The best raw food restaurants and cafÃ©s in London
The capital's health food scene is waking up to raw living. Time Out meets the people who believe uncooked is the way forward, and rounds up London's best raw food restaurants, cafés, markets and cookery classes
See our guide to London's best raw food restaurants and suppliers
The buffet table is groaning under the weight of mouth wateringly colourful fare. A stack of banana bread and a bowl of fiery-looking cauliflower cheese beg to be consumed, as does the array of pungent dips, textured patties and rainbow salads. A harem of coconut rolled sweets, handmade chocolates and a gloriously dense chocolate cake with a cream topping wink from the back of the table like wanton temptresses. Every dish looks and tastes delicious. Every dish is raw.
This uncooked feast was a Raw Food Pot Luck event held by Rob Hull of raw ingredients website www.funkyraw.com at the Hornbeam Café, Walthamstow. Everyone brings a dish to share, hence the term ‘pot luck’. It’s a chance for London’s raw food community to socialise and swap recipes with fellow enthusiasts. Far from the clichéd mung bean brigade (hemp clothes and a tendency to end sentences with ‘man’), the people here are a wildly mixed bunch of ages, ethnicities, religions, social backgrounds and occupations. There’s a fair share of ‘alternatives’ – artists, writers, masseuses, nutritionists – but also housewives, teachers and office workers. Some have been ‘raw’ for years, others just a few months. Some are simply raw-curious.
London’s raw food scene is exploding. After decades of raw food diets provoking gasps of disbelief, it has eked into the city’s mainstream health food movement with a burgeoning network of restaurants, market stalls, delivery services, workshops and lifestyle events. The Pot Luck attendees confirm this. Janet Spence, co-founder of the annual raw food Festival Of Life event, says that 2008’s do held in Holborn was the ‘biggest yet’. Raw chocolate- and dessert-making teacher Liz Bugrave of Sweet Sensations has doubled the amount of workshops she’s delivering in 2009. ‘There’s definitely been a surge in interest,’ says Hull. ‘Two years ago I couldn’t eat out if I wanted to eat raw, now there’s a choice. As far as FunkyRaw’s concerned I’ve not noticed the credit crunch. In fact I’ve just employed an extra member of staff.’
Raw cuisine at Saf
Raw food or ‘live food’ dishes are made from produce – usually but not always unprocessed, organic and vegan – cooked at a temperature below 48C (warmer than body temperature, but still not even half way between frozen and boiling water). On raw food websites it is often referred to as ‘high vibrational food’, some theories suggesting that, being uncooked, ‘live’ foods have more enzymes and a higher nutrient content than cooked ‘dead’ foods.
Chad Sarno, culinary mastermind behind Saf, London’s most high-end raw food restaurant that opened in April 2008, says. ‘I find terms like “high vibrational” alienate people. Basically it’s food in its purest, freshest form, so of course it’s healthier and in my opinion tastier than cooked food.’ Though it should be noted that trained nutritionists are far more sceptical of the benefits of raw food diets – which studies show are associated with increased risk of osteoporosis.
The Saf menu includes dishes that sound impossible to create from raw ingredients: beetroot ravioli and Chinese pancakes share the line up with pad Thai and autumn risotto. At Dragonfly Wholefoods in Highgate the menu offers sumptuous falafel, pizza, sunflower burgers and onion bread available in all their uncooked glory.
No loss of vitamin C here
Many of these dishes wouldn’t be possible without a dehydrator, the ovens of the raw world. The one other staple to create such dishes is a heavy-duty blender, this also being essential for making nut milks, butters and cheeses.
‘Everything you know about cooking you throw out the window,’ says Sarno. ‘There’s no direct raw equivalent for, say, frying or roasting. It’s a totally different science.’ The techniques in raw cookery revolve around soaking, sprouting, blending and dehydrating, all techniques Sarno whisks students through in a whistlestop tour during his three-hour Introduction To Raw Cuisine class.
The class of four watch fascinated as Sarno teases cashew nuts into a thick cheese seasoned with sage, balsamic syrup and pink peppercorn. Then there’s the joy of watching him shave wafer-thin slices of beetroot to create ravioli parcels and the rush of observing him transform raw mushrooms into an aromatic, cooked-looking filling thrown together with walnut stuffing then slithered into a flaxseed crepe. It’s culinary alchemy and each dish sends the students into raptures. ‘It’s such an intense flavour,’ exclaims a lady who’s been bought the class as a thirtieth birthday present. ‘My taste buds are going into frenzy.’
A buffet platter at Dragonfly Wholefoods
The current raw food movement stems from a surge of interest in the mid-1990s on the West Coast of the USA. Today New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles all have small but established raw food scenes, and raw food diets have a much higher profile in the US than the UK. ‘When I first moved to the UK I was shocked how little the vegan and raw market had been capitalised on,’ says Sarno. ‘London has a thriving food scene but these areas just hadn’t been touched.’
