I’ve been rather ashamed of my sloppy blogging habits of late, so I thought I’ll finally explain to my readers what exactly I have been up to if I haven’t been diligently spreading awareness about the quality of vegan food around Singapore. My blog entries have decreased in frequency in the past two months since I’ve been on vacation in London, and I haven’t even had time to clear the backlog of entries I’ve got lined up. Unsurprisingly, I spend half my time here hunting for quality vegan food and gorging myself. I’m going to highlight the more memorable cafes and restaurants here – this is as much for my own purposes of reminiscing as it is for your entertainment. As always, I hope you will realise from my blog entries just how creative, fascinating and utterly delicious vegan food can be.
Most of my favourite eateries in London are pretty casual, with an emphasis on health. I lived in Covent Garden when I was living in London last year, so I was well-positioned to explore the vegan options in Central London. I love to bring my friends to Mildred’s, one of the best vegetarian restaurants in central London (and certainly the best in Soho) with a great atmosphere. My favourite dish on the menu is the mixed mushroom, porcini and ale pie served with fries and mushy peas. Unbelievably rich in aroma and flavour, with a flaky and seemingly buttery pie crust that made even me do a wow-I-can’t-believe-that-is-vegan! double take – it’s the perfect comfort food. The mushy peas are always at just the right level of mushiness, and the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside fries taste heavenly with their homemade spicy ketchup.
Soho is also home to a pair of sister vegan organic restaurants, Vantra and Vitao, with Vantra being the larger of the two and having a better ambience. Both restaurants have a slightly distinctive hippie vibe, and they both place a huge emphasis on raw food, whole foods, and organic foods. If you’re particularly hungry, head to Vantra for their extremely filling Organic Buffet Bar, which boasts a variety of dishes that are raw or (mostly) gently cooked to preserve its nutrients. Even I get full really easily at Vantra because so many of the dishes are packed with heavy protein (i.e. beans, legumes, wholegrains).
Vitao can be visited more frequently as compared to Vantra because the buffet menu at Vantra largely remains unchanged, whereas Vitao changes its Daily Specials, all of which look and taste wonderful, such as their aubergine stuffed with peas, tofu, mushrooms, corn and quinoa. Vitao also does a mean raw ice cream in three flavours – green tea, chocolate and fig.
I’m also a huge fan of the revolutionary café, inSpiral, which is further up north in Camden Town and which has the strongest hippie vibe of any eatery in London. Is there anyone who has been there who does not love it? Aside from having affordable and ridiculously healthy (lots of superfoods and tonic herbs and healthy food preparation methods like dehydrating are found here) and delicious vegan food, many of which are made with local and organic ingredients, inSpiral takes its environmental responsibility very seriously – as an example, 100% of the electricity consumed comes from renewable energy sources and their entire packaging range is eco-friendly. To quote their beautiful philosophy: “inSpiral is built on the belief that each and every one of us can contribute in a meaningful way to a better future and present for all of us. Planetary health starts deep within us all and to that extent the choices we make about what we eat are hugely important, not only for our own wellbeing, but to a much larger extent the entire planet we inhabit… We feel strongly that we need to rethink our way of interacting, of relating, our perception and awareness. Love is the answer, Compassion the way and Integrity the key.” I feel so touched whenever I come across a café or a restaurant that recognises the significance of food for the human body and the human spirit and the planet… I’ve never had such an experience in Singapore.
