Vanilla Black

This piece is long overdue. As in, well over a year overdue. I ate at Vanilla Black in London during my trip to Europe at the end of the summer of 2014. It was by far one of the dining highlights of the trip. When you travel for food, that consequently means it was also one of the overall highlights of the trip. Undoubtedly the menu has changed since my visit, but that’s all the more reason to go and check out what they are currently offering. Regardless of whether or not you are a vegetarian, add Vanilla Black to your must-dine-at restaurants should you ever find yourself in London, and hungry. Tell them Mallory from Canada sent you.

Vanilla Black isn’t named like most vegetarian restaurants, nor does it look like most vegetarian restaurants, but that’s because it isn’t like most vegetarian restaurants. No eclectic décor, no quirky service and thankfully, no uninspired vegetable pasta dishes. Frankly, dining at Vanilla Black is one of the best meals you can get in London, vegetarian or otherwise.

Vanilla Black

Like many vegetarians, Chef Andrew Dargue and his wife Donna Conroy started out as meat-eaters but over time failed to see the necessity of consuming it. Instead, he now takes classic British dishes like gamon and pineapple and transforms them into vegetarian counterparts that are better than the originals could ever hope to be. The re-imagined Ribblesdale cheese pudding, a double-baked soufflé of sorts, with pineapple chutney, smoked potato croquette, poached egg and homemade “ketchup” make for a dish that is ever so reminiscent of a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, ketchup and hashbrowns, but with flavours that are amplified to a more sophisticated level. Not to mention, it is surprisingly filling for a vegetarian entrée.

Vanilla Black - entree

“You would never go to a restaurant and order a dish that is entirely comprised of meat so I don’t want to offer vegetarian dishes that only contain vegetables,” explains Chef Dargue. “I like to make sure that there is a protein, a starch and a vegetable on every plate.”

Well perhaps not EVERY plate, but if that means inventions like brie ice cream with blackberries and quinoa, you won’t hear any complaints from me. Not your typical starter, the brie ice cream is subtle and creamy, more of a semifreddo than an ice cream really. Paired with blackberries in various forms, a quinoa cracker and green onion gastrique, it is surprisingly savoury for something you would expect to be sweet. You wouldn’t think twice about hot, baked brie with fruit compote so why not create a chilled version?

Vanilla Black - appetizer

Sometimes Dargue’s creative dishes don’t go over as well as he might hope but that is the nature of food of all sorts – it is utterly subjective. At the same time, he has a deft hand that understands the virtues of simplicity over an abundance of ingredients, textures and techniques. “I use certain {modernist} techniques sometimes but they are not the centre of the plate,” Dargue says. Instead, he prefers that diners are surprised by interesting bites here and there over the course of meal.

Which naturally brings us to dessert. The smoked paprika fudge sounded too interesting not to try and that it was. Individually, each component on the plate wasn’t miraculous in isolation, the fudge a tad too sweet and the Builder’s tea ice cream a tad too not. However the brilliance of great cooking is the ability to combine flavours in a way that makes them taste better together than they ever could on their own. All in one bite, the perfect spoonful contained a bit of everything on the plate, all singing in harmony.

Vanilla Black - dessert

Unlike most vegetarian restaurants or tasting menus, you will leave Vanilla Black full and happy; because regardless of your dietary choices, you experienced a mélange of dishes that achieved a Taoistic balance between sweet and savoury, light and dense, soft and crunchy, hot and cold. Most importantly, at Vanilla Black they have figured out how to both feed people and nourish them, all the while serving food that meets and exceeds all expectations of vegetarian cuisine.

Vanilla Black

17-18 Took’s Ct, London EC4A 1LB, United Kingdom

+44 20 7242 2622

2 thoughts on “Vanilla Black

  • February 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    This sounds delicious! Just getting around to reading some of your newer posts. Miss you, and hope Montreal is great 🙂


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