra tempura
  • dried bean salad with a walnut coriander dressing (wait for it, this was unbelievably the best part)
  • rocket

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The gnocchi was a little overcooked and starchy but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to carry on eating it for the rest of the day. It comes in a creamy sauce with spinach, leek and basil, which was heaven. The onion rings were sweet and juicy and dangerously addictive. The carrot salad was not naked and sidelined but has its own secret recipe dressing.

Veg tartare had an odd carroty flavour but the tomatoey orecchiette salad was better. The houmous was one of the best ones I’ve had. Tempura okra was great, if you like okra.

But hold on. The best bit, incredibly, was the dried string bean salad. Nope, I’ve never heard of dried string beans either. They don’t look particularly special but the texture was so good and rubbery in a really, really good way? The garlic, walnut, coriander, onion, balsamic sauce – just yes.

The recipe is actually online here. Thank you Tibits.

… and that’s not all.

Vegan pudding. I know what you’re thinking. But oh my, the chocolate molten pudding AND sticky toffee pudding made me all fuzzy inside. They were squidgy and gooey and cakey and datey and saucy. I actually wrote down the word ‘PHENOM’ in my notebook.

I had them with a vegan mocha cream, which was thick, delicious and what a hippy Nigella Lawson would adore.

So now you know about Tibits, don’t be a Muggle.

Restaurant review: Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge

Glorious, unfussy organic vegetables

Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge, 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1 8JT (02073593066). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £90

★★★★☆

Biting into a slice of tomato topped with crumbly, creamy ricotta, I was suddenly thrown into a cliché. This was just like in Italy, I thought, where I first discovered that tomatoes could taste good raw. Add the oozing alkaline green of basil pesto and I’m molta contenta.

This is to be expected when you eat at the pub supplied by Riverford organics, The Duke of Cambridge. Riverford is famous for its excellent veg box scheme, set up by Guy Watson, who is married to the founder of The Duke, Geetie Singh. Aha.

The Duke, which opened in 1998, is now ‘Britain’s first and only certified organic pub’ and yes, it is bloody good at vegetables. But it’s not just an organic pub – it aims to be sustainable in many aspects, from food waste, to packaging, to its second-hand wooden tables and chairs. It has therefore made it on to my food map of climate-friendly restaurants.

The starter was Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta (£8). The tomato was so ripe it barely needed chewing and the pesto was rich with olive oil, which we mopped up with what sadly looked and tasted a lot like bread-maker bread (£2.50). There was no liquorice salt evident to me or any of the other three diners around the table so it would be better not listed on the menu; particularly because the word ‘liquorice’ frightens some people. We shared it between four and that was lovely.

Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta

Next was Roasted Squash, Greens, Riso Nerone, Corn Salsa & Medita (£14) – picture at the top. Each vegetable was perfect. The squash was pull-apart stringy, sweet, herby and juicy. Baby kale was lemony and as salty as it could be without being too much. Black jewel-shaped rice with carrots and onion was piled up on the squash, and corn with pickled red onion brought acid and crunch. Grated medita, similar to feta, was extra salty seasoning that melted on the tongue.

We also ate Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto (£13).

Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto

Words depicting polytunnels bursting with gluts of August vegetables floated over the table. It was moreish and crunchy and fresh, the kind of dinner you don’t realise is so healthy until you reconsider it later. My only qualm? The veg wasn’t much chopped so with the green, red and yellow colours it looked a little like a toddler’s box of 3D shapes.

Dark, Milk and White Chocolate Brownie, with Cream (£6.50) was pudding. I wanted it to be dense chewy brownie packed with a galaxy of chocolate chunks. But it was a cakey and homogenous block that had been reheated in the oven, making the edges dry out. It came with sour cream that personally, I liked, but it upset the others who had eaten a big spoon of it, just like when my grandma dramatically ate wasabi for the first time.

Value for money? Yes. Organic farming uses more resources and the vegetables were beautiful. There is so much to admire about Riverford and the ethical ethos of the pub. The vibe was rustic and charming with bunches of dried flowers, wooden beams, plenty of windows for light, and the honey-coloured King’s Cross-type bricks.