But moving on to the food – the menu has a pretty large variety, and you can basically go there for all your meals in a single day without being bored. It is indisputable that inSpiral does the best vegan breakfast in London – it comes with a homemade marinated veggie sausage, scrambled tofu with black salt and turmeric, grilled tomato and mushrooms, homemade baked beans and toast. And it’s all-day. 🙂
As for inSpiral’s mains, I like to opt for the creamy/cheesy ones because this is very difficult to find in normal cafés/restaurants – On my last visit, I had the mushroom & hemp pasta bake, which was made with gluten-free rice and corn pasta in a creamy mushroom, tomato and hemp béchamel sauce, with a crusty seed and herb topping. All mains come with an option of 3 sides, and as you can see I was dying for some extra protein that day. The sprouted mung bean and alfafa salad at the top was very fresh and super crunchy. 🙂
I’m also absolutely in love with the desserts at inSpiral – on a hot summer day (caveat: I know this is rare in London) I find myself craving their raw vegan ice creams, which comes in a range of creative flavours, and I can always make room for their raw cakes. Here’s their highly popular raw Tiramisu cake coupled with their roseberry ice cream (with raspberries, strawberries and rose) and their dandelion coffee amaretto ice cream.
As a food lover, it’s really interesting for me to compare and contrast the present state of vegan food in Singapore and London. One advantage of being a vegan in London as opposed to Singapore (if you’re into this sort of thing) is that raw food is slightly more recognised in London. If I were looking for a menu with substantial raw food items in Singapore, I’ll be limited to Green Room Café [as reviewed here] and The Living Café [as reviewed here]. In contrast, London has more options, and London’s first entirely raw eatery, 42 Raw, also recently opened in the Royal Academy of Art. If you’ve always had a negative impression of raw food, this raw lasagna might change your mind – made with squash, tomato sauce, walnuts, parsley pesto, cashews crème and baby spinach, it was creamy, flavourful and hugely satisfying.
In addition, Singapore suffers from a severe lack of gourmet vegan food – there is a lot of great vegan food to be sought out, but I do wish there could be more upmarket options around. One of my favourite gourmet veg restaurants in London is Michelin-recommended Vanilla Black, the only fine dining veg restaurant in the city and what has been touted as the poshest veg restaurant in the UK. Expect creative, beautiful and exciting vegan and vegetarian fare, like their truffled mushroom and fennel with foraged seaside vegetables and butternut squash.
Vanilla Black also recently opened a cosy little cafe in central London (Holborn) called Orchard, which is much more casual and understated than the former. While the food served is less complex and imaginative than that in Vanilla Black, you’ll find the same attention being paid to detail. I loved their roasted tomato and basil pesto puff pastry, served on a bed of fresh cucumber slivers along with creamy, melt-in-your-mouth Yukon Gold potato cakes and pickled walnuts.
Inspiring food aside, I also love the London veg scene for its variety in the way cafes and restaurants are structured and established and in the way customers pay for their meal. For example, in the stylish vegetarian fast food restaurant off Regent Street known as tibits, you select your own food from the buffet and pay according to the weight of your plate or container.
And perhaps the most conceptually interesting and unconventional veg eatery in London is Bonnington Café, tucked away in a quiet residential area, amidst the beautiful community gardens in Bonnington Square in Vauxhall. It began in the 1980s as a squat café to provide wholesome cheap meals for the community, mainly the squats that made up the local neighbourhood in Vauxhall Grove. Today it has evolved to become a co-operatively run vegetarian and vegan café/restaurant that is inspired by a sense of community – different cooks are responsible for the menu on different days/nights, and each pays a rental to cover upkeep of the café and holds on to his or her own profits.
While this means that you can frequently visit the café/restaurant since the menu will be different on any given day/night, this also means that the food can be rather hit and miss depending on who’s cooking your meal. I was completely let down when I visited on one of their Vegan Organic Thursdays, where all options on the menu are vegan. For my main dish, my “filo pastry” turned out to be a small serving of vegetables and mushrooms in tomato sauce tucked in between two hard-as-crackers “pastry” skins, with a side of mushy, overcooked smoked paprika wedges and a salad that turned out to be the only pleasant item on the plate.
Ultimately, what stands out about Bonnington Café is not the food (though it is ridiculously cheap) – I like it for its very laidback and bohemian vibe. The fact that it’s BYO without corkage charge is a huge bonus.
And with that, I’m done with my cursory overview of some of my favourite veg eateries in London – If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging my nostalgia. Perhaps you might even find this post slightly helpful if you happen to be visiting London in the near future.