Sophie and Mango have got into the pleasing habit of trying out vegan recipes together on a Wednesday evening. This is not exactly a recipe blog, but a catalogue of trial and error, showing our successful and less than successful cooking adventures.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Wednesday Night Kitchen Eats Out


Reluctant as we are to indulge in flagrant acts of consumerism, in the interests of pure research we found an excuse to spend a weekend in London. In the event it turned out to be somewhat frustrating and disappointing - as I should have expected from indulging in consumerism.

I went up on Saturday lunchtime to meet my brother. Sophie and I had been terribly excited to discover a new vegan organic Japanese restaurant near King's Cross, Itadaki Zen. Finally some restaurant food that meets our exacting requirements of vegan-ness and refined taste? Possibly, but unfortunately closed on Sundays and Sophie wasn't able to make it until late Saturday night. The other exciting prospect was Zilli Green, run by a celebrity chef who became veggie after taking part in some reality TV show about getting healthy. Advertising imaginative, healthy food for relatively reasonable prices - and closed on Sundays. London on a Sunday started to look even less appealing than London on any other day. The place doesn't have much going for it apart from eating out and a few free museums. The other major finding from our pre-jaunt research was a slight feeling of apprehension about our beloved Pogo Cafe after reading about some factional ructions there. Were the winning faction really the bunch of joyless fanatics their opponents made out? More importantly, can they cook?

Taking the risk of a threatened fit of petulant left-out sulking from Soph, I went to Itadaki Zen with my brother. The place is very nicely done out, with wood fittings, linen hangings and a hand-made-looking mulberry paper menu. Worryingly it was almost empty, so I hope they manage to keep it going. The food was really quite good, very subtle with high quality ingredients. A major problem for me was that the portions were much too small, and the buckwheat noodle dish I had was a bit too plain to stand up on its own. I left feeling like getting a portion of chips on the way back to the Tube. We could have ordered more side dishes, but I reckon you'd have to spend about 12-15 quid to get a decent feed. Then again, it does generally cost that much to get a really good meal in London - some of the best food I've ever had was at Carnevale. So I'll probably go back next time I feel like spending half my week's food money on one meal. My brother wasn't very impressed as he said he could get more and better food for less money at a few different Far Eastern restaurants - however I am often dubious of their vegan-friendly credentials.

I visited my Gran, aunt and uncle, then back to my brother - who actually likes living in London - and his maniacally wisecracking collection of international housemates. They were going out to a 'sexually explicit performance art show' at a venue that sounded increasingly like a gentlemen's club the more he told me about it, especially when the woman who'd invited him dropped out at the last minute and warned him that the place was full of bankers. My initial curiosity wore off completely when he said it was called the 'Supper Club' so I left them to it and met up with Sophie in Camden where I had a quite acceptable falafel from a very affable young man at Funky Falafel (Affable Falafel? not bad).

After the Tate Britain (charmingly sponsored by planet-killing, death-squad funding BP) on Sunday morning, we headed back north. With some reservations, we had settled on the Loving Hut in Camden for Sunday lunch, based on some good online reviews. I was briefly involved with the rather odd religious movement behind the Loving Hut chain (see my blog post). I'd also had a few meals at the related Peking Palace which were tasty and imaginative if a little soya-heavy (I'm not against traditional soya products but you can overdo it). We liked the sound of the 'pay as much as you want' idea.

The atmosphere at Loving Hut was nothing short of bizarre. A TV blared away with some patronising American vegan nutritionist relating an endless series of disconnected factoids to an apparently heavily sedated studio audience, while the staff and a couple of other customers shouted disjointed phrases at each other and failed to communicate very much. The food was average at best, quite a lot like the Tai etc chains but with less choice and without the starters and salads which are usually the best thing there. I appreciate the attempt to promote vegeterianism / veganism and the 'pay as much as you want' concept, but the overwhelming thought in my mind was 'get out as quickly as possible' - not conducive to the digestion. The promoting vegetarianism / veganism effort is done much better at the Islington £4 all-you-can-eat Indian, who pull it off with retro-kitsch style and a sense of humour, or by anywhere else that does decent food. I can't imagine Loving Hut doing much to convince the veg-curious of anything much except that vegans are a weirdly earnest and slightly creepy sect who don't eat many vegetables.

We tubed south to Kensington for the afternoon, failing to achieve any of our objectives, which were to go to the V&A, to look in charity shops for that elusive pair of trousers to fit my skinny bum, and to meet some friends at Kensington High St station. We went to the park instead of the museum, couldn't find the charity shops, and the station was closed. We eventually found the friends at Earl's Court, an area with nothing to recommend it at all, and walked back through the park.

We had a few options for Sunday evening before we got the only cheap train available at 9pm. Most of them were around Soho. After much dithering, we ventured into the Vegan Routes bus. The menu looked quite appealing, though probably similar to what we eat at home, and so was the idea of eating on a bus. Unfortunately due to our excessive dithering and the endearingly relaxed attitude of the cooks, we didn't have time to eat there and rushed over to Maoz falafel. My second falafel meal of the weekend was not bad, with a big pile of help-yourself salads, with the slight reservations that I prefer falafel wraps to pitta bread, and having all the salad on the top means ending up with a big lump of rather dry falafels and pitta at the bottom. Good for a quick, filling feed if you're passing.

Lessons learned: avoid Sundays; avoid Loving Hut; leave plenty of time for Vegan Routes; you have to spend a bit of money to get really good food in London.