The 100 best dishes in London: Vegetarian dishes
Who said vegetarian dishes had to be boring? Here are some beauties
Mon Dec 8 2014
Bruno Loubet is one of the most talented chefs currently working in London, and his restaurant is consistently satisfying. Among his many stand-out dishes is the beetroot ravioli with fried breadcrumbs, Grana Padano cheese and a rocket salad. The pasta of ravioli is rolled wafer-thin yet remains firm, the filling of beetroot visible through the translucent cases. This is heavily garnished with the rocket leaves, fried breadcrumbs and a well-balanced dressing. Ask for the cheese garnish to be omitted from the dish if you are a strict vegetarian.
- 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ
- Price: £8 starter, £15 main
On a second visit you may not see any of the same dishes from the first, but the ajo blanco is usually a mainstay at this congenial Soho tapas bar. One of the many tiny but thrilling dishes, the Andalucian white soup is made from almonds with a hint of garlic (ajo). The portion size is barely enough to fill an egg-cup, but the flavours transported us right back to Seville. Sup it with a glass of bone-dry sherry.
- 26 D'Arblay Street, W1F 8EP
- Price: £4.10
Many of Tooting’s numerous South Indian restaurants proudly offer a selection of dosas, but none can rival those served at Dosa n Chutny. Despite being hand-made to order, each of these huge, savoury-sour pancakes is eerily perfect: uniformly round, paper-thin and crisp. The standard dosa batters are fermented, from ground rice flour and black lentil, but some use semolina – ‘rawa’ – to change the texture. All are delicious, and come with various stodgy fillings, fresh coconut chutneys or sambar (a thin, spicy lentil ‘soup’).
- 68 Tooting High Street, SW17 0RN
- Price: From £1.95
Toasted fermented corn brioche with burnt leeks, slow-poached duck egg and lovage oil at Grain Store
No matter what its reputation, or the fact it has ‘grain’ in the title (that’s actually because the beautifully done-up old warehouse it’s in once stored the stuff), the Grain Store is not a vegetarian restaurant. Instead, it’s a restaurant that shows respect to veg, putting it first in its dishes (before adding meat or fish). But the few truly vegetarian options – like this terrific just-toasted fermented corn brioche topped with braised ‘burnt’ leeks, a wobbly, slow-poached duck egg and a drizzle of lovage oil – are so good, all the card-carrying carnivores at the table will be fighting over them.
- Granary Square, (1-3 Stable Street), N1C 4AB
- Price: £7
It may seem a bit of a cheat to include a dish as simple as houmous on our list. But while the one served at hip chickpea fanatics Hummus Bros may be simple, it’s anything but dull. Creamy and smooth, it’s spread out into plain white bowls before being finished with a slick of intense tahini (sesame paste), a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of smoked paprika. There’s a choice of toppings, with plenty of vegetarian options (or chunky beef if you prefer). For extra zing, help yourself to the fresh garlic or lemon juice dotted around the communal tables in tiny plastic cups.
- 88 Wardour St, W1F 0TH
- Price: From £3.50
The menu at this dinky little off-shoot of Exmouth Market’s acclaimed Moro changes all the time, so there’s no guarantee of this dish being on the menu (though for the sweet-toothed, the Malaga rum and raisin ice cream is often around, and always delicious). But they do bright, bold things with the kinds of vegetables six year-old you told your mother you’d never eat: chickpeas (fried, with red onion, coriander and tahini-laced yoghurt), or beetroot, here served as the dippable Iranian housewives’ favourite, borani. The sweetness of the crushed root is offset by a splash of red wine vinegar and a daring amount of garlic (don’t plan on snogging anyone later – unless they’ve been eating it too). It’s then layered with pieces of walnuts, a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, sprigs of fresh dill and morsels of crumbly, salty feta. Grab a piece of flatbread and get dipping.
- 32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE
- Price: £4.50
NOPI, from the Ottolenghi stable, offers genre-bending small plates that cross culinary as well as geographical boundaries. And there’s genius behind the flavour and texture combinations. The mozzarella-like Italian burrata needs virtually no accompaniment, but here it’s served with toasted coriander seeds and seasonal soft fruit – perhaps blood orange (pictured), Miyagama (a Japanese satstuma) or fragrant nectarine – designed to complement the creaminess of the soft cheese. The rest of the menu is even more unpredictable, assembling a diaspora of ingredients on tiny plates. Order multiple dishes, and prepare for a large bill.
- 21-22 Warwick Street, W1B 5NE
- Price: £12.90
Anyone who has ever eaten at this smart café-deli will recognise its trademark style: dishes that deliver sunshine on a plate, full of colour, texture, and bright, bursting flavours. Here, roasted aubergine, fresh parsley and mixed seeds are drizzled with parsley oil. Exact ingredients change throughout the year: seasonal varieties include saffron yoghurt, or even a chilli-spiked one – but whatever version you get, it’s a dish that never fails to impress.
- 287 Upper Street, N1 2TZ
- Price: £10.90 small/£17.90 large take-away box, or £11.50 for a selection to eat in
The dishes served at the original Rasa in Stoke Newington (opened in 1994) champion not just the vegetarian cuisine of Kerala in south India, but specifically the food of one caste, the Nairs. They’ve had a few thousand years to refine their cooking, making it among the most sophisticated on the planet. But the caste wasn’t averse to ‘new’ influences. The Portuguese brought New World ingredients like chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines – and the British brought their brassicas, such as cabbage. If you think you dislike cabbage, you’ve not had a thoran – thin-sliced, stir-fried with coconut, mustard seeds and spices, this side dish elevates the humble savoy to a delicacy.
- 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0AR
- Price: £4
Roti Chai is a hip canteen that celebrates the street food of India from its many regions. Aloo tikki chaat, a Punjabi classic, combines homely potato cakes with a warming chickpea curry (chaat), plus yoghurt, mint, onion and a zingy tamarind chutney. Pair it with some of the excellent breads or rice and transport yourself direct to India.
- 3 Portman Mews South, W1H 6HS
- Price: £5.80
A landmark on Ealing Road, Sakonis attracts a cross-section of the local Indian vegetarian population. It’s a huge, café-style operation. Gujarati and South Indian dishes abound, and such is the throughput of customers that most buffet choices remain fresh and (where appropriate) crisp. There are various bhelpuris, all of them a sour-sweet confection of deep-fried puffed rice and diced vegetables, made tangy by tamarind sauce. Our favourite is the panipuri – crack open the deep-fried shell and fill the crisp interior with a mix of chickpeas, potato, onion and chat masala. Before it goes soggy, pop it whole into your mouth.
- 127-129 Ealing Road, HA0 4BP
- Price: £5.45