Vanilla Black, EC4A 1LB

Totally vegetarian restaurant near Chancery Lane Station, with a fairly experimental menu.

As well as all the food being vegetarian, several dishes are vegan or can be veganised on request, and they also have a five-course vegan set menu (which must be taken by the entire table).

We've visited a few times now, most recently on a Tuesday evening in March 2018. On this occasion, bob and the four others in his party went for the five-course vegan menu (£55/head plus £32/head for matched wines) photos. Each course was delicous and interesting, but many of us felt the smoked soft "cheese" and the coconut sorbet were the highlights. bob really enjoyed the shiitake mushroom, which is a surprise because I normally only tolerate them; the way it had been cooked removed some of the things I find odd about its texture. Several of us also enjoyed the wild nettle mojito mocktail. Service was attentive.

When Kake and Pippa visited on a Friday early evening in July 2015, we were given an amuse-bouche of mango puree on a mushroom cracker photo; this was OK, though the cracker was a bit chewy. A complimentary bread basket was great; one seeded bread and one raisin bread, both with excellent crusts.

Kake's starter of whipped jacket potato with tomato syrup and crispy onion photo was pretty good. The whipped potato had a lovely light texture with just the right amount of richness and no glueiness at all, and the tomato syrup was a pleasing contrast (and not too sweet). The crispy onion had a rather stodgy batter. The cubes of Wensleydale cheese in the very bottom of the dish were a bit much for me; I'd have enjoyed the dish a little more without them, but this is just personal taste. Pippa's starter of dried yeast icecream photo was also good, with the yeast flavour really coming through.

Kake's main course of seared seaweed and cabbage with pickled potatoes photo was less successful. Although the individual components were all fine in isolation, and the pickled potatoes gave the whole thing a rather nice "salt and vinegar" tang, overall it was just too salty. Everything on the plate was salty except for the rather bland soda bread sauce, and it all added up to the point where I couldn't finish it due to salt overload.

Pippa's main course was better; double-baked Ribblesdale pudding with a smoked potato croquette, poached egg, and pineapple pickle photo. The pineapple pickle was deeply pineappley without being too sweet, and the potato croquette had an intensely smoky flavour.

We skipped dessert, but did have some after-dinner chocolates photo; three little truffles and a very soft fudge. The violet truffle was particularly good, with a light sprinkle of salt to bring out the flavour. There was quite a lot of the fudge, more than we really wanted given how intensely sweet it was.

On a previous visit on a Wednesday evening in July 2009, Kake's starter of candied chilli stuffed black olives served with lemon and avocado cream, basil poached tomatoes, and bread crisps photo was less exciting than it sounded. Only the chillies were candied, and not the olives — that could have been quite interesting. The chillies had a decent amount of chilli flavour without too much heat, but were let down by tough skins. The tomatoes weren't particularly basilly, but we were pleased that they'd been peeled. The lemon and avocado cream was basically a very smooth and fairly average guacamole, and the bread crisps were a bit too greasy. It wasn't entirely clear where the deconstruction came into bob's deconstructed Puy lentil dhal; perhaps simply the fact that the lentils hadn't been pureed. He thought it was quite good though (and isn't usually a fan of lentils). Mike seemed happy with his spring vegetable terrine photo. Gaynor's wensleydale cheesecake was quite rich, and she was thankful for the pile of thinly-sliced cornichon that accompanied it.

Moving on to main courses Kake made the over-optimistic mistake of choosing an Asian-influenced dish; pea, lettuce, and tarragon "dim sum" served with pak choi, ginger cream, and sesame croutons photo. The dim sum wrappers weren't up to the task of holding in the filling, which fell out of the bottom as soon as I lifted them. The peas in the filling were overcooked, and the pak choi was tough. The sesame in the croutons was not very apparent, and they felt like quite an incongruous addition to the dish, but they did at least provide the crunchiness and textural contrast that should have come from the pak choi. If I hadn't been hungry, I'd probably have given up on this dish halfway through (and indeed I left most of the pak choi). Others fared better. Mike enjoyed his poached duck egg and ribbesdale pudding. Gaynor was very pleased with her choice of truffled potato "bubble and squeak", mainly because of the excellent portobello mushrooms and deeply-savoury caramelised carrot puree that came with it (Kake nabbed some of the carrot puree and was similarly impressed).

Only three of us had room for desserts. doop was very happy with his peanut butter and chocolate parfait; it was slightly salty as well as sweet, which worked well. bob seemed to enjoy his lemon meringue pie photo. Kake, not being a fan of sweet things, instead went for the cheese option; marinated capricorn goats cheese served with green olive puree and pecan bread sticks photo, which was fine if again less exciting than I'd been expecting; the marinade seemed to consist mainly of (decent enough) olive oil, while I'd been hoping for something a bit herby and perhaps a bit lemony.

Service on both Kake's visits was friendly and efficient, and clearly aiming towards the higher end of the market without being stuffy (and without insisting on pouring our wine for us). Background music was playing both times, not too loud (and a rather unusual selection for a restaurant on our first visit, including the Smiths, the Pixies, and the Rolling Stones).

Kake's verdict: Overall, things seem to have improved since my original visit in 2009. Back then, I felt that although the chef was clearly trying very hard, too many of the results missed the mark. I would certainly now recommend this place to vegetarians, though perhaps not to meat eaters who aren't short of places to visit for fine dining.

Accessibility: One fairly high step up to get in, another step to get to the back part of the seating area, and the toilets are down a flight of stairs with a bend in the middle and a handrail only part of the way down.

See also:

Last visited by bob and others, March 2018. Opening hours taken from the Vanilla Black website, March 2018.
OS X co-ord: 531149 OS Y co-ord: 181448 (Latitude: 51.516737 Longitude: -0.111270)
Last edited 2018-03-25 16:07:58 (version 15; diff). List all versions.