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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Vantra.

11-13 Soho St

London W1D 3DJ

www.vantra.co.uk/

 

After our experience at Leon, Molly and I decided to add Vantra to our list of places to try.

Vantra is a casual restaurant in Soho that specializes in raw, vegan and gluten-free foods. The cafe is open and inviting with large wooden communal tables and an organic food bar.

“So how does this work?” I asked Molly.

“You can either pick from the foods behind the counter and pay per serving or you can get a takeout container and fill it up completely from another bar yourself and pay per box.” she explained.

“Kind of like Luby’s but healthy and minus the take-out option.” I reasoned.

The take-out self service option starts at £4 for a box and is available Tuesday through Friday. The food bar offers many selections for £1 to £2 per small bowl. In addition, you can grab crackers and dips, dim sum, kale chips and truffles for dessert.

Choices.

After struggling a bit with the process, getting the attention of the staff,  and making our choices, we finally settled down to a table in the back. Some of the items were better than the others, but most were tasty. At £1 or £2 per item, it’s OK if you get something that’s not your favorite. You load up with different curries, vegan stroganoff, vegetables, noodles and salads to try and go for it.

My choices

Molly's choices

mmm... Smoothie.

We decided to try some of the vegan raw truffles. I want to say they were great, but honestly they were just OK.

Raw vegan truffles

I love this concept and am grateful for this option. During my visit it was obvious that there were still some kinks to be worked out, particularly when it came to the staff. Vantra is still new and going through an adolescence phase. I will be back regularly to check on it’s progress.

11-13 Soho St
London W1D 3DJ
Area: Soho
Nearest Transit:

Tottenham Court Road (Central, Northern)

Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, Victoria)

Hours:

Mon-Sat 12:00 – 23:00

Sun 12:00 – 21:00

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789 Wandsworth Rd
Lambeth SW8 3JQ

020 7498 5630

Has anybody noticed the glut of car repair shops over in Wandsworth? It seems there’s an entire row of them. I took the car to Wandsworth to have the oil changed. The man told me it would take an hour and a half. The hour and a half ended up being three and a half hours. I stopped into The Roastery in North Clapham to kill some time and manage the extreme appetite I had not initially planned for.

The sign outside promised brunch and coffee good enough for a Clapham coffee snob. The small cafe is fun and welcoming with free wifi and really great music. The barista was friendly as she let me down gently. Brunch is only served Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Panic, then acceptance. “Well, what is that girl in the corner eating?”

The barista pointed to the most lovely looking bagel sandwiches. She described what was in them but all I heard through my hunger was “deliciousness, deliciousness, deliciousness.” Context clues told me that one was vegetarian and one was smoked salmon.

“Great, I’ll take that one. And one of these baked goods? Afghan cookie made with cocoa and cornflakes? Yes, please. Oh and a Latte.” I was fully aware that my eyes were much bigger than my stomach but I was beyond any notions of self control.

I found a seat and relaxed into it. No telling how long the car was going to take at this point, but this was a place I could happily chill at for a while.

Afghan Biscuit

Interesting enough, Afghan biscuits are not from Afghanistan at all. They are a traditional New Zealand treat. The menu and condiments at the Roastery subtly incorporate  the owners’ Antipodean heritage.

 

Latte served with brownie treat

Bagel sandwich

The barista brought out sample Spirulina smoothies to try. The other patron looked at the glass of bright green with curiosity but I dove right in to the algae laced drink. The sweetness of banana overpowered any flavor that might be mistaken as slightly too healthy. I slurped up my tasty and refreshing smoothie while eyeing the price board. For more than £4 a smoothie I hope it is a large serving size.

Afghan biscuit + bagel sandwich + latte = £8. A little pricey for Clapham, but for a cozy place with wifi and friendly staff, I would definitely come back.

The Roastery on Urbanspoon

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For years I heard about the Wagamama chain. When we lived in the U.S., Husband told me this was a top choice for broke university student night out food in London. Wagamama is all over London, so it’s surprising that it took me this long to try it.

I understand why it’s an old standby. Wagamama is healthy and affordable. The atmosphere is casual and it is a comfortable spot for solo dining. Staff approach you at long benches or booths on the side of the restaurant.  It’s style is dining out for the masses, albeit well designed.

The dish was standard issue but the warm broth and noodles in my Saien Soba were comforting on a cold day. I left utterly stuffed.

Saien Soba: whole wheat noodles in a vegetable soup topped with fried tofu, bean sprouts, courgettes, asparagus, red onions, leeks, mushrooms, mangetout and garlic. Garnished with spring onions.

