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Vanilla Black

Posted on 2009/10/25 08:09:32 (October 2009).

[Thursday 22nd October]
Having really enjoyed Hiltl in Zurich recently I had been determined to find somewhere similar in London. So, partly to this tend, this evening I went for dinner with Chie at Vanilla Black. It's a vegetarian restaurant hidden away down a little backstreet neat Chancery Lane.

This place seems to have received quite good reviews - I had particularly liked the running theme that it wasn't like the usual "happy beansprout" brand of vegetarian eateries, which tend to be all brown rice and cous cous - not really my sort of thing. It's a tragedy that vegetarianism has been so widely conflated with healthy eating in this way - I like rich, hearty food - I just happen to not want it to contain any bits of dead animal.

Certainly in terms of decor, Vanilla Black is very much an upmarket restaurant - very nicely set tables with crisp linen - certainly not the ubiquitous plain wooden tables and tiled floors which are apparently the uniform of vegetarian cafés the world over. So that was a good start. The menu too definitely had the feel of more of a "proper" restaurant. These were all very good signals.

Maybe I just chose poorly though, but to be honest tonight's dinner just didn't set my world on fire.

I started off with a "cepe and truffle creme brulée". I probably should have known better - I guess I was brought up as a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the dividing line between sweet and savoury, so desserts masquerading as starters really should have been a warning sign for me - and moreover I'm not even really a fan of creme brulée as a dessert. However, I can never resist the mushroomy option in any list of dishes. It was a bit weird, to be honest. I applaud them for experimenting with this slightly Blumenthal-esque creation, but my palate was just too primitive to get over the fact that this was essentially a dessert made with mushrooms. Somehow I had imagined it wouldn't be that sweet, but it was very sweet indeed. The cepes had been turned into a very smooth and fairly liquid paste, and whilst I could taste the cepes (although the truffle was lost a bit) the texture of this didn't really agree with me. On the plus side it was served with a little side salad of parsley which I had initially dismissed as a garnish, but out of curiosity tried a bit, and it was very nicely dressed. It reminded me of a Japanese dressing - possiby rice vinegar and mirin - but the sweetness here really worked.

My main course was a truffled potato "bubble and squeak" served with an assortment of vegetables (it was probably described somewhat more in detail on the menu). This was ok I guess - at least some of the potato stack had a definite aroma of truffle to it, but despite that it didn't really seem worthy of being a centre piece in itself - at the risk of sounding like a meat eater this was more of a side dish: it would make a very nice and probably quite extravagant side dish - but as a centre piece I was left somehow a bit dissatisfied. The rest of the plate was a selection of interesting vegetables, all nicely cooked - including beetroot and chicory - but I just felt like the whole ensemble was a bit incoherent. Maybe a sauce would have helped?

I guess there's a good chance it's just me - I didn't really go in the right frame of mind or something, and so maybe no matter what they had produced I would have left a bit dissatisfied.

It's possible that it's just catering to a different style of vegetarian to me. Chie mentioned the place would probably appeal more to women than to men, and as already noted it wasn't anything like the usual happy beansprout brigade, so they weren't particularly aiming at healthy eating eco-warriors either. Maybe this is more for people who just don't really like meat?

Oh well - it probably deserves a second chance at some point, so I might try it again one day - but I'll definitely steer clear of the creme brulée next time!

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