Kirk Haworth, executive chef of Plates, shows why London’s plant based dining scene is heating up.
I started to eat a plant-based diet myself when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2014, and became unbelievably intrigued with the power of fruits and vegetables. I spent a lot of time learning about and understanding their nutritional values and more, and the way they work in the body when consumed.
And over the years, London’s plant based scene has evolved into something exciting – more and more restaurants that are not even plant based are adding interesting plant menus to their restaurants. It’s so fast and progressive here in the city that the vegetable scene just keeps on getting better.
GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
CUB in Hoxton is my new favourite and they do a fantastic vegan menu. A collaborative project between Ryan Chetiyawardana andexecutive chef Doug McMaster, the dinner-only restaurant offers a seasonal six-course zero-waste vegetarian feast. My favourite dish is the Chervil Roots. These buttery little stubs are layered with miso, apples and ‘turbo whey’ which they get from Neal’s Yard (it’s a by-product of cheese-making that would otherwise go down the drain). The whole thing is creamy, savoury and uber umami. Other notable dishes are the deconstructed Tomato Salad, accompanied with muscat grapes and lemon verbena-brined green tomatoes; and Shrooms on Shrooms, king oyster mushroom served three ways – roasted, raw and boiled.
On the corner of Newington Green, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the changing leaves in the park, Perilla is a plant-filled, stripped-back, earth-toned homage to seasonal cooking. There’s a warmness to its minimalism, with glass light fixtures, mid-century-modern chairs and chunky wooden tables that invite long lazy lunches. But it’s the food that really steals the show. Inventive twists on classic European dishes are served up by head chef and co-owner Ben Marks, who held coveted positions at Noma, Stockholm’s Operakällaren and Claridge’s before launching Perilla Dining as a pop-up with his business partner Matthew Emmerson. The star of their menu is the incredible Onion & Chestnut, a deliciously sweet burnt-onion soup presented in a singed whole onion.
Though Allegra may not be a vegetarian restaurant, head chef Patrick Powell does a mean vegetarian ramen – combining celeriac and kombu, Powell then cooks it for four hours to achieve a light, tantalising broth. Designed by Space Copenhagen, the indoor dining space features fresh, mild tones of green and warm grey, illuminated by Allegra’s floor to ceiling windows and framed by a natural stone Montpellier floor. There is also a herb garden in the restaurant where diners are encouraged to bring some back home.
TO THE MARKET
London’s oldest food market, Borough Market is one of my favourite places to visit. As soon as you enter the vicinity of the market you will be bombarded with all sorts of smells, sights and sounds that ignite all the senses. There’s international cuisine from nearly every corner of the world (most imported from Borough Market is the one-stop spot for anything kitchen-related abroad), and street vendors selling everything from paella, and duck wraps, to Thai coconut pancakes. Out of all the areas in the Borough Market, the Three Crown Square is the market’s largest trading area – that’s where you will find me – and focuses specifically on fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats and fishes. Pro tip: If you want to avoid the crowds but still want to see the Borough Market in its entirety, try to visit on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, or as soon as it opens on a Saturday.
One of London’s most visually appealing markets, Columbia Road overflows with bucketfuls of beautiful flowers every Sunday. From 8am to 3pm, market traders line the narrow street selling flowers, houseplants, herbs, bulbs and shrubs. It’s worth shopping around, so don’t be afraid to barter and prepare for it to get very busy. The market is popular with locals and tourists and during the midday rush is rammed with people elbowing their way to that perfect pot plant. If you can’t bear crowds or just want to guarantee the pick of the crop, arrive when the market opens.
When you’ve bought your blooms, head behind the stalls and down side streets to find cute cafés, independent restaurants, delis, shops, antique dealers, vintage stalls and small galleries, many of which follow the market’s opening hours. Pop into Jones Dairy Cafe for organic and local produce, treat yourself to a no-frills British bake at Treacle or sink a locally brewed pint at the Nelson’s Head. Pro tip: For a bargain, visit when the market is winding down (around 2 to 3pm) because that’s when the traders reduce their prices to shift the remaining stock.