Vegan Gatronomy Trip: London, UK
The day I received an email from my husband telling me we were going to London, I immediately got excited for another gastronomy trip. I’m so fortunate to have so many food options where I live (and some great restaurants, too) that I wondered if the United Kingdom would offer those same alternatives. I found a great web site, Vegan London, and started looking for ideas.
My goal was to try to find some great restaurants but to also try to stay close to our hotels (we stayed on the South Bank and also in Kensington). This was easily accomplished on our first day, since we were exhausted from the flight and the trip from Heathrow to the middle of the city. By dinnertime, we were famished and ready for something to eat. Since we were staying in the County Hall building, we found a nice little place called Aji Zen Canteen. We knew we couldn’t go wrong with some Japanese food, and luckily we found some noodle dishes that were satisfying and affordable. You need to look over the menu though, since this isn’t a vegan restaurant. We found just a few options, but that was fine with us. My daughter, Rebecca, and I had a soup where you get three veggies added in (with a choice of several, which was great) and Jim had a noodle dish.
The next day Jim had to go to work, so Rebecca and I were on our own. We spent most of the day on the South Bank walking around the Tower of London and the Globe Theater. While on our way to the Globe, we found a little eatery on the main strip on the waterfront—and it was a great find. It’s called EAT. and it is conveniently found in different locations around the city. While we only found a salad and a wrap (along with different drinks and crisps), both our options were nutritious and could be eaten on the go—which was perfect for tourists like us. We were also parched so it was nice to find some water we could carry with us for the rest of the day. We ended up eating at another EAT. when we returned to the Tower of London with my husband several days later. Both our options had hummus in them, which really helped to satisfy our hunger and keep us moving during the day.
That evening, we met Jim at Vantra—a mostly raw vegan restaurant conveniently located in the Soho district of the city. This busy restaurant serves their food buffet-style—so you can decide at the counter if you want one plateful or multiple and take the food yourself. There were all kinds of things here—noodle dishes, fresh steamed vegetables, curries, vegan stroganoff, and fresh fruit smoothies. The variety is great since you get to choose what you want, and nearly everything I tried I would eat again and again. The Berry Healthy Smoothie was a perfect dessert for me (we ended up coming back again and I wish I tried it the first time because it’s superb!)
Our next dining experience was my personal favorite of the trip—Manna. If you’re ever in London and are looking for a restaurant that has organic and vegan wine and spirits, this is the place to go. Although the menu isn’t extensive, it’s clearly well thought-out. I prefer to dine at a restaurant where they do a few things extremely well—in London, that’s Manna. For starters, we tried the ravioli; the spiced jerk tofu, plantain & sweet potato kabob; and the savoy cabbage spring rolls. The jerk sauce on the kabob was sweet and succulent, one of the best I’ve personally tasted. We ate these up quickly eagerly awaited our main courses. Jim tried the organic bangers and mash (organic fennel and pumpkin seed sausages on a bed of parsnip & carrot mash served with cavalo nero on a red wine, leek & thyme jus)—why not go for some more traditional fare while in London? I had the taco salad special, served in a taco bowl with the most delicious sauce. I have no idea what was in it, but it blended the beans and vegetables perfectly and I ate every last bite. By this time, I had a good idea that I could try just about anything here and be satisfied. Rebecca had the pasta special and two hot chocolates (her review: “This is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.” No kidding!) For dessert, I had a chocolate tahini pot de crème. I was too busy enjoying this dessert to remember what items my family ate! I could eat that pot de crème every day; I really couldn’t get enough of it. They also make up petit fours that you can order to go, which of course I had to get! On top of the homey, comforting food the service was outstanding. We spent several hours at our table enjoying our experience and were frequently greeted with a smile from all of the staff at the restaurant. It was such a lovely day that we had time to stop by a nearby farmers market and pick up some fresh fruit for breakfast the next day. The strawberries and raspberries were perfectly in season and ripe—a great find. I highly recommend Manna—for the food, wine, service, and gorgeous location (Primrose Hill). Make sure to get reservations before you go (this place isn’t huge and it fills up quickly).
On our last night on the South Bank, we stopped in at Ozu Zen Cuisine, which is also located in the London County Hall building. It’s quite a large, hibachi-style restaurant that mostly serves fish. We were worn out from another day of sightseeing and thought we’d try some veggie rolls. They were fresh and satisfying, but not particularly a standout on this trip. Sometimes it’s nice to walk into a restaurant where you know exactly what you’ll get, and this was one of those places.
Another restaurant that I was excited to try was Saf (Simply Authentic Food), which is located on the top floor of the Whole Foods Market in Kensington. What a great find! Saf only takes up a small portion of the top floor—there’s also coffee, soup and salad, and sushi bars upstairs. The restaurant makes a little semicircle on one side, which surrounds the bar and food prep area. It’s called “Vegan Way”! We started off with two appetizers–a cheese plate, which had a trio of different homemade cheeses; and crackers with homemade guacamole. Now, I am a huge fan of Dr. Cow’s cheese and I hadn’t found another great vegan cheese until I tried the cheese at Saf. I don’t have exact descriptions of each one, but I believe they were mushroom, onion, and tomato base, respectively. We had to get more crackers to finish the cheese because I couldn’t just load the cracker with it—there was a way to perfectly balance the cheese with the cracker, and we each took our time to find it. The guacamole was impeccably fresh and well-seasoned. For dinner, we tried the pumpkin risotto, the pasta special, and the smoked tofu salad. I ate my salad entirely, but Jim and Rebecca had leftovers (which we ate in the park the next afternoon). To drink, Rebecca tried the hot chocolate and Jim had the cubana banana milkshake (rave reviews for each of these as well). Dessert consisted of a papaya pie for Jim and a chocolate hazelnut torte for Rebecca and I. Although the atmosphere was really that of a store in some ways, all of the diners around us seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. The women in back of us were not vegan, but they loved the food so much I’m confident they’ll be returning again. We were also able to get some bread and fruit for our breakfast the next morning while at Whole Foods, which was a plus for those of us living out of a hotel room.
One of my favorite takeaways from this trip was that every restaurant—and I mean every restaurant—that we passed by along our journey had vegetarian food marked appropriately on their menu. Of course, you want to inquire if vegan options are available—but how wonderful to know at a glance that vegetarian options are offered! I wish we would be accommodating to all lifestyles in the U.S. the way the Brits are in London. I can’t speak for restaurants outside of the city, but the ones in London have clearly marked veggie options. On top of this, I really enjoyed the responsive service at every restaurant. I also enjoyed the variety of places we tried—some familiar, some more adventurous. Thanks, London, for providing us with a multitude of dining experiences and food memories that will last a lifetime! (I will make my way back somehow for another taste of that chocolate tahini pot de crème…)