Asparagus velouté, red cabbage ravioli, gravy that could wean Super Hans off crack… a new vegan spot that actually ISN’T doing fast food
The Field, 358-360 Westgate St, London E8 3RN (07736 670367). Five-course tasting menu for two, including drinks: £84
*Journalistic integrity announcement: one of the chefs here is a friend of a friend. This has not tempered any of my opinions*
Joanna Lumley once said, when it comes to vegetarian and vegan food, don’t bully, tempt. And London has answered her call – with the all day breakfast pie and mash at Young Vegans, fried chicken at Temple of Seitan, peanut butter ice cream sandwiches at Cookies and Scream…
However, there isn’t so much in the way of refined vegan food. Something a bit lighter than Purezza’s sourdough balls filled with hot cheese and emotions (which, incidentally, are not a wise order on a first date).
Then comes along the vegan tasting menu at The Field, at London Fields in Hackney. The concept is that you can add a meat or fish option to two courses if you fancy. I didn’t, because I’m vegan, if you hadn’t noticed.
First off was a mezze plate – sourdough painted in sweet, umami mushroom coconut butter; a super-smooth cashew butter; toasty sunflower seed lavash (like a cracker); beetroot dip; and spicy harissa.
It was all a bit thicker, richer, smoother, just better than the vegan food I make at home, or the stuff in tubs and jars.
Next was asparagus velouté with asparagus, almonds, puffed spelt, herb oil and tiny cubes of pickled courgette. It was like a mathematical exercise in gastronomic balance: crunchy spelt vs smooth velouté, bitter almond vs sweet asparagus, fat of the oil vs acid in the pickle. My vegetable-fearing friend declared asparagus was now on his list of edible greens. A+.
Velouté, meaning velvety, is usually (but not always) made with cream and butter, so to get the richness across without them is impressive. My only negative is that I prefer it when it’s not foamy at all, and this was a little.
This was followed by pasta – warm agnolotti, with a lot of heat from black pepper. In the middle was caramelised orange and cabbage reduced until it had this great tear-apart bundle of hay texture. The mild tofu sauce was just a foil to mop up everything else. The pasta dough was not as soft as your average, but with the pine nuts and freshness from raw red cabbage and herbs, I could have had seconds and eaten everyone else’s too.
The celeriac with a nori (seaweed) and olive crumb, in mushroom broth, was the only course I didn’t love. Mushrooms were missing umami and depth of flavour and the broth was a bit watery. There was a strong taste of the sea with sea veg (also seaweed) but it wasn’t balanced by the other flavours. The celeriac needed some serious roasting until it does that amazing sticky, caramelised thing.
The meatiest course was a cauliflower steak with a sticky gravy that could wean Super Hans off crack, made from reduced root veg and cumin. I would buy that gravy by the bucket.
A warm caramelised yeast sauce was beautifully smooth and the cauliflower was roasted properly, without fear.
The last course was basically a magic trick on the theme of of sweetcorn – a custard tart where the custard was made from only blended corn and sugar, with salted caramel popcorn. Even my dairy-eating friends were convinced.
As for drinks, the wine list is vegan and we had a Folle Blanche for £25, or they have Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club if you want vegan beer.
It came to £42 for the five courses and drinks, plus the bonus mezze plate and a granita. It’s not cheap and isn’t far off the £35 five-course vegan menu at Marcus Wareing’s Tredwells in Covent Garden. But I was happy to pay for it as a treat, and particularly to support a new restaurant that is somehow making British vegan food classy.