To be particularly harsh, The Duke won’t excite the very culinarily adventurous. But I would happily bring my friends and family here to gorge on hyper-seasonal, delicious veg. After all, simple, fresh and locally grown is what the Italians are known for – and not what Brits are. Other UK pubs, take note.

Restaurant review: Radius 7

Very local food with a sea view

Radius 7, New Road, Stoke Fleming, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0NR (01803 770007). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £80

★★★★☆

The word ‘local’ has suffered the same fate as ‘organic’ in that it has been abused by marketing types as a stamp of authenticity. It conjures up scenes of food on wooden boards, served in buildings with wholesome scrubbed red brick walls.

But local is much more than a middle class buzzword. Buying locally is good for the economy and means fewer food miles. It can also allow restaurants to build a better relationship with suppliers so that less waste is created. And a transparent supply chain suggests people are fairly treated and paid at every stage of production.

Radius 7 does local very well.

Sat on a hill that suddenly plunges into the English Channel, the restaurant started out in 2015 with the idea that ALL of its food would come from within a 7-mile radius. Two years on, the proportion is 85% local (they said butchers’ prices were becoming too high) but it is still an impressive achievement.

For starters I had Salt and Pepper Onion Petals (£2.95) which arrived deep fried and with garlic mayo. The onion had been part caramelised before being battered which made for mouthfuls of sweet sticky jam and crunchy fried coating.

Salt and Pepper Onion Petals with garlic mayonnaise

My five and a half fellow diners happily saw off heavily cheddared soufflés, scallops with black pudding and peas, and summer minestrone soup.

Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini (£12.95) with pea puree and beer battered asparagus came next. It was at this point I realised everything I had ordered was deep fried. With my battered starter and the veggie mains menu mostly filled with fried goods (beignets and croquettes too) there could be a better balance. It may have been created for vegetarians who are afraid of vegetables but I am not.

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Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini, with beer battered asparagus

The arancini, which are fried risotto balls, were crisp and well-seasoned, with fat chunks of meaty mushroom inside. The asparagus was juicy and sweet, although the batter was probably unnecessary and did not taste much of beer. However, I was abruptly disappointed when I discovered I had eaten them all. The creamy pea puree was a good foil to the beige but was too salty.

Elsewhere on the table, silenced mouths lapped up crab claws, langoustines and mussels draped in wild samphire and garlic butter. There was a platter of mackerel pâté, prawns, smoked salmon and crab, and steaks with onion rings and veg, and chips to mop up peppercorn sauce. A slow braised ox cheek glazed in Doombar ale and black treacle was eaten in a religious daze as deep as the dark meat lacquer.

crab claws, langoustines and mussels
Fisherman’s Catch – crab claws, langoustines and mussels 

Defeated, only one of the group ordered dessert. Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake (£5.95) with salted caramel came on a wooden board supplied by the local tree surgeon. A thick, rich, creamy, generous chocolatey jar affirmed that Radius 7 knows what it is doing.

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheesecake with salted caramel, berries and brownies 

The whole meal happened effortlessly, with no delays except when waiting for the bill during an influx of diners. The building is a wonderfully light space that benefits from a high ceiling and two long walls of windows, with the sea visible over the rooftops. On this Friday night it had a pleasant hum helped along with relaxed, assured staff.

Radius 7 could make even more of its local mantra, which is not advertised in the restaurant or online. Arguably the best it has to offer is the seafood, which comes from nearby Brixham, one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. The restaurant also grows its own microherbs in a polytunnel out back and is looking into stocking Dart Valley wine alongside its Salcombe and Exmoor Wicked Wolf gins.

From an environmental perspective, local food does not always translate to a smaller carbon footprint because most emissions happen in the field rather than during transport. But it still helps, especially if the food is in season and grown easily in Britain.

Moreover it points to a thoughtful and sustainable way of restauranting that I am happy to buy into. Even if the deep fat frier had a bit of a heavy night.

