The best vegetarian restaurants in London
Don’t be misguided by the name – everything at this North End Road eaterie is 100% vegan, and even raw foodists are welcome. For mains, a tropical mix of raw pumpkin and courgette noodles with fresh coconut and zingy lime sauce soon won us over, especially when coupled with such smiley service. It’s hard to escape pungent dairy substitutes for pudding; the chocolate gateau was too far removed from the gooey loveliness non-vegans are used to.
There are reasons why Ethos might make you wary. It’s near Oxford Circus, it’s a self-serve buffet and you pay for your food by weight. (That’s the weight of the food, not your weight.) Adding to the gimmicky potential, on any given day the main menu might include more than a dozen dishes from the diverse cuisines of Japan, Southeast Asia, Italy, Korea, India, Mexico and Lebanon – and anywhere else that does brilliant vegetarian dishes – plus a few of their own creations. You can choose as few or as many as you like, building your own bespoke meal. The world tour of dishes becomes a mini-adventure in flavour, colour and texture.
The only thing not modern and breezy about this vegetarian restaurant (a former Victorian butcher’s) is the ornate, listed tiling on one side of the room – a unique feature that reflects the equally original menu. Food here has a Middle Eastern twist, far more ethnic than its Hammersmith sister. Pick from either the meze menu – fritters bursting with salty feta flavour; tart mushroom ceviche; featherlight artichoke tempura – or the carte, which refreshingly avoids using meat substitutes.
Japanese, vegan, and organic? No wonder Itadaki Zen is the first of its kind in Europe. But despite operating from a narrow pool of ingredients, the predominately noodle/tofu/seaweed menu impresses with its range of tastes and textures. Grilled spring rolls with soft mashed tofu filling were a welcome change to the usual greasy, stringy sort, while the ‘kakiage’ tempura for main had the same salty, crisp, golden, gorgeous smack as chips on Brighton pier, and came with fluffy rice.
This small vegetarian café, opened in summer 2014, has plenty to recommend it: a bright, pleasant space with skylight at the back, a display counter at the front bearing the photogenic food offerings of the day, friendly and attentive staff. And the promise is partly made good by the food itself, which majors on salads, sandwiches and baked goods both savoury and sweet.
Even on weekday nights this relaxed yet rather formal restaurant has several tables reserved by off-duty Primrose Hill: friends catching up, yoga bunnies sharing boyfriend woes, romantic dates and birthday get-togethers. Few customers are confirmed vegetarians, which is tribute to the quality and heartiness of the cooking.
Only Lady Luck can get a table at Mildreds during peak hours, so if, like the rest of Soho, you want dinner at London’s coolest vegetarian restaurant, be prepared to wait – you can’t book. It’s more the style of the place that attracts the crowds than its food; laid-back (but quick and friendly) waiters sport funky hairdos and tattoos, and noisy diners sit elbow-to-elbow on squishy banquettes.
Venue says: “Independent cafe and catering company.”
If the setting wasn’t plant-based enough for you already – all tumbling vines and sprouting shrubs – how about their a wholesome menu of veggie snacks and cakes? The menu at Palm Vaults changes daily, but stars of the show when we visited included a warming spinach dhal, and avocado on toast with the added twist of delicious vegan ‘bacon’ on top (it’s made from coconut as opposed to little piggies). Finish up with courgette cake and coffees made colourful from matcha, beetroot, lavender and the like.
The original branch of the Rasa chain is still going strong, serving the vegetarian dishes from Kerala with which it broke the anglicised curry-house mould in 1997. Get stuck into the unusual dishes, such as the wonderful moru kachiathu – a turmeric-infused, sweet-sour runny yoghurt dish made with mango and green banana – or a simple rasa kayi: mixed veg in a full-flavoured gravy.
Popular with students and aficionados of South Indian vegetarian cuisine, Sagar has gained renown for its keenly priced homely cooking – so much so that the owners now have four outposts across London. Unlike many cafés on King Street, this, the original branch, is an attractive, upmarket-looking place, furnished with blond wood fittings and a restrained display of Indian artefacts.
Find great vegan restaurants in London
When it comes to vegan-only restaurants, London has got herbivores covered. But what about when you're eating as a group, and only some of you are vegan? Do you all go to a vegan café, or do you all go somewhere mainstream but boring, where your vegan chum has to eat yet another 'veggie-side-as-main-course'? The answer of course is neither. Find hand-picked mainstream restaurants, covering cuisines from Japanese and Thai, right through to Peruvian, which 'cater for all'.
Randall & Aubin
This Brewer Street seafood restaurant opened in 1996, and is now something of a Soho institution, and is as good an example as any of the area's gradual move from seedy past to much more seemly present. The site actually dates back to 1908, when it was London's first French butcher's shop. Many of the original design features remain. The focus here is on seafood, with plats de fruits de mer of rock oysters, whole crab, Atlantic shrimps, diver scallops, cockles, whelks, cherry stone clams, Mediterranean prawns and green-lipped mussels alongside bouillabaisse, crab and lemon risotto, spaghettini marinara and char-grilled Cornish squid. Other dishes include French onion soup, bavette steak with pomme frites, a house burger and slow-roast Aubrey Allen pork belly served with mashed potatoes, roast apple sauce and gravy. The wine list leans heavily on the old world, with more than 20 by the glass.
Venue says: “A bottle of chilled white wine and a platter groaning with Fruits de Mer - what could be a nicer way to start the week?”