Hidden away on Tooks Court (a quiet backstreet just off Chancery Lane), it’s almost as if the owners of Vanilla Black - London’s only Michelin-recommended vegetarian restaurant - don’t want you to find it.
With its olive green walls, chandeliers and slick, members-only vibe, it’s a far cry from the tofu-saturated hippie haunts in Soho and Camden that tend to give vegetarian cuisine an unfair reputation. This restaurant proves unquestionably that meat-free does not have to mean bland and unadventurous.
On arrival, my friend and I are swiftly presented with two kinds of freshly baked bread and a dish of salt and black pepper butter, and as we sip our wine (a crisp South African Sauvigon Blanc), the waitress answers our questions about the menu.
There are six of each course to choose from - I try the whipped jacket potato and crispy shallots with tomato syrup and Wensleydale cheese. This is delicious and the whipped potato really does taste like crunchy potato skin. The real winner though is the brie ice cream and Victoria plum chutney with caraway seed cornets and toasted hazelnut (cue serious case of food envy). The flavours are just as playful as the presentation, leading you delicately through sweet and savory and landing somewhere in between.
After more bread and a delicious amuse bouche of sour apple compote with fir pine yogurt, we both choose the same main course, which is poached organic hen’s egg and Ribblesdale pudding with hickory smoked potato croquette and pineapple pickle. The Ribblesdale pudding turns out to be a heavenly melt-in-the-middle cheese souffle, and this is set off beautifully by the chutney-style pineapple. The egg is perfectly poached and soaks into the potato, which we eat with a watercress salad.
The great thing about Vanilla Black is that the portions are beautifully presented but not in any way meagre. By the time it came to choosing the dessert, we had just enough room left.
I definitely made the right pudding choice with iced malt and burnt orange marshmallow muscovado, sugar meringue and parsnip purée. The parsnip puree was more like a creamy sorbet, which was not too sweet and was complimented by crumbly meringue and orange jelly. My friend had the peanut butter cheesecake and cracked cocoa beans with banana and thyme bread and toffee sauce, which all sounds better on paper. In reality, it was a bit of a mish mash and the cocoa beans were far too bitter.
This was our only grievance though, as we were pretty impressed with the complexity and creativity of the menu. My dining partner is a serious carnivore, yet she professed that she didn’t find this meat-free dinner to be lacking in anything. This is surely the restaurant’s aim after all, not just to cater to vegetarians, but to prove themselves as a real contender against London’s top-notch gourmet restaurants.
Vanilla Black, 17-18 Tooks Court, London, EC4A 1LB. 020 7242 262