Five minutes after I'd been presented with my menu at Vanilla Black last night Antonia, a strict vegetarian, dared to take a peek at my expression and - let's face it - smirked. "This is how I feel in just about every restaurant you take me to," she said. Yes, for the second time in a month I'd been manoeuvred away from my usual choice of hearty (for which read meaty) establishments and delivered into the welcoming arms of a vegetarian restaurant. Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served with a deconstructed lentil dhal.
At least at Saf, though, there were some dishes I could choose, even if I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement; here, I was in trouble. Still off the carbs, I stared with despair at pastry, potatoes and rice on every dish. Bugger.
But I was still hopeful. Jay Rayner was a fan of this place when it was up in York and I think he and I have a similar attitude to vegetarian fare: celebrate vegetables as ingredients, by all means but don't try to pretend they're something they're not. I was fully expecting creativity and taste would conspire to make me forget about the meagre portions I'd be left with once the spuds were donated elsewhere. Unfortunately, though, the move down South seems to have come at the expense of the qualities that so excited Jay on his visit.
But don't take my word for it: let's face it, I'm biased in the first place. And maybe I didn't do the dishes justice by cutting the carbs. (FWIW I had a quails egg salad with beetroot and some strange and not pleasant furry leaves followed by cabbage and cheese.) Consider, instead, Antonia's thoughts; she's far more qualified to comment than me:
Black olive and yogurt éclair – a bit dry. And surely the wrong way round: put the squidgy yogurt inside like cream and use the salty tapenade to glaze like the chocolate and then you have a much nicer offering.
Feta and orange cake – they said it was their ‘take’ on cheese and fruitcake. Better to do that properly and have a nice dense dried-fruity cake (I even find myself thinking ‘prunes would be good here’ and I never think that). The orange cake was good but very sweet and cakey. Olives in mini Kilner jar – why?
‘Pizza’ – looked like a rat en croute. Doughy. OK my fault for not seeing that the Chantilly cream thing had vanilla in it – but again too sweet. Actually the whole plate looked like the time I made a pizza at home and dropped it on the floor as I was getting it out of the oven.
In general, you could do this restaurant – with its pretty presentation and sophisticated environment for veggie cooking – far better by cooking lovely seasonal ingredients with fabulous robust English cheeses and understanding the balances of texture or protein/carbohydrate or even bloody portion size much better. I give it a month.
I, meanwhile, will be lobbying for a smirking ban.
Vanilla Black 17-18 Took's Court EC4A 1LB 020 7242 2622