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© Andy Parsons

London’s best vegan dishes

Our plant-based food scene is creative, delicious and here to stay. We chat to the chefs behind the top vegan dishes in town about how they make them

By Tristan Parker
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Whether you’re looking to slurp your way to umami heaven with a giant bowl of ramen or go super-virtuous with raw veg pizza, London’s vegan foodie scene has got you covered. Hardcore vegan or a recent convert to meat-free Mondays, there’s something here to suit all tastebuds (and, there’s not an old-school lentil burger in sight). If you want extra insight into the kitchen sorcery that goes into transforming mushrooms into mince or banana blossoms into ‘fish’, check out the secrets behind London’s most creative vegan dishes

© Andy Parsons

Dan dan noodles at Mao Chow

Restaurants Vegan Hackney

£9.
We say: No, that’s not ground pork on top of this take on Sichuanese street-food staple dan dan noodles. Julian Denis, chef-owner of Mao Chow, just knows how to work magic with cooked veg. (No wonder his vegan Chinese pop-up is now a buzzing permanent joint.) He tells us how he makes this innovative interpretation super-comforting and more-ish.

They say: ‘It’s a classic dish from Sichuan province in China, traditionally made with wheat noodles, which we coat in sesame paste, our house-made chilli oil, a little soy sauce, a little sugar and a little black vinegar. Once you get the balance right, it really sings.’

‘The mince is made from the meatiest vegetables out there: ground mushroom, beetroot and potato to bond it. When it’s cooked down it turns into something a bit like ground pork. The cucumber gives freshness and hydration; the pak choi is a nice veg addition on the side. We also add crushed peanuts, which are stir-fried and ground down with Chinese rock sugar and salt.’

‘The spiciness comes from our chilli oil, made with Sichuan “facing heaven” chillies. We combine ginger, garlic, scallions, star anise, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon bark, bay leaves and Sichuan peppercorns. We infuse the oil, bring it up to 130 degrees and pour it over the ground chillies. Then we add sesame seeds. There’s a lot going on there!’

© Andy Parsons

Hanoi fish at Nem Nem

Restaurants Vietnamese Islington

£5.75. 
We say: When people order this aubergine-based take on a Vietnamese national dish they’re always surprised by how fishy it tastes, says Viet Nguyen, head chef at Nem Nem. He created it so that vegans could enjoy the flavours of the traditional recipe but says that fully-fledged meat-eaters have fallen head over heels for it too.

They say: ‘The “real” Hanoi fish is very traditional and one of the national dishes of Vietnam. I wanted to make a version for vegans to enjoy, so they could taste some of the flavours of this recipe. The formula in the vegan version is almost the same as in the traditional dish, but we use aubergine to replicate the fish.’

‘The fishy flavour comes from marinating the aubergine with seaweed in salted water, oils and wine. The aubergine soaks up all the flavours quite quickly. We put a layer of crispy seaweed inside the vegetable then cover it in a thin, crispy batter. When people order it, they’re surprised at how much it tastes like fresh fish.’

‘A typical part of traditional Hanoi fish is the mix of galangal spice, spring onion and dill. It gives a really strong flavour. We kept these ingredients for the vegan version, as they go really well with the aubergine. It’s served with fried shallots and roasted peanuts on a bed of rice noodles, which help to balance things out.’

‘The traditional Hanoi fish dish comes with nuoc cham, a sweet and sour fish sauce for dipping. We created a vegan version out of vegetables, which tastes like the traditional fish sauce. Some people who aren’t vegan prefer this version.’

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© Andy Parsons

Raw pizza at Wild Food Café

Restaurants Global Seven Dials

£16.
We say
A raw, plant-based pizza might be a harder sell than its oily, cheesy sisters, but believe us when we tell you that this little number is delicious in its own way. Joel Gazdar, co-founder of Wild Food Café, has somehow magicked local fruits and puréed vegetables into a fresh vibrant dish that shows off British ingredients at their best.

They say: ‘I loved pizza before I went raw, and I love pizza now! This is our most popular dish and I’m very happy that I could create a wholefood, raw, plant-based pizza that’s also light (because a lot of raw food tends to have too many nuts and seeds and oils). Ours is made with lots of local fruits and pureed vegetables, so it’s easy to digest.’

