I finally made it to the Wild Food Café in Covent Garden today. I’ve been meaning to go for months and months and it was well worth the wait.
It’s tucked away above Neal’s Yard. It’s cosy (seats about 40 people) but bright and airy. It’s a really lovely space with the kitchen in full view bang in the middle and you can either sit at the bar that runs all around the kitchen and watch them cooking or at one of the 4 big tables overlooking Neal’s Yard. Today it was absolutely freezing outside but the sun was pouring in through the large bay windows and it felt like a little haven of friendly, cosy, welcoming, warmth on an Arctic London day.
It describes itself as a ‘raw-centric food restaurant’ and uses ‘wild, fresh, colourful gourmet ingredients & plant-based (vegan and vegetarian) cuisine’. The vast majority of the menu is vegan and a lot of it raw. For anyone who is nervous of the phrase ‘raw vegan’ and presumes they will be faced with a plateful of rabbit food sprinkled with bird feed then fear not – it is astonishing what these guys create and you really don’t even notice that it’s raw.
I started with their ‘Iapple, celery, lemon, banana, kale, fresh coconut, fresh aloe vera, fresh irish moss. It’s £6 which is pretty expensive but it’s almost a meal in itself. A hearty comforting glass of goodness.
Then I ordered (V)(N)(R) £12. Completely delicious and filling, although not the biggest plate of food for £12.scrumtious shiitake, raw olive & dulse burger with in-house cultured Wild Sauce, tomatillo salsa verde, caramelised onions, baba ganoush & crispy gem lettuce in a wholemeal sprouted organic wheatbread
Ed had the raw, dairy-free young coconut cheeze, wild sea purslane & basil pesto, raw cultured tomato & goji berry marinara, Turkish olives, artichoke hearts, avocado(V)(N)(R) £12.5 This was the star of the show and honestly one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in my life. It made me want to rush out and buy a dehydrator immediately!
The desserts looked amazing but we ran out of time sadly – but now I have an excuse to go back as soon as I possibly can…
Oh and the waiting staff are really knowledgeable and helpful… and exceedingly attractive which is always always a bonus!
Wild Food Café has a real community feeling about it. They offer cooking courses, full moon feasts, meditation sessions, gourmet meals with guest chefs etc… Go check it out!
I was so excited about my first trip to NOPI and had heard such great things. I have all Ottolenghi’s cook books and they have been faithful friends over the past year, comprising of mostly vegetarian recipes which are easily reconfigured to vegan ones and many many vegan ones too! So for vegans – Ottolenghi is our friend! Or so I thought….
The whole evening was probably the most stressful restaurant experience I’ve had since going vegan (except possibly for the French chef who slowly garrotted and then quickly guillotined me with his eyes when I asked whether his chips had been cooked in animal fat….!). Being an Ottolenghi restaurant, I didn’t bother phoning ahead (which I usually do) to ask whether they would be able to cater for me. I just assumed it would be no trouble. 1st mistake.
I then had a 20 minute very confusing conversation with a very sweet but seemingly clueless waitress who insisted on showing me the lactose free menu when I asked what vegan dishes they had. Everything listed on this menu had either goats cheese, yoghurt, cream or some such included in it and it was impossible to ascertain from her whether these were vegan versions (which would have been unexpectedly wonderful!) or if they were just going to remove the non-vegan elements from the dish and give me the remaining bits (not so wonderful). I tried to explain that if they didn’t really have anything vegan then I would rather have a vegetarian meal and enjoy it rather than a really badly thought through vegan meal; I felt it was my fault for not calling ahead and this was a special night out with friends I really didn’t want my veganism to cause any fuss…. The waitress repeatedly reassured me that the whole lactose free menu was all vegan and would be delicious. Fine. So I ordered three tapas dishes:
Roasted aubergine, lemon chilli feta, pistachios
French beans, sugar snaps, edamame beans, yellow mustard seeds
Roasted sweet potato, burnt aubergine yoghurt,basil, maple roasted seeds
What I knew would happen was exactly what happened. The plates just came with the non-vegan bits removed. So dry roasted aubergine & pistachios and dry sweet potato with seeds – all horribly dry and turning my mouth into an endless cement mixer. This obviously really annoyed me as I had tried to be as cooperative and respectful as I could be by offering to forego my veganism for the evening in favour of sampling their amazing food. Having said that – the edamame bean dish was incredible so it was a complete disaster!
I really don’t know what the right answer to do in these situations is. My instinct is to try your best to stick to your principles but if that doesn’t seem to be feasible at the same time as having a great meal then you have to decide to either opt for the vegan but poor quality meal or a non-vegan one-off meal out of respect for the chef and their cuisine. I’ve done both probably in equal measure and I still don’t know what is right. You feel a bit pissed off either way really! Having said this, these are the exception and not the rule. Nearly all restaurants I’ve been to in the last year have had a vegan option available and if they haven’t then I’ve called ahead and they’ve been only to happy to whip up a vegan something so it really isn’t a very big problem. It just poses another interesting social and moral dilemma of what choice to make…
I didn’t say anything of course and just put it down as a good lesson learned. Remember – always phone ahead and don’t let waiters and waitresses bully you into ordering something you know is not what it seems!
So I sought solace in a delicious soya latte. But I should hasten to mention that everyone else’s meal looked absolutely delicious and every plate was licked (quite literally) squaky clean!