Food culture and philosophy is changing rapidly. For many people, the idea of cutting down in meat eating isn’t as wildly outrageous as it may have seemed 20 or 30 years ago. Indeed, we would hazard a guess that many people who describe themselves as carnivores are also completely open to meat-free cooking. And yet perceptions – incorrect or not – remain, perhaps the primary one being that meat-eaters tuck in for sensory pleasure and stimulus, whereas vegetarians avoid meat for purely ethical reasons. As a topic, it is certainly less contentious, but perhaps the bottom line (as with all food) is taste. Listed below is a foodie/travel combo – spending a few days in London, one of the greatest cities in the world, and visiting a selection of what we regard are the city’s best vegetarian restaurants. Ready, steady, go!
Top 10 Vegetarian Restaurants in London
Starting as a Soho-based foodie brainwave in 1988, Mildred’s now has three other locations in London, but its aim of serving fresh and tasty international vegetarian food has stayed put. It is the food and the care/attention that goes into making and presenting it that has established the busy place as a must-visit. Our advice is to get there early in order to avoid the queues. Lunch options include shisho summer rolls (with mango, noodles, cashews, edamame, and orange chilli), while mains include soul bowl (turmeric quinoa, goji berries, baby kale, shiitake mushrooms, avocado, sesame, cashew cheese, and toasted seeds).
Address: 45 Lexington Street, Soho (other branches at Camden, King’s Cross, Dalston).
Thenga Café London
With no airs or graces, but with a simple philosophy of making food “that is better for people, their health and the environment”, Thenga Café is open only during the day (11am-5pm; closed Sundays). Food comprising thali (mini dishes) on one platter blends Bengali culinary heritage with elements of Mediterranean (especially Italian) fare. A low-key café delivering high-quality vegetarian flavours, this one is definitely worth seeking out.
Address: 120 Cromer Street, King’s Cross.
Norman’s Coach and Horses London
We are staying in Soho, and for good reason. Norman’s Coach and Horses is quite the legendary establishment, not only from its recent background (as being managed by a self-styled “rudest landlord” in England – hence its proprietary name) but also from its pioneering status as the city’s first vegetarian and vegan pub. Lunch is probably the best time to visit, otherwise you’ll be singing Chas & Dave songs come evening time. Mains include Norman’s Chilli (a warm bowl of you-know-what with kidney beans, butterbeans, fresh chilli, garlic, peppers, cumin and spices), Hungarian Goulash Pie (tomato stew with smoked paprika, soya pieces, fresh vegetables, savoy cabbage mash, and the house vegan gravy).
Address: 29 Greek Street, Soho.
Wulf & Lamb London
Don’t be side blinded by the name – as the website has it, “these days, thinking is not so black and white.” And so it is with Wulf & Lamb, an extremely well-positioned restaurant (in a mews just off Sloane Square, Chelsea) whose Head Chef is Franco Casolin, formerly of Vanilla Black. The menu is 100% plant-based, which adds up to the kind of surprising choices you read about but rarely, if ever, experience. (Note: the FAQ section on their website is excellent.)
Address: 243 Pavilion Road.
Cub has now securely confirmed its position as one of London’s truly genuine sustainable restaurants: the walls and lampshades are made from recycled clay, and the tables are made from reused yoghurt pots. While the decor has clearly been duly contemplated and acted upon, the menu (and by this we mean the set menu) has received the same amount of consideration. From food (including nettle, sweet bell turnip, and sea truffle) to drink (lacto-rhubarb, cognac, cacao husk) and a mixture of the two, Cub is the jewel in the crown of veggie places.
Address: 153 Hoxton Street, Hoxton.
Wild Food Café London
The aim of this superb restaurant, right in the centre of Covent Garden, is to “innovate a new generation plant-based cuisine that… is the most nourishing, fun, delicious and inspiring.” Under the laser-sharp focus of Senior Head Chef Thet Min Tun, everything is made from (literally) the ground up; they use as many superfoods and medicinal spices as possible, while also dealing directly with independent biodynamic and organic food producers. Does it get any better than this?
Address: 1st Floor, Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden (another branch in Islington).
Vanilla Black London
Founded in 2004 out of a desire to provide more than what they were getting in most vegetarian restaurants in London (mushroom risotto, Halloumi kebabs), the people behind Vanilla Black set up rules (no pasta, meat substitutes, heavy-handed littering of spices) and what amounts to a mission statement: that being a vegetarian restaurant is “neither here nor there. The dishes we create here are forward thinking… challenging… different… smashing stereotypes.” Don’t believe them? You really need to take a seat. Address: 17-18 Took’s Court, Chancery Lane.
My Village Café London
Located in the heart of Camden Town, and as far removed from restaurants such as Vanilla Black and Cub as you can imagine, My Village Café is full of character as well as amazing food. Its primary purpose, it seems, is to make people aware of the broad range of vegetarian produce from the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its Kurdish breakfast, meanwhile, is a genuine health booster: yoghurt, walnut, honey, date syrup, pitta bread, black tea. In a nice touch, there is no WiFi here, but rather a range of books and board games to steal away the minutes. Address: 37 Chalk Farm Road, Camden.
Focused on the provision of food that “respects everything between the soil and the stars”, and produce that “reconnects with the rhythm of nature” (and which is grown in a Demeter certified biodynamic plot of land in the Kent countryside), the good people at Farmacy know full well what it means to source, cook, prepare and present dishes that take their inspiration from around the world. What you have here is tastebud-tickling comfort food of the highest order, from earth bowls and salads to curries and pizzas. Bonus points? Farmacy’s range of t-shirts are top notch.
Address: 74 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill.
The Gate London
Thirty years after it first opened its doors to curious customers, The Gate is still going strong. As a certain TV advertisement has it – they must be doing something right. Indeed, they are. Now fully established as “plant-based pioneers”, they have adhered to vegetarian principles in a way that is both admirable and sensible. As for those meat eaters? This is what GQ magazine had to say in a recent review: “Miso glazed aubergine to start, their wild mushroom risotto cake, and then finish with their decadent Mile-Feuile. Honestly, in that order you’ll never miss meat again.” Now you know.
Address: 22-24 Seymour Place, Marylebone (other locations in Islington Hammersmith, St John’s Wood).
WRITTEN BY TONY-CLAYTON LEA