Vanilla Black, EC4A 1LB
- 020 7242 2622
- 17-18 Took's Court, EC4A 1LB
- closed Mon; noon-2:30pm, 6pm-10pm Tue-Fri; 6pm-10pm Sat; closed Sun
Totally vegetarian restaurant near Chancery Lane Station, with a fairly experimental menu. Note that even though all the food is vegetarian, they don't consider themselves to particularly specialise in vegan dishes, and vegans are advised to warn them in advance.
Kake, doop, bob, and family visited on a Wednesday evening in July 2009. We'd booked, which was probably a good idea even though the place was half-empty during our visit, since most of the tables seem to be set up for smaller groups than our party of five.
The only menu available is a set-price one, with two courses priced at £24 and three at £30. The menu notes that an optional 12.5% service charge will be applied, and that it all goes to the staff. With five people in our party and six choices per course, we got to try a fair selection.
Tap water arrived swiftly, in a jug with ice, lemon, and lime; this was replenished frequently throughout our meal. Bread was brought round more than once, and we also got an amuse-bouche of decent enough tomato juice.
Kake and doop both started with the candied chilli stuffed black olives served with lemon and avocado cream, basil poached tomatoes, and bread crisps photo. Kake was a little disappointed to realise that 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. The bread crisps were a bit too greasy for Kake's taste. Overall, it was a fairly unexciting dish, much less exciting than suggested by the menu description.
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 was both 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 throughout our visit, an unusual selection for a restaurant (including the Smiths, the Pixies, and the Rolling Stones), but it was fairly quiet and didn't impede conversation at all.
Kake's verdict: Normally I like the more experimental kind of food, but I felt that although the chef was clearly trying very hard, too many of the results missed the mark. Although the prices aren't unreasonable given the location and ambience, they're a little too high for me to want to risk another visit any time soon. If you're vegetarian, though, it's probably worth a try.
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.
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