Vegetarian-friendly is a loose term.
Sometimes it describes a restaurant boasting the most delectable, satisfying quinoa lentil burger. Other times, it characterises that lonely, token vegetarian option at the bottom of the menu - dried-up seitan, soggy lettuce, undercooked tofu and the like.
Passing up meat shouldn’t mean passing up flavour, so long-time vegetarian Samantha J. Gross set out to find London's best. The good news? London is pretty friendly to vegetarians (and vegans) after all.
Wild Food Café
The chefs at Wild Food Cafe aim for innovative, colourful and playful creations, all served raw and fresh at communal wooden tables in a sunlit corner of Covent Garden. It’s what you might expect a plant-based eatery restaurant to look like: patrons wear shirts that say “Tofurkey” or “Hug me, I’m vegan”, and staff adorned with eclectic jewelry and feathers in their hair sit next to you at the table as they take your order..
The signature “wild” twists on the menu come in the forms of smoothies in alarmingly bright colours and appetizers. like flavour-packed kale chips with turmeric and nutritional yeast. The flavours taste wild as well, I thought as I sipped my red pepper smoothie.
The names of the menu items, however can be a bit misleading. The raw Samurai “burger” -- Wild Food’s signature dish -- hardly earns the title, so tread lightly and know that the “burger”, “pizza” or “cheesecake” you’re about to eat will probably not taste like what you might expect.
With that in mind, know that everything you put in your mouth here will probably make you feel really good about yourself -- because how could you feel bad about eating mushrooms, as one patron told me, are “picked from the forest every sunrise”?
Menu highlights: Hummus and raw crackers, nut-free raw chocolate tart, Wild Whip smoothie.
Info: 14 Neal's Yard, WC2H 9DP; wildfoodcafe.com
This hip eatery is ironically calm and cool for a restaurant tucked behind the madness that is Oxford Circus. Marble tables are situated around the leafy trees that take their place in the centre of the dining room, and there’s no one over age 30 in sight. Water is served from reusable cans, as are the wide variety of beers, kombuchas and smoothies. Looking for Instagram fodder? This is it.
Food is self-served and priced by weight, but it’s not your average buffet. The heaping servings of gorgeous vegetarian food are put on a pedestal -- literally -- and the options vary from massaged kale with kumquat to miso-glazed aubergine to melt-in-your-mouth vegetarian Scotch eggs. The feel-good food is surprisingly hearty, and even the raw desserts taste as mouthwatering as they look.
Menu highlights: Marinated tofu and mandarin salad, sweet corn and goat cheese tortilla wraps, Lemon-berry vegan cupcake (I haven’t stopped thinking about the sparkly citrus frosting).
Info: 48 Eastcastle Street, W1W 8DX; ethosfoods.com
This 15-year-old establishment has been doing vegan food for longer than most places in the capital, and it shows. The restaurant takes the extra steps to ensure peak healthiness, using methods like water-based cooking, living menu items and sprouted grains for easy digestion. Everything from the stainless steel plates (requires less water to clean) and handmade recycled “tree” chairs allows guests to enjoy the food with an extra dose of environmental consciousness.
The buffet is the centrepiece of the restaurant, offering a large range of vegan raw and steamed curries, probiotic salads, soups and pasta dishes. The menu also features a series of guilt-free raw and steamed desserts, as well as an array of kefir and nectar-based drinks.
Menu highlights: Aside from the buffet, a la carte options are aplenty. Try the steamed “Buddah Bliss”, aka yam polenta with oriental mushroom, black bean sauce and quinoa for a burst of flavour.
Info: 79a Tottenham Court Road, W1T 4TB; vantra.co.uk
Hidden away on a Notting Hill side street is this vegan refuge for the healthiest Londoners to convene. While the interior is quite basic -- a handful of wooden tables and sprigs of fresh flowers -- the recipes are complex. The all-raw menu introduces traditional flavours to quite a-traditional ingredients, like raw zucchini pasta with truffles and creamy cashew pesto. Or avocado “tartare” with pomegranate and onion.
It’s vegan, gluten-free and organic, which is hardly noticed when you take into account the rich flavours and textures. The brilliant use of nut butters, cheeses and creams make the vegan food decadent, which is an adjective quite uncommon to the restrictive diet.
As the manager mentioned to me on my way out: “If you put it all aside and see it as food, it’s just great food”.
Menu highlights: Mushroom ceviche with peppers and tomatoes, zucchini cannelloni with sweet cashew cheese
Info: 110 Talbot Road, W11 1JR; namafoods.com
Mildred’s fresh, colourful food tastes as bright as it looks, and appeals to vegans, vegetarians and anyone looking for a healthy bite. It’s casual and friendly, but the food doesn’t suffer from the informality. It began in the 80s when 1960s-era vegetarian restaurants were still plopping brown food into pottery and calling it a meal. Mildreds opened in hopes of changing that, and it worked. To this day, the restaurant serves up tasty international vegetarian food that caters to every palate.
The food is consistent, the service is quick and the menu items taste home-cooked from appetizers to dessert. Going on a weekend? The long queue is worth the wait.
Menu highlights: Try the “soul bowl” for a duo of super food salads or the halloumi and aubergine “burger” if you’re peckish for something heartier.
Info: Soho and King's Cross; mildreds.co.uk
As one of Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurants, Manna’s chefs make vegetarian food like they invented it. Since it’s opening 50 years ago, the restaurant is now entirely vegan, providing Londoners with vegan alternatives to fine dining rarely available in restaurants anywhere.
The high-quality dishes come at a steeper price than most others in its genre, but the health-conscious menu and the attentive staff hold up to traditional fine restaurants.
As the website states: “We travel the world compiling our recipes before bringing them lovingly to you.”
Menu highlights: Organic vegetarian bangers and mash, buffalo cauliflower tostada. Having trouble deciding? Choose four sides and the chef will plate the meal for you.
Info: 4 Erskine Road, NW3 3AJ; mannav.com
This Michelin-recommended eatery redefines what they call “non-meat cuisine” in modern interpretations of classic dishes. Vanilla Black is modern, sleek and offers both set and a la carte menus that will impress “even the most devout carnivores”, according to their website.
With several options for those following vegan and wheat-free diets, this spot aims to please refined palates of all sorts. Fair warning: Dishes are on the pricey side and reservations are necessary.
Menu highlights: Goat cheese and fennel pollen, baked high cross and charred onion, roasted white chocolate with mushroom custard and tarragon cream cheese
Info: 17-18 Took's Court, EC4A 1LB; vanillablack.co.uk