Restaurant review: Fed By Water

Vegan pizza you say? Emily Clark finds out more

Fed By Water, Dalston Cross Shopping Centre,64 Kingsland High St, London E8 2LX (020 7249 6242). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and service: £85

★★☆☆☆

This vegan Italian dinner started in the best way I could hope for – with a stuffed mushroom.

But after the first disappointing bite, I knew I was stuffed.

Let me rewind. This is Fed By Water, ‘a concept restaurant offering authentic, traditional Italian plant based cuisine’ that ‘encourages healthy, ethical and sustainable living’.

I’m sold. But it seems, after months of drooling over their Instagram posts, another Londoner has fallen prey to mediocrity masked by pretty pictures of pizza.

For starters I had Fungo Ripieno (£8.95), mushrooms purportedly stuffed with onions and sage. The stuffing was grey, mushy and watery. Perhaps it had been regurgitated. It came with a truffle soy cream that had the exact appearance of part-cooked egg white.

Fungo Ripieno

As so often with truffle oil, there was no evidence of it in the eating, only the smelling. Truffle should be served in generous shavings if at all. The green beans were just that.

My accompanying diner had Asparagi Al Sole (£8.95), baked asparagus with orange soy cream and a vegan version of pecorino cheese.

Asparagi Al Sole

The asparagus was crunchy and sweet and the cream was an impressive take on hollandaise, with not too much orange. The roast fennel was nicely cooked but my sister makes better. The bread was stale.

The pecorino, however, was so offensive that I cannot calmly describe it. My keyboard will suffer.

It was shaped ironically into a heart, with sweet green gel in its hollowed-out middle. Its colour was so un-food-like that when my fellow diner cut into it I let out a yell of shock that it was not in fact a pottery dish for holding sauce.

It was fridge-cold, blended and bland. The waiter informed us it was made with hemp and soy, and doesn’t it taste nice? They might as well use a petrol-soaked tricolore as kindling for the pizza oven. Italian cheese this was not.

For a main I had a vat of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara (£14.95). It satisfied that urge you get with pasta to cram it in your mouth and enjoy the oxytocin high that comes with an overload of carbs. The sauce was cleverly made with salty smoked tofu, turmeric and soy cream and it came topped with seitan, a meat substitute made of wheat that was deliciously chewy and salty.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

We also ordered a Pizza Diavola (£14.95). The base was excellent having been cooked in a pizza oven and the umami olives were proper. But the fake mozzarella was watery and foamy and the array of pretend salami would only convince someone who doesn’t remember what meat is like.

Pizza Diavola

The wines were all organic and my glass of negroamaro was approved by fellow diner, who tastes wine for a living. She had a nice organic cider.

Fed filters impurities out of its drinking water and the water used in its cooking. It lists limescale, chlorine and bacteria as some of these impurities. The water is actually noticeably different, smoother somehow, with a mineral taste.

I ordered a ‘tiramisex’ pudding (£6.95) to take home, which I asked for in a very British matter-of-fact manner. It was very healthy tasting. (I have been known to stomp around the house chanting ‘TIR-AM-SUU’, in desperate need of cream, coffee, booze and cake.)

Instead of ladyfingers there was one layer of chopped nuts at the bottom. The vegan cream mix was thick and rich. I can forgive it for being healthy as this is one of the tenets of the restaurant. I was just expecting something more from a dessert with a rude name.

The bill came to £78.71, which I believe was too much for what we got. Fed justifies the portion sizes with being southern Italian, which is not so cute if you feel you’re paying too much. And in half-gentrified Dalston this cost seems incongruous. Next door was a cheap butchers with rows of plucked chickens hanging from the ceiling and a crowd of customers paying for them.

I don’t believe Fed has come into its own, despite its social media following. On a Saturday night, a London restaurant with approximately 40 covers should definitely be more than half full.

The pasta and pizza was delicious –  all the chefs are all Italian, though not vegan. Which explains why the vegan elements were, let’s say, unusual.

Mostly I feel that Fed hasn’t pulled off its ‘authentic’ vegan Italian concept. Some of the dishes need to spend a long holiday in the test kitchen and that pecorino needs to return to the special deep, dark vegan hell from whence it came.