Many raw food enthusiasts make claims of improved health on switching to a raw food diet, but one benefit which is more palpable is weight loss – a strictly followed raw food diet is an almost guaranteed route to shedding pounds. Some feel it also has a massive impact on your general wellbeing. ‘When I went raw the change in me was hugely noticeable,’ says fan Liz Bugrave. ‘My energy levels increased, my skin was glowing, I was more flexible and I felt more at one with everything around me.’
Though it’s difficult to argue against the benefits, the practicalities of maintaining a raw diet are challenging, especially if you go 100 per cent raw. Converts are in a constant cycle of preparation, planning and, if travelling or visiting friends and family, packing ingredients to take with them. Then there are the cravings. It seems even the most dedicated raw fooders fall off the wagon and binge on cooked food en route to finding a take on raw that works for them.
Mouthwatering raw cakes
‘The raw diet is a personal journey, an ongoing work in progress,’ explains Dustin. ‘It’s about slowly retraining your taste buds, getting rid of addictions – sugar, hydrogenated fats, chemicals – and habits like eating comfort food in the winter.’
Any pearls of wisdom on the latter? ‘On winter comfort food? Sure – avocados, plenty of oily, green salads and green juices. It’ll be tough at first but in time you'll crave them the same way you did a bag of chips or a Mars bar.’
Raw food restaurants and cafés
A sophisticated restaurant offering gourmet vegan and raw cuisine with starters from £5 and mains from £10. The winter menu is 50 per cent raw with this going up to 75 per cent in the summer. The level of culinary artisanship will delight all lovers of food, carnivores included. Classes and event catering available.
Saf, 152-154 Curtain Rd, EC2A 3AT (7613 0007/www.safrestaurant.co.uk). Old St tube/rail.
Since opening in August 2007 Dragonfly has transformed from wholefood shop with vegetarian café at rear into one of London’s best raw-vegan destinations with a daily buffet, selection of dishes (soup £5.96, falafel £10.95) and products made on-site to buy in the store at front. London-wide delivery available.
Dragonfly Wholefoods, 24 Highgate High St, N6 5JG (8347 6087/www.villagewholefoods.co.uk). Highgate tube.
Open for two years, Vita is an early pioneer of London’s raw food scene. There’s a daily pay-per-scoop buffet of 20 vibrant dishes – at least half of which are raw or slow cooked, raw soups (£3.90), raw cakes and truffles.
VitaOrganic, 74 Wardour St, W1F OTE (7734 8986/www.vitaorganic.co.uk). Tottenham Court Rd tube.
Now a year old, inSpiral is a raw and vegan food hotspot and buzzing events space. Run by the Ekopia Project collective it has a ‘festival’ feeling, minimal electro pumping out while people drink algae juice and tuck into raw soups and truffles.
InSpiral Lounge, 250 Camden High St, NW1 8QS (7428 5875/www.inspiralled.net). Camden Town tube.
The Bonnington Café
The chef behind gourmet raw delivery service Raw Fairies cooks up a feast every second, fourth and fifth Sunday of the month at this long-established community vegan and vegetarian restaurant. Starters cost £3, main courses £7.
The Bonnington Café, 11 Vauxhall Grove, SW8 1TD (07879 246501). Vauxhall tube/rail.
Tony's Hemp Store
Since re-opening, it has revamped its vegetarian menu to include raw falafels, burgers, sprouted salads and chocolates. Raw takeaway boxes are also available.
Tony's Hemp Store, 10 Caledonian Rd, N1 9DU (7837 5223). KIng's Cross St Pancras tube/rail.
This excellent juice bar offers a range of juices, seed milks and Brazilian blends in chic surrounds. It now offers a range of raw chocolates and cakes.
Unit 101, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Rd, NW1 8AH (7267 6188/www.alchemythecentre.co.uk). Chalk Farm tube.
This homely community café in Walthamstow frequently plays host to raw food events, pot luck suppers and talks. Check the website for details.
Hornbeam Environmental Centre, 458 Hoe St, E17 9AH (8558 6880/www.hornbeam.org.uk).
Market stalls, catering
This pioneering raw company take delicious fare to markets across London. Find it at Hammersmith Market on Thursdays, Old Spitalfields Market on Fridays, Chelsea Market and Russell Square on Saturdays, and Spitalfields and Wood Green on Sundays. Only the wraps are not raw.
A raw delivery service for those without the time to create the diet themselves. from £29.50 per day for three days, or as little as £22.50 per day for 30 days or more. The meals include one drink, two salads and one dehydrated cuisine meal. Chocolate, desserts and cakes are also available.
Raw Fairies, Unit 21, Grand Union Centre, West Row, W10 5AS (07879 246501 – Anya; 07508 015 313 – Christina/www.rawfairies.com).
A godsend for the health conscious with an insatiable sweet tooth, these three-hour hands-on raw chocolate- and dessert-making workshops led by Liz Bugrave are more than worth the £45 fee.
The Raw Food Nutrition Party
Let chef Peter Pure host a raw dinner party for you at your house (or his) or let him create a bespoke culinary class for your specific dietary needs.
Hands-on raw food workshops at Catherine’s N4 home. She provides all the ingredients to make the dishes (which students are free to eat) and sells larger quantities of ingredients at the end of each session.