Wagamama on Urbanspoon

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Molly needed to pick up twelve antique picture frames. Where should we go? The first place that springs to mind for antiques is Notting Hill, but that sounds a bit pricey. I suggest Spitalfields market. That place is bound to have a random booth full of quirky old picture frames for cheap, right?

Wrong. We went on Thursday because that was antiques day, but we were unable to locate anything suitable in her price range. Most of the frames had things like hand drawn maps from the 1800’s inside and we weren’t about to purchase them at £40 a piece only to ditch the map.

So we gave up (or rather decided to rely on the internet for this purchase) and get some lunch instead.

We stopped into Leon. I was really excited to try this place. Their model is healthy, fresh and cheap. They’ve done so well that they even have their own cookbook!

I stepped up to the counter and ordered the sweet potato falafel with aioli hot box and passed over my £6. A few minutes later I was presented with a box on a tray. Molly ordered a salad and hummus.

When we sat down I opened my box and urm, was a little disappointed. Look at it, it just seems so squished and sad.

Sweet potato falafel hot box

 

Well I suppose presentation isn’t everything. The meal tasted fine but I’m a calorie snob who would prefer great. Visible in the box is brown rice, coleslaw, sweet potato made into falafel-like shapes that were warm and mushy, and a slight drizzle of aioli.

The hummus was really nice but the flatbread was dull. The flatbread would have been really nice if it were toasted or warm.

 

Molly tucking into the hummus.

Did I catch Leon on the wrong day? Did I order the wrong thing? The food was decent, but not great. Definitely not cookbook worthy. Still, I am grateful for affordable healthy options.

We stopped into Montezuma on our way out where we were greeted with samples of peppermint dark chocolate. I’m not really big on sweets but I love dark chocolate and this was really delicious. I contained myself (mostly) but left with a bar of Sea Dog, dark chocolate with juicy lime and sea salt. I am addicted. Which is OK because it’s gluten free and vegan, right?

Image courtesy of Montezuma

Bottom Line?

  • Antique Picture Frames – Ebay.
  • Leon – Maybe, but probably not.
  • Montezuma – Oh yes.

Leon on Urbanspoon

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Rootmaster's Routemaster

Elys Yard
The Old Truman Brewery
Hanbury Street
London
E1 6QL

07912 389314

http://www.root-master.co.uk

I was stumbling around Spitalfield’s Market and was getting very hungry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to actually eat inside the market as it seemed noisy and separated from the sun. I exited the market and headed slightly northeast, combing the streets for interesting shops and affordable restaurants.

In my search I spied this double decker bus serving food with a sign that read “Rootmaster.” Back home, the funky converted buses, cargo containers and trailers converted into restaurants is the best place to experience street food ranging from simple to gourmet.  Food trailers are found there grouped in parks together, alone, tucked away behind or in between bars and parks, and with their own movie theaters. It’s quite the scene.

I was very excited because I hadn’t seen many of these type of things around London. I took a seat on the makeshift patio and had a look over the menu. Wow, what a great vegetarian friendly menu with gyozas, chickpea dishes, paninis, pastas and curries.

I settled on a Rootmaster burger. I typically avoid veggie burgers as they are often the cliche token vegetarian option. I had successfully avoided them for so long that one actually sounded appetizing! The Rootmaster burger was described as a flame grilled savoury bean burger served in a wholegrain bap (that means roll, y’all) with lettuce, tomato, bus made mayo & tomato sauce and served with organic potato wedges.

I asked the server as I ordered “That’s bean burger only, right? No beef or meat or anything?”

“No, this is a vegan restaurant.” She looked at me sideways waiting for my reaction.

“Score!” She smiled back with a slight bit of relief. That was random luck to stumble on a vegan restaurant in a double decker bus.

Rootmaster Burger

The burger, bap and potatoes were delicious. The bap was slightly toasted. The burger was homemade instead of prepackaged. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. The plate in all was a mere £6.50

I felt a little like I should have branched out and tried some of the other menu items as I saw wonderfully looking plates pass by me and make their way to other tables. I have had my bean burger for the year so I’m ready now to try other things.

Boyfriend later explained to me that the name of the restaurant, Rootmaster, was  a play on words. Routemaster is the type of double decker bus and was in production from 1958 until 1968. Root as opposed to Route is a nod to it’s vegan cuisine.

Molly at the Particular Kitchen informed me of a similar Routemaster turned vegan restaurant in Soho. Vegan Routes is not affiliated with Rootmaster and is at the moment closed.

Bottom Line: Yummy affordable vegan food in a funky converted double decker bus.

Rootmaster on Urbanspoon

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17 Took’s Court
London EC4A 1LB
020 7242 2622

www.vanillablack.co.uk/

One thing about living in a world city like London is the totally different class of vegetarian restaurants available. In many towns, the vegetarian establishments are typically cute and quirky but not particularly fine dining. Don’t get me wrong, I love my quirky and fun veggie restaurants, but it’s nice to branch out for a special occasion.

