Special occasion vegetables courtesy of Vanilla Black
Vanilla Black is my new favourite special occasion restaurant. And like all special occasion-related things, someone else did the hard work when it came to discovering it.
We hardly want for vegetarian food options in London. And given I live about a four-minute walk from Manna in Primrose Hill, which regularly tops ‘best vegetarian restaurant’ lists around the country, not to mention the capital, I definitely can’t complain about choice.
Moving into the Manna catchment zone means I’ve pretty much stopped hunting for good veggie places. Thankfully, He is a lot less lazy. He’s also brilliant at birthdays, which is how we ended up at Vanilla Black on my 36th.
Vanilla Black is not a place you’ll stumble upon, tucked away as it is behind Chancery Lane; even our black cab driver didn’t recognise the name of the street it lives on.
This doesn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the waiting list, which is long. If you want to visit on an evening, book ahead. Or do what I did for my return visit two weeks later, and head there at lunchtime instead, where the chance of space to eat increases. Slightly.
The atmosphere inside is unashamedly refined. I know plenty of vegetarians who can get as drunk and rowdy as their meat-eating brothers and sisters, but clearly none of them have made it as far as Vanilla Black yet, or not on the two occasions I’ve been. What with it being my birthday on occasion No1, and the two cocktails we’d supped at speed at Shoreditch House beforehand, we were probably the tipsiest people there. And they had Fleurie on the wine list, so we resolutely stayed that way for the duration of the evening.
The food is fancy. A vegetable-strewn version of Michelin-starred fare, so far without the actual Michelin star – although if lobbying online has anything to do with it, that can’t be far off coming.
Used to only having about half of a menu to choose from, once all the meat dishes have been excluded, there was huge novelty to being able to pick from anything. We were led by curiosity as much as anything. Dessert of smoked paprika fudge, malt loaf and builder’s tea ice cream with crispy and smoky pear was chosen purely because we couldn’t imagine what builder’s tea ice cream would taste like. Cold tea being the answer, which given neither of us like tea in the first place wasn’t really the answer we were looking for.
Things tasting exactly as described was the basic rule of thumb for the whole menu. So, whipped jacket potato was creamy mashed potato that tasted like jacket potato. I’m still pondering how you achieve that without so much as a fleck of blackened skin in the mix.
None of it looked how you’d expect though with lashings of style alongside the vegetable substance. A double-baked Ribblesdale pudding and smoked croquette with pineapple pickle and poached hen egg was art on a plate, and the cornmeal, beetroot and horseradish with aged garlic oil, artichokes in hay, caramelised chicory and hazelnut milk, almost too pretty to eat.
For almost-Michelin-starred food, it’s not insanely expensive, but it’s still a get-dressed-up, celebrate-a-special-occasion kind of place. In absence of those, we made one up for the second trip. It was my sister’s first weekend away from her toddler, which I deemed reason enough.
Disclaimer. I’m not actually a vegetarian. I each fish too, but can’t bring myself to say I’m a pescatarian. Conversations about ‘dietary requirements’ go like this… Them: ‘Do you have any dietary requirements?’ Me: ‘I’m a vegetarian, but I eat fish.’ Them: ‘So, you’re a pescatarian.’ Me: ‘Yes, but I can’t bring myself to say that.’