Well, lawks-a-mercy, I've finally found a good restaurant in the Farringdon/Clerkenwell area! And (oh the irony) it's veggie, unlike me.
After several miserable experiences (unforgivably miserable in the case of Modern Pantry) I was on the verge of giving up. I'd never heard of Vanilla Black until the arrival of a veggie mate set me searching.
Boy, am I glad I found it. I completely agree with every word of the other reviews. This place does proper posh nosh.
My veggie mate was in heaven and this little piggy (eater) wasn't far off.
Staff were lovely, too.
Criticisms? Enough with the Farrow and Ball grey already. It's dated, ubiquitous and downright depressing. However, I'm not about to deduct a star on account of the paintwork.
A vegetarian restaurant? Really? The last time I was forced into such a place was in New York where I ended up eating "nut cheese", which is actually even slightly less delicious than it sounds.
None of that nonsense here - I was blown away by the food. I had what was basically mashed potato to start with, but it had cheese, caramelized onions and garlic micro leaves in it and was bowl lickingly lovely. My friends had the carrot cake with yoghurt and ginger, which was probably the most interesting starter I have had in a long time! We also tried the Brie ice cream, that just didn't do it for me - too sharp for its texture.
We all had the soufflé for the main course, which was actually loads of different things on a plate - including a poached egg. It was delicious and I didn't miss the meat at all.
Would I go back? Hmmm, it was great to try, but it is expensive and quite frankly, I fancy a big juicy steak....
I've been to Vanilla Black a few years back with a friend and nothing much has changed. The food is great and the service is first class.
We went for the two course option, which costs £28 and a glass of wine each as we like different grapes. I can remember my friends dishes better than mine ... I think it's a form of food envy. I really need to work on that. She had puréed jacked potatoes and I had gears cheese. Both dishes were delicious and rather heavy for a starter. We also got a little extra and fresh bread before that, so we already stuffed our faces at that point! The main for me had cauliflower and more cheese, which was rather fine as well. I know ... Most people will now think: "Cauliflower. Really?", but they made it work.
When you think of vegetarian restaurants, you usually think of crunchy granola like places and at least for me first heard of a fine dining vegetarian place. I was really impressed when I first walked it as it has a nice, serene feel.
I had the whipped jacket potatoes which was delicious. Whipped to perfection and the accompanying tomato syrup complimented it perfectly. For my main, I had the goats cheese and cauliflower mille feuille. It was nice but a bit on the heavy side for me. The cauliflower does help balance out the strong flavor from the goats cheese. We had the smoked paprika fudge and I didn't enjoy it very much but it was interesting mix of flavors.
When I have a veggie meal, it's usually quite bland - steamed veggies, lightly seasoned tofu which I really enjoy. Your expectations of vegetarian food will completely change after trying this place.
I loved the food at this restaurant! My meal was delicious and innovative from start to finish. I give this restaurant a 4 and not a 5 for 2 reasons. One, my husband's meal was not nearly as good as mine, which leads me to believe that how much you'll like this restaurant is based on how well your order. Two, the ambiance was seriously lacking. It was a bit sterile and uptight-- completely missing the warm, stay-and-be-merry environment of my favorite London restaurants. If it was going for a more formal, fine dining feel, it misses that too. I think dim lighting, a few candles, and some good background music could go a long way in this place.
Lunch was a very good deal with the price fixe menu. The food is quite inventive and very tasty. Portions are fine if you appreciate quality more than quantity. The "English food" inspiration is perhaps my least favorite feature of Vanilla Black. But this is my own personal bias against English food in general (i.e. biscuits, pies, fried foods) . I should acknowledge, however, that the way they conceive it in Vanilla Black is the single way I could ever enjoy such thing as English food.
This is $$$ food. Rich and expensive.
And obviously they paid someone a lot of money to sit and think hard about how to make dishes pop, visually both on the menu and on the plate, as well as in your mouth.
It was hard to find the place, as it is tucked away on one of those London streets that even black cabs may find hard to reach. Once we were there though, we were given quite the warm welcome. Literally. Our server offered to turn the airconditioner off because she noticed I was cold.