The name, Vanilla Black, creates images of stark contrasts. The establishment rides on this theme with a fine but demure atmosphere. During lunch the crowd was mostly polite people in business attire and a solo me in my denim and trainers plopping down a humongosized hobo bag with camera, maps and books spilling out the edges.  At the moment, I felt like Vanilla in a world of Black, but it was lunch and I had been on the lookout for upscale vegetarian dining for a while.

Weekdays from 12-2:30 Vanilla Black has an amazing set menu of 2 courses for £18 or 3 courses for £23. I decided on 2 courses: an appetizer of Sweet and Sour Glazed Baby Beetroot with Candied Fennel and Wasabi Cream and a main of Asparagus and Chervil Pesto Crumpet with Yoghurt Curd, Potato Cakes and Leek Tagliatelle.

The staff was courteous, polite and attentive but formal. In keeping with the contrast theme, the server brought bread with sea salted butter and black peppered butter which I immediately chowed down on along with a glass of white wine.

Sea salted and black peppered butter for the bread, wine.

The wonderfully presented beetroot dish had the most amazing wasabi cream. The power of the wasabi mixed with the cooling cream made an unusual but perfect pairing and flowed nicely with the natural sweetness of the beetroot.

Sweet and Sour Glazed Baby Beetroot with Candied Fennel and Wasabi Cream

The unlikely combination of ingredients were proving to be well thought out and delightful. I conquered every bite of the beetroot and was anxious for the main course.

Asparagus and Chervil Pesto Crumpet with Yoghurt Curd, Potato Cakes and Leek Tagliatelle

“This is what crumpets are?!?” I thought as I vowed to eat crumpets every day. The aparagus, yoghurt curd, potato cakes and leeks were extremely pleasing. At this rate, my ordering skills were  having a 100% success rate. I decided to go ahead for the dessert. The plates were small-ish, I reasoned.

The peanut butter parfait sounded a bit rich so I chose Olive Oil and Vanilla Roasted Pineapple with Chili Syrup, Mango Pureé and White Chocolate Ice Cream. That’s where my lucky streak ended. The Pineapple overpowered all the other ingredients and left the dish feeling stagnant. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t live up to the expectation after the other two courses.

Olive Oil and Vanilla Roasted Pineapple with Chilli Syrup, Mango Pureé and White Chocolate Ice Cream

Bottom Line: Vanilla Black works the contrast theme with amazing and inventive results. The pricetag is a little hefty for everyday, but the restaurant boasts a decent set lunch best with dessert skipped.

Vanilla Black on Urbanspoon

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Boyfriend’s company was taking part in a huge industry event and loads of employees were coming to London to participate. Many people were bringing their wives and the CEO’s wife was hosting a special spouse event that included a trip to the V&A Museum to see the Grace Kelly exhibit and lunch at the Ritz.

You could spend days in the  Victoria and Albert Museum and not feel like you’ve seen everything. The place is huge and there is such a wide variety of exhibits that even the most museum adverse can find something of interest.

Grace Kelly :  Style Icon highlighted the life and wardrobe of the Princess of Monaco from her early modeling days on through to her days in the palace. There are several famous dresses, shoes, hats, glasses and other pieces she wore throughout her life. She tended to wear things more than once, unlike many Hollywood personalities today. She described it as being faithful to her clothes like she would be faithful to her friends.

Although her clothes evolved with the times, she sustained a femininity valued strongly in her era. This ideal fulfillment is what I think made her so popular, but what made her endearing are the small glimpses that portray a person behind the image. For example, photos depict her wearing her glasses on the tip of her nose because she was shortsighted. These images take her out of the realm of object and remind you she’s human.

After viewing the Grace Kelly exhibit we were free to have a look around the museum on our own for an hour or so. I decided to tackle the 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces Exhibit and have a stroll through the garden.

I highly recommend the Architects Build Small Spaces Exhibit. V&A invited nineteen architects to submit proposals for structures examining notions of refuge and retreat. Seven were selected and constructed and are dotted throughout the museum. You grab a map and one by one hunt them down. This is great not only for architecture enthusiasts, but also for getting to know your way around the massive museum.

One of my two favorite structures was a reproduction of an unauthorized structure  in Mumbai. This small but well used space was home to a family of eight. Not a bit of space was wasted. There were even areas reserved within the structure for contemplation and worship. The Studio Mumbai achieves their goal of communicating the poetry of such small and disregarded habitats. I felt humbled while exploring this space and contemplating my own relative palatial home.

Replication of tree growing through unauthorized Mumbai structure.

