Up until very recently, the best vegetarians had to hope for when eating out in London was a sad mushroom risotto or – at most – some kind of chickpea curry. But times have changed, and with increased information about the health risks associated with high meat consumption, more and more people are searching out plant-based meals on at least a few nights of the week.
This not only means more and more dedicated vegetarian restaurants – and their non-dairy cousin, vegan – are opening up across the capital, but the veggie menus in mainstream restaurants have actually expanded far beyond dreaded rice-based dishes. From places that push the boundaries when it comes to plant-based menus, to otherwise standard spots that have embraced the meat-free message, here’s the best vegetarian food London has to offer right now. And not a chickpea in sight.
When Woodlands opened in 1981 it was the first vegetarian Indian restaurant in London. Now with three branches, one of which is in Hampstead, it specialises in traditional southern Indian vegetarian dishes like lentil curries, thali platters and dosas.
102 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 1DR, woodlandsrestaurant.co.uk
A south London institute for people in the know, Bonnington Cafe was first set up in the Eighties to serve the people living in the squat upstairs. Today, it’s still providing cheap, delicious meals to the local area – and that squat is now a community centre. Cooperatively run, with most ingredients sourced from nearby allotments, the kitchen is open seven days a week, with a different chef serving up three courses of vegan and vegetarian dishes each day. It’s cheap (although cash only), and definitely cheerful, with a BYOB policy that’s heartily embraced on Friday and Saturday nights.
11 Vauxhall Grove, Vauxhall, London SW8 1TD, bonningtoncafe.co.uk
Part of Ryan Chetiyawardana’s stable of destination bars, Cub is a collaboration between the cocktail tzar (whose most recent other project, Dandelyan, closed this year while still in the position of being number one bar in the world) and Doug McMaster, of pioneering zero-waste restaurant Silo, in Brighton. The Hoxton-based restaurant offers a set menu of sustainably sourced, plant-based ingredients, many of which would otherwise have gone to waste. And although it’s not strictly a vegetarian restaurant, meat products are used sparingly, if at all. Of course, the menu comes with ingenious accompanying cocktails concocted by Chetiyawardana.
153 Hoxton Street, London N1 6PJ, lyancub.com
Another example of a mainstream restaurant upping its vegetable game. Elystan Street was opened by chef Phil Howard and restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas back in 2016, and is as committed to its vegetarian offering as its meat. Dishes like hand cut-strozzapreti pasta with smashed courgettes and garlic leaf pesto, and truffled duck egg mayonnaise with new season’s Norfolk asparagus and Jersey Royals put flavours and and technique first. Head here for a meal that’ll satisfy meat eaters and veggies alike.
43 Elystan Street, Chelsea, London SW3 3NT, elystanstreet.com
Floral by Lima
The fun younger sibling of Michelin-starred Lima London, head to Floral for modern, intelligent takes on tradition Peruvian food. Its dedicated vegetarian tasting menu of small sharing dishes features the likes of Chinese cauliflower with rocoto mayonnaise and ginger chimichurri, and vegetable ceviche with aubergine, baby beetroot, sweetcorn tiger’s milk. Pair these with one (or two) of Floral’s devilish Peruvian cocktails, and you’ll be in for quite a night.
£35 per person, 14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9BJ, limalondongroup.com
The team behind Vanilla Black cite the very same risotto issue as the reason why they started their restaurant, which is dedicated to creating challenging, creative dishes that push the boundaries of vegetarian eating. Interestingly, Vanilla Black has banned meat substitutes, heavy spices, pasta bake and vegetable curry from the menu, instead serving up dishes like edamame bean ice cream, sesame cracker and nasturtium, and celeriac profiteroles, dill and raisins.
17-18 Took’s Court, Holborn, London EC4A 1LB, vanillablack.co.uk
When The Gate opened in 1989, it was one of the first places to treat vegetarian food with the same ingenuity and polish as other high-end restaurants. Today, it encompasses four locations, including St John’s Wood, Hammersmith, Marylebone and Islington. The miso-glazed aubergine and root vegetable rotolo will have you rethinking bone broth and steak in no time.
Around London, thegaterestaurants.com