Theresa Webb leads a range of raw nutrition, meal-creation classes, shopping and demonstration classes. Call for prices.
Health educator Jill Swyers leads weekend-long workshops that focus on the core principles of raw living – sprouting, preparation of vegetable juices and dehydrating foods. £150 for a weekend workshop.
(8870 7041/07768 081376/www.jillswyers.com).
Hi,new organic place in Ealing Pitshanger Lane called Organika cafe got some pretty awesome raw sweets :) enjoy!
There are a new lovely raw food restaurant in Queens Park. Namafoods.com You have to try it!!! Amazing recipes.
I am VERY new to this, I am a vegan and I am trying to go raw I just don't have any clue on what to have and not to have, I get some great advice from my friends in the states but it's still hard to follow, I have searched all over in Birmingham for a raw restaurant or take away and there is nothing, I feel if there was one that I could go to that would help a great deal, I would appreciate any advice or support Many thanks
I came down from Manchester to London to celebrate my first month being a raw vegan (from being a full carnivore!!) and I ended up in Vitao, on Wardour street... I had raw cheese and crackers for starter, a coconut to drink (with a spoon to eat the flesh at the end) and raw butter squash lasagne. At the end of the meal, I had to go to the till to thank the waitress, as it was one of the most amazing thing I had tasted in years!!!! OK, it's not the cheap fast food, but the price was totally reasonable and even though the place is small, and it's hard to get a place, I made a promise to myself, to travel once a month to London to have a celebration meal at Vitao.
Thanks for sharing your post. It is very useful for me. I am looking for good placet. You gave me good info. Thanks Army again.
Thanks Amy, i tried searching on facebook but nothing came up. Let me know if you have any more information about this. I thought your website was very impressive. Do you still run classes or host events? All the best
@ claudio - i live about 10 minutes from hawkhurst and there is an etchingham/hurst green raw potluck group. i believe you can find them on facebook.
Hi there i will be in goudhurst Kent from the 19th june till the 28th are there any raw food courses that i could go on?? Im desperate to do one , please help .
Hi Debra and Amy,are you both living around Hawkhurst Kent? i just moved here with partner and son and am looking to network with like minded raw food enthusiasts. Would be great to hear form both of you and i'll check out your blog Amy. Take Care Claudio
I would love to find classes close to Windsor. Does anyone know of any please? If not then what are noted as the best classes in London? Thankyou
I'd be good to convince the kids, the new/leading generations .. since we humans are creatures of habits/habitual behaviour .. into the creation of a raw food 'McRaw' family friendly-based cafe/restaurant/social affordable training educatioal centre/ chain ...
I would love to become a raw foodist but am finding it difficult overcoming cravings! is this normal and how long do they take to go away? can anyone recommend any calcium rich raw foods thank you!
Hey All, I am hosting raw food dinner parties in hurst green, east sussex. here is link to my blog for more information be well. amy http://ooosharawculinaryartistry.blogspot.com/
With regard to concern about osteoporosis. You need to be aware that green juices containing vegetables such as spinach should only be drunk 2 -3 times a week, using rocket or watercress the remaining days because spinach contains oxalic acid which can help to leach calcium from the bones.
hey debra. amazing that you're near hawkhurst. here's the url. maybe we can connect through my blog. take care http://ooosharawculinaryartistry.blogspot.com/
Hi Amy, I live near Hawkhurst too! I'm just getting into raw but am having trouble with detox at the mo. My body doesnt like it! What's the url for your blog?? Let me know if you supply any shops near us please! Best wishes
Debra, where in Kent are you? I am near Hawkhurst and offer raw catering, cakes for occasions, chocolate and hosting dinner parties. Check out my blog if you like. Take Care Amy
Come and learn all about raw food at our fab one-day raw food workshop in central London hosted by Theresa Webb on Sunday November 1: http://www.alternatives.org.uk/Site/EventDescription.aspx?EventID=710
I read a study that found that raw foodists are lighter in weight than people who eat cooked food but have denser bones : )
Thanks for adding that Debbie. From my research I understand the same as you. Many of the foods I eat [I am a raw foodist] have calcium in them in a very absorbable form.
Many thanks for such a (generally) positive, and very informative article about raw food and the growing number of venues in London. However, I have not heard of ANY study that shows that the raw food diet is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. There may well be supposition amongst some people working in the health field (and I believe this to be ill-founded), but I have not heard of a study, ever, that has shown a link between those on a raw food diet and osteoporosis. I have a special interest in this (amongst other things - being an old hag) and have researched into this. I have heard of SEVERAL studies that link osteoporosis with the consumption of acidic, high-protein foods such as meat, fish and cooked dairy. This is because the acid left by these foods when metabolised leads the body to maintain an optimal pH balance by raiding stores of calcium, eg from the bones.
You all have a lovely and thriving vegan live foods community. I live in Italy and we can only dream of all the options you have in the UK. We have lots of lovely fresh organic produce here so I keep it raw and juicy. Blessings to all