My other favorite structure was a free standing wooden tower of books. The wood structure was unfinished and had not only a natural feel and look, it also had a wonderful smell. Books were aligned within the wooden structure to achieve entire walls consisting only of used books. This formed a wonderful collage, each book full of ideas and concepts yet to be learned and experienced. Within the tower were small reading chambers where the viewer was invited to browse the books, sit and meditate or just rest. I can honestly say this is one of the most peaceful, calming and meditative spaces I have ever been in. I could have curled up in the meditation couch for the rest of the day and been at one with the universe.

Be still my heart! An entire structure made of books!

While I wanted to stay in the book structure forever, I also wanted to check out the garden. It was a well manicured garden with a terrific water feature and cafe. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or contemplate the works of art you have just viewed.

Victoria and Albert Garden

At this point, it was time to meet up with the group and head towards the Ritz for lunch. Upon arrival, we were greeted with an exceptional level of service by the staff and sat in the extensively adorned Music Room.

Chandelier in the Music Room

I have always wanted to go to the Ritz for afternoon tea, but considering the touristy nature and high price, I had put it off for a special occasion or when I had visitors who also wanted to go.

The first course for our lunch was a crown of asparagus served with walnut salad and lemon creme fraiche. The presentation was beautiful. Please forgive the quality of these photos. They were taken with an old iPhone.

Crown of Asparagus

For my main course I had chosen Spring Vegetable Risotto. Some of the ladies at the table looked at my meal with envy. “Back off, it’s mine!” I told them.

Spring Vegetable Risotto

While the Risotto was delicious and the asparagus was decent, the dessert was amazing. We were served strawberry terrine with buttermilk sorbet. The doughnut on the end completed the dish for me.

Strawberry Terrine with Buttermilk Sorbet

Our meal was followed by coffee, teas and frivolities. We passed the frivolities around and around again. The other ladies groaned about their waistlines, but I dug in each time. I’m definitely not one of those girls who doesn’t eat carbohydrates.

Frivolities

The meal was really a treat. You can have a more affordable but just as good meal elsewhere (although I didn’t pay, the company did) and you don’t always want to be around such pomp and circumstance. Considering that, the Ritz London is one of those things you need to do once. I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

Bottom Line:

Victoria and Albert Museum – Go see the 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibit. It’s free and on through the end of the August.

The Ritz London – Go once for a treat, preferably when someone else is paying. It’s touristy and expensive, but the food is delicious, the experience unique.

Ritz on Urbanspoon

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Photo Courtesy of Saf Restaurant and Bar

http://www.safrestaurant.co.uk

152-154 Curtain Road
Shoreditch London EC2A 3AT
+44.20.76130007

The Barkers Building 1st Floor
London, UK W8 5SE
+44.20.73634555

After hearing loads about Saf, a top end vegan and raw food specializing restaurant, I decided I had to try it.

I was meeting my architect friend, Ryan, near Kensington High Street for lunch and remembered that the restaurant was on the top floor of the  Whole Foods just down the street. I suggested we check it out.

I could tell that Ryan was a little weirded out. I lived mere blocks from the flagship Whole Foods in Austin, Texas for years and would often drop in to the restaurants dotted throughout the store. It had become a quite normal way to dine, but I could see that the concept was uncomfortable to Ryan and I began rethinking bringing an architect there. This was understandably so. The flagship Whole Foods in Austin integrates the restaurants into the store giving their presence an organic and natural feel while the one in Kensington corals them onto the top floor. While the interior design is modern, sleek and nice, you can’t escape the disappointing vibe of an indoor shopping mall food court.

I dismissed the disappointment when the server arrived with the menus. Oh my,  everything sounded amazing. The smoothies and drink section were a vegan foodie dream. The menu was dotted with mentions of cashew butter, tempeh, greens, mushrooms and other plant based treats.

After some deliberation, Ryan chose the Buddha Plate and I went with the lunch special of wild mushroom crepes. When our food arrived, the server made sure to explain all of the different items on Ryan’s plate. I can see how someone who isn’t used to eating this particular way could find items like kimchee intimidating. Luckily, Ryan is a cultured and open minded dude. He was totally game. I didn’t hesitate to chow down. In fact, I finished every single bite of my plate and even entertained the dessert menu.

Wild Mushroom Crepes

We decided to skip dessert in the end. The dessert and smoothies will definitely give me something to come back for, although next time I’ll visit the actual restaurant near Old Street. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to one of their Monday through Saturday £19.50 3 course lunches or a vegan Sunday roast.

Bottom Line-

Saf delivers amazing vegan and raw food.  For a quick pop-in, Whole Foods will do. If you have the time and money, consider visiting the actual restaurant.

Saf on Urbanspoon

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