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In our March issue we rated a few of the top veggie restaurants in the country - along with Vanilla Black in East London, Terre à Terre in Brighton and Greens in Manchester, Pippa Ridley visited The Gate (EC1) and our former Art Director, Liz, visited Manna restaurant, Primrose Hill. Needless to say, they were both pretty impressed!
We also tried and tasted Woodlands in Marylebone and Rasa in Stoke Newington, both vegetarian Indian restaurants...scroll down to see our recommendations of what to pick off the menus.
Veggie Pippa Ridley visited with her carnivore husband, Robert.
The Gate is the younger sibling of The Gate Hammersmith, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Run by brothers Michael and Adrian Daniel, the menu is a fusion of cuisines from 'a couple of guys who knew food was sacred and should be celebrated'. They describe their upbringing and foodie influences as 'Indo-Iraqi Jewish'.
Our evening began with a bottle of Picpoul at a hefty £25, being promptly served at the perfect temperature for a Frenchman, but maybe a tad too warm for our British taste. Scrumptious breads made by Flour Power arrived with infused extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic for dipping – well worth the extra £3.
TO START: We shared a couple of mezze dishes. The baby artichoke filled with goats' cheese and basil came served on a salad of Puy lentils and was simply delicious and clean-tasting. Unfortunately the Parmesan galette, despite tasting 'wholesome', somehow lacked the finesse of the former. A feta and couscous fritter was moreish, the wild mushroom ceviche less so.
MAINS: Chargrilled aubergine coated in chermoula couscous with an array of fillings was perfectly presented and executed considering the number of ingredients used, while the asparagus rotolo was clumsy – harking back to veggie dishes of yesteryear.
DESSERTS: Both full but tempted by the desserts on offer, we plumped for the selection – and they were great! A stunning summer pudding, a lavender crème brûlée with a delicate aroma, a squidgy chocolate marquise and the best elderflower sorbet, which cleansed the palate.
Pippa: As a veggie it was amazing to have choice – all too often there is only one option. This, plus the lovely atmosphere and charming waiters made for an enjoyable evening. 8/10
Robert: On those occasions when meat is not an option, this would be a good alternative – just be bold with your choices. 7/10
Manna is a cute understated neighbourhood restaurant that sits on a leafy side street in the affluent north London village of Primrose Hill. It's more than 40 years old, making it one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in London, if not the country.
TO START: We chose the Manna meze (£20) – a selection of any three starters or salads. We opted for nachos especiales (crisp tortilla topped with black beans, homemade cashew cheese, guacamole and salsa), vegetable tempura and the jalapeno cashew cheese croquettes. All were really generous in size. The tempura was beautifully crisp and was served with sweet chilli and tempura dipping sauces, which were a real hit with the girls.
FOR MAINS: Isabella (eight) and Imogen (five) chose organic fennel and pumpkin seed bangers with parsnip and carrot mash, which they enthusiastically demolished without realising that the sausages weren't meat.
I chose the Caribbean platter – a warming Jamaican pot stew of coconut milk and seasonal vegetables, aromatic rice, a jerk tofu, plaintain and red onion kebab, served with a pineapple, ackee and a grated courgette salsa. I loved the mix of flavours and textures in the food but found the salsa a little watery.
Alistair had smoked cashew cheese fajitas, which were served with green rice, guacamole and carrot salsa. He loved how the smokiness of the cheese cut through the dish.
DESSERTS: The definite highlight for me. Lemon and blueberry cheesecake packed a fruity punch and the ice cream was lovely and creamy. I encouraged our daughters to order one each, then proceeded to help them to eat them.
It's not often vegetarians can have any pick of the menu - so Alistair ate far too much! The prettiness of the food had a positive effect on our children and encouraged them to try and enjoy bean sprouts, carrot and celeriac. The food was good with lots of subtle details and big, bold flavours from around the world. The staff were friendly and attentive without being fussy. Nice atmosphere and popular. It got busy around 7.30pm, so you'll need to book.
A three-course meal with wine for two adults and two children came to around £100.
We really liked it there. The prices were reasonable and the portions generous. The restaurant is tucked away off the High Street in Marylebone and simply decorated but clean and comfortable. The staff were welcoming and attentive. It always seems to be busy whenever we pass by and that must be a good sign.
I ate the cashew nut pakora, which was absolutely delicious and the Medu Vada (lentil doughnuts – they might sound weird but they are lovely) and some dosas. The lemon rice was amazing and all the pickles and relishes were delicious– quite different to any other Indian restaurant I've been to. All the food was very fresh-tasting with lots of herbs, spices and coconut flavours. I also know someone whose sister's wedding had been catered by Woodlands and she said it was wonderful food.
A bright pink beacon to vegetarian cuisine, Rasa has been serving North London a real South Indian feast since 1994. Famously championed by the likes of Jamie Oliver and India Knight, Rasa has twice earned the title of Time Out's Best Vegetarian Restaurant – and we can see why.
The menu is almost entirely based on traditional dishes from Kerala, on the West coast of India. Rasa's flavours are as vibrant as the noisy Kathakali dancing that echoes through the region's temples, and the menu is scattered with quintessentially Keralan ingredients like fragrant roasted coconut, mango and hot green chilies. Whilst many Indian restaurants give you a dry poppadom to nibble on whilst you sip a Cobra beer, Rasa's snacks are as delicate and thoughtful as the main event.
Try crisp banana chips, crunchy murukku sticks or battered poppadoms dipped in cumin and sesame seeds for extra crunch. Unless you're a regular, one of the joys of Rasa is that so many of the dishes will be new: do try the steamed lentil idli cakes (traditionally eaten for breakfast) or dig into the paper-thin, black gram masala dosa pancake, wrapped around a comfortingly spiced potato filling. Both come with sambar sauce and coconut chutney – we always order extra!