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).