We decided to go with the 3 course menu. The watermelon strawberry shot with the black pepper studded turkish delight as the amuse bouche was quite nice, but I would have liked more heat or acidity in it. It's fine - can't complain about free food :)
For the appetizer, I chose the cold poached duck egg simply because I have never eaten it before. It was well, a funny dish. Hard to say that I liked it, but it was surely the most unique egg preparation I have eaten. Served chilled, the yolk was the consistency of lemon curd and the white was a translucent jelly. I did like the touch of mustard oil in the dish.
Let me take a moment here to talk about my husband's appetizer. The brie ice cream with some hazelnut crumble and some plum chutney. That ice cream, so creamy. That sauce, so tangy, that crumble, so crumbly. Just fabulous. This is the dish I dreamed about creating but never did.
As usual, my husband had better luck with me in the main course, as he greedily lapped up his fried mushroom mousse. Now that's what you call umami - that mousse was simply perfect in texture and taste. The tarragon waffles, however, I could have done without. My dish was the warm celery panna cotta with the blue cheese profiteroles. Well conceived, but at that point I was just so full from eating all these rich dishes.
That wasn't going to stop me from ordering dessert though. We shared the caramelised custard (a-okay) with this beautiful, beautiful, creamy bramble ice cream. I'm not the biggest fan of ice cream in fall but this was dreamy. And creamy.
If I find myself back in London - I think I will surely go back to Vanilla Black for dinner - but I'll skip lunch and wear my stretchy pants, if they will let me.
How much?: £30 for three courses or £24 for two courses
Hidden away on a tiny cobbled street behind Holborn's bustle, Vanilla Black is a cultish vegetarian oasis more in the mould of laid back Michelin starred food emporia Arbutus than the often holier than thou High Veg of somewhere like Saf. There are no opinions shoved at you, and no ethos that you have to subscribe to, they just want to serve you good ingredients, cooked well, in a calm friendly atmosphere. That those ingredients happen to all be vegetables, seems a coincidence.
This approach is unlike San Francisco's Ubuntu or New York's Dirt Candy, two other great, high end, vegetarian experiences this committed carnivore places in his top dining experiences of recent years. Both of them celebrate individual, specific veg in their dishes, with Ubuntu (where all of the food is grown within 20k of the kitchen) offering Cauliflower cooked four ways and a wonderful Carrot Gnocci and Dirt Candy (an all together grittier, East Village experience) presenting Corn, Mushroom and Pumpkin as the stars of their own dishes. I digress.
One chatty server took pity on me while waiting for the Vole (once again...) The friendly staff are a contrast to their severe black uniforms but fit nicely in with the clean grey-green and white walls. When she finally arrived, we settled down in the quieter front section of the restaurant - the fact that someone called Dharma was enjoying their birthday revels in the rear section was the only hint of hippie that we saw all night - the rest of the clientele were smart, though not overly dressy and given it's location, there were more than a few suits floating through the celebratory groups.
An amuse of 'fresh tomato with celery salt' was as nice a shot of Virgin Mary as I've had and a good palate cleanser. If I admit to not being overly impressed with a starter of Sweet & Sour Glazed Beetroot with Wasabi Cream it was only due to a severe food envy. This was suffered from my (single, solitary!) taste of The Vole's Puy Lentil Dhal braised in red wine and served with a potato puree, curry oil and a crunchy moorish spice mix - one of the best variants on a, quite frankly often plain, dish I've tasted.
A perfectly subtle and lovely Ozzie gewurztraminer (from a little boutique producer in Clare Valley called Skillogalee if you're interested...) perfectly chimed with our mains. It was now The Vole's turn to suffer food envy. Her Asparagus and Chervil Pesto Crumpet with a leek tagliatelle was perfectly executed but my Ribblesdale cheese pudding was one of the tastiest dishes I've eaten this year. It arrived with a side of tart pineapple puree that seemed initially incongruous, but set off the creamy soft set cheese pudding perfectly. A dish of two halves, it came paired with a poached ducks egg sitting resplendent on a stout and expertly prepared smoked potato cake. The two worked together well. Too well for me to let the Vole have more than a morsel.
