Initial signs of Alter don't point to culinary nirvana. This vegan small plates restaurant sits on the first floor of an unlovely glass towerblock, with views of other, very similar glass towerblocks from its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Take a wrong turn on your way back from the toilets and you'll find yourself in the eerie corridors of the four star hotel it inhabits. But somehow, Alter has a way of making its unpromising surroundings vanish, like clouds on a suddenly-sunny day. Chef Andy Goodwin (a former actor who's worked at justly hyped restaurants Som Saa and A. Wong) presides over a menu that's full of both warmth and a sense of fun that's not usually associated with oh-so-virtuous vegan cuisine.
Take the 'pizza' (which Off Menu podcast host James Acaster has called his favourite bread-based dish ever). Seasoned vegans might expect it to come coated in highly-processed, mouth-burning approximations of mozzarella. But instead, we got playful, triangular pillows of bread with a deliciously tangy pizza-flavoured dust coating it, ready to be dipped in a garlicky puddle of ajo blanco. If you like Pizza Express's dough balls, this dish'll make you feel a level of bliss that it's physically impossible to experience while surrounded by the chain's prim little single-flower vases and mumbling teenagers on dates.
The rest of the menu is Asian-inspired, scouring earth's largest continent for shareable, veganisable mouthfuls of joy. The Thai-inspired miang laos were little peanutty salad bundles that came wrapped in deliciously peppery, acidic mustard green leaves, instead of the more typical cabbage or lettuce. Shitake and yellowbean dumplings delivered a punchy, persuasive hit of mushroom and came swimming in a richly flavoured kelp broth. And the thick, swampy laksa hummed with flavour, thanks to the oyster mushrooms that lurked in its depths.
It's the kind of menu where you want to try everything – filling the table with a messy array of little earthenware dishes – and speedy, friendly service makes that an even more attractive prospect (even if the cost does quickly add up).
London's filling up with vegan junk food joints that'll leave you dangerously, waddlingly full of ingredients of mysterious provenance. Alter's a welcome contrast. Its light, fresh dishes riff on classics with creativity, instead of just shoving some bland old fake meat in there. Go for an offbeat but thoroughly delicious celebration of plant power, in contrast to the grey sterility of the buildings that surround it.
The vibe Chic, buzzy vegan dining in an Aldgate towerblock.
The food Asian-inspired dishes that zing with bold flavours.
The drink Sake from Kanpai in Peckham, plus craft beer, natural wine, and light, fruity house cocktails.
Time Out tip Save room for dessert: the mango rice pudding is divine.