‘We mix apple with squash and a few other ingredients to make a dough that we dehydrate using a sun-drying machine, which is basically a low-temperature oven. That evaporates the water and raises the temperature to about 40 degrees. It dries into a crust, but there’s still a nice, soft doughiness to the base.’

‘To make the cheese, we soak pine nuts and puree them, which creates a wonderful, creamy, dairy-type of base. Then we mix in other fruits, vegetables and spices to fit the flavour profile of cheese.

‘For the pesto, we use different wild leaves according to the time of year. At the moment we’re using dandelions, which are incredibly healthy, and nettles, which are a powerhouse for trace minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium, and have lots of flavour.’

© Andy Parsons

Moroccan pancakes at Comptoir V

Restaurants Vegetarian Kensal Rise

£6.50.
We say
Before he was vegan, chef Sa’eed Kazmi loved dipping pancakes in amlou, a paste made with ground almonds, argan oil and honey. Now the co-owner at vegan Middle Eastern restaurant Comptoir V, Sa’eed’s decadent take on the dish comes with his very own vegan version of the paste. It’s so loved that superfans skip mains for it.

They say: ‘The pancakes are similar to a Moroccan bread. They’re made with layers of thin dough, not with batter like traditional pancakes. And because they’re cooked in a pan, we let them crisp up a little before serving them. I love that combination of crispy and soft textures, and the mix of hot and cold from the pancake and the ice cream.’

‘We stuff the vegan pancakes with our own version of amlou – made with agave syrup instead of honey. We mix in caramelised biscuit spread, to give it even more of a kick, drizzle maple syrup on top and serve it with vegan vanilla ice cream.’

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© Andy Parsons

Vegan konbu ramen at Okan Ramen

Restaurants Japanese Brixton

£9.
We sayYou won’t find many vegetarian and vegan ramens in Japan, says Moto Priestman, the Osaka-born founder of Brixton’s two Okan eateries. She says it means her version is ‘like a London ramen’. In fact the veg-packed dish is so popular that Okan Ramen often sell more vegan bowls than meat versions. She reveals its umami secrets.

They say‘We make the broth using seaweed, cabbage, onions and tomatoes. It’s made almost like a French vegetable soup. Then we add tofu, sweetcorn, spring onion, beansprouts and wakame [seaweed] as toppings, making it a bit like a salad dish on top of the broth. Through this one bowl of ramen, you get so many different bites and different flavours.’

‘Our ramen has a hint of yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus fruit, so there’s a bit of hidden sweetness. This makes the dish lighter; a lot of ramen can be quite heavy. There’s also an umami kick from the konbu [kelp] and tomato.’

‘There’s an option to make the ramen spicy, which uses our mixture of garlic, ginger, chilli and sesame oil. The chilli gives it spiciness, but there’s also warmth from the ginger. Lots of people choose this option.’

© Andy Parsons

Tacos of blue corn with 'conchinita pibil' at Stem + Glory

Restaurants Vegan Farringdon and Smithfield

£13.
We say: 'Cochinita pibil' – a citrus-marinated pork dish from Mexico – was the inspiration for these punchy tacos. Francois Winberg, the head chef at the London arm of Cambridge-founded vegan restaurant Stem + Glory, aimed to create something with colour and contrast. You only need to take one bite to know he’s succeeded.

They say‘We treat the jackfruit “meat” using an old Mexican recipe of pibil sauce, whose main component is achiote, a bright red, smoked and fruity spice made from the annatto fruit that grows in Mexico and Brazil. We marinate the jackfruit in the achiote paste and orange juice to give those smoky and sweet notes.’

‘The jackfruit rests on a bed of mint and blue corn tacos that are gluten-free and freshly made from unmodified Mexican blue corn. We finish the plate with our chipotle vegan mayonnaise made from silken tofu, pickled red onion, and a pineapple-and-cardamom kimchi. It’s a very colourful dish.’

‘The guajillo chilli grows in Mexico. This is a little like the scotch bonnet chilli and is very fruity, but it’s actually not too strong. It’s an unusual ingredient that gives the tacos their unique flavour.’

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