If the deconstructed carrot cake I had to finish had a flaw, it was only in it's size. The elements all came together as expected, though the carrot 'halwa' was more of a puree.
We were pretty much the last to leave at 10 and while the restaurant had been full during it's 8pm sitting, I definitely thought they could, and should, have been busier. Every now and then remember that it's not all about the steak or the burger and give Vanilla Black a go. You won't miss the meat (for a night anyway).
There is nothing inherently wrong with Vanilla Black, but in a city that also plays host to The Gate, I don't know why a vegetarian would ever veer from The Gate. I found the dishes at Vanilla Black to be less inventive and less flavourful than the dishes at The Gate. I also thought that menu at Vanilla Black was leaning towards fussy. The ambiance definitely left something to be desired as well, and the layout of the place is sort of bizarre. My husband described the restaurant as feeling somewhat like a dentist's waiting room, and it definitely feels sterile and lacks a certain warmth.
I realize this review is something of a comparison rather than a strict review of Vanilla Black, but it is inevitable that one would compare Vanilla Black to The Gate. In my opinion, Vanilla Black just didn't stack up.
The good: I found the ambiance to be elegant, simple, and comfortable. The food was innovatively designed and plated. It was lovely to eat in a restaurant that treats vegetarian cuisine as a worthy culinary experience on its own. My potato cake appetizer was smokey and delicious while my main of goat cheese and toasted cauliflower had delicate flavors that complimented nicely. I think the highlight of the meal was my date's Fried Mushroom Mouse and Pernod pancakes. This dish was spectacular and the fennel was the perfect compliment to the mushroom.
The not so good: Innovation and creativity is great, but sometimes it can result in some odd food. Case in point: Brie icecream appetizer...couldn't get into that. Also, the service was a bit cold (but maybe because I'm American, I expect more chit chat).
Overall, a lovely evening spent.
I try to live and eat healthy and this is one of my favorite places to do that. The restaurants has big menu, full of delicious, yet healthy dishes. The food is always fresh and the service is excellent. I like it.
I went here for a work lunch the other day and was really looking forward to it, but I don't think I'll return any time soon.
The service was attentive and friendly, and the atmosphere was nice - though a bit on the cold side. The food was very well presented, but I can't say I was overwhelmed by either flavour or creativity. Ok, but nothing to rave about. Also, after two courses I definitely still felt slightly hungry. Overall, I was slightly disappointed.
I should also add that they have a separate vegan menu, which has a lot fewer options than the vegetarian one. They also clearly label themselves as a vegetarian restaurant, and you should let them know in advance if you're vegan - and I must say I find it slightly bizarre in itself that they make such a fuss about veganism when in this day and age it really shouldn't be a big deal to cook delicious, creative vegan food (especially not for a vegetarian restaurant). Why they don't have vegan options available as part of the standard menu is beyond me, frankly.
Gasp!! Gourmet Vegetarian food that even carnivores are satisfied by? Tasty veggie delights that your tongue will treasure for weeks to come?
Vanilla Black is out-of-the-way in Chancery Lane, but only 3 mins walk from the tube - a blessing if you're bored with fighting through Soho and fancy a change. This destinational eaterie is a heavenly escape from the usual bland veggie options that I've become resigned to.
What an incredibly decadent way to spend a gastronomic evening. At £24 for 2 courses, and £30 for 3 (lunch costs less), we felt ultra-satisfied and full to bursting after eating as much from the menu as possible (in the spirit of reviewing, of course).
This is what we chose: after an amuse bouche, we started with the deconstructed puy lentil dahl with potato puree and curry oil, and the Black Olive and Saffron Potato with Almond Muesli and tomato paste. Mains were Hickory-Smoked Duck Egg and Caerphilly Pudding, and Parsley and Mushroom Duxelle Mille Feuille - as for dessert, Carrot Cake with Orange Sorbet and sugared coriander and the Chocolate Parfait with passion fruit sorbet and crystallised pineapple was an incredible ending. Trust me, you won't notice the lack of flesh on the plate.
Oh yes, these people definitely know what they're doing - Vanilla Black used to be based in York until very recently; I ate there a year ago and fantastised about Donna and Andy bringing their place to London since that meal who knew my dream would come true? This place has only been open for 3 weeks or so (time of writing May 2008) - I'd get in quick before people start plastering Michelin stars all over it.
A real treat for vegetarian foodies, this place is tucked away in dead-at-the-weekend Chancery Lane, which makes it feel pleasantly secluded. Service is excellent without being at all stuffy or over-formal, and the food is superb; I loved the savoury Wensleydale cheesecake starter and can't wait to come back and try more. A perfect choice for special occasions, and yes, do take your meat-eating friends along to change their minds on vegetarianism
EDIT to say that after another superb visit, I have to also compliment the Vanilla Black team on their choice of music. Where else, besides your own home, could you enjoy delicious food and wine whilst listening to Pulp, The Pixies and the Smiths!?
Here's the thing: I tend to get anxious if there's a meal without meat in it. Meat is BRILLIANT. Just not, it turns out, as brilliant as a meal at Vanilla Black.
Ghastly earth motherish decor aside (taupe? Beige? AND grey?) it's startlingly special. Terrific staff, a knowledgeable sommelier and tip-top food.
We had delicious amuse bouches (always a nice surprise) and then the most deliciously layered textures and tastes I've had in ages. We were so stuffed after starters and mains that we skipped pudding. That just doesn't happen normally.
I've been trying to manhandle all my carnivorous chums along to try it out and while my suggestion has been greeted by a perfect display of synchronised outrage, I know that once I get them there, they'll see what all the fuss is about. Delicious.
(And I am deducting a point for decor, it's a bit too earnest for such hummana hummana food action)
A very pleasant lunch, nice decor & helpful staff. Inventive cooking, nearly all of which was just right, with only a couple of 'not for me but great just the same' combos. Visually stunning food.
Will have to try it a couple more times..
Reasonable wine list and we drank well.
I've been a 'regular' at Vanilla Black since it moved to London and it never fails to impress - whether going for a romantic dinner with a loved one, or taking a client for a relaxed lunch.
The wine list is very good and matched superbly to the food on offer. The food itself is divine...in particular the deconstructed puy lentil dahl starter and the Hickory-Smoked Duck Egg and Caerphilly Pudding main.
If there's one slightly duff note it's that the VB menu has hardly changed since it opened so a bit more variety wouldn't go amiss to make me keep coming back time and again.
Overall perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to VB is that every single meat eater that has gone there with me has ended up going back!
I was lucky enough to be a regular at Vanilla Black at it's original restaurant in York - York's loss is now London's gain.
The restaurant has lost some of it's ramshackle charm (everything matches now), and the decor is a restrained and sombre affair. However this is more than made up for by the wonderful staff and excellent food.
Vanilla Black serve an adventurous and well presented vegetarian menu. Highlights include the 'Broad Bean Custard and Cheese & Onion Vinaigrette
Lemon Thyme Shortbread and Leaves' and the 'Poached Duck Egg and Ribblesdale Pudding'. Both meals were packed full of absolutely wonderful flavours and textures - and the portion sizes were perfect too.
I do miss the amazingly comforting 'cabbage and cheese pudding' they used to serve with a red wine sauce - perhaps that dish is not sophisticated enough for VB's new London location?
Excellent value for money, great wine list, and very helpful staff. VB have got very little to improve on, and are demonstrating just how exciting vegetarian cuisine can be.
We both eyed the Fried Onion Broth. I love a good French Onion Soup
and it's so hard to find one that isn't or doesn't taste beefy. But
here we were, two vegetarians at an all-veg restaurant with numerous
options, and we were both getting the same dish? I also had my doubts
about how it'd go with my main, and my waitress concurred the ensemble
might be too salty. That gave me the out I needed; I got the Whipped
Jacket Potato instead.
The Broth was nothing quite like I'd expected -- much thicker than a
soup. It was good, but my little taste of it seemed very salty.
The Potato was sublime. My partner's comment was, "I didn't know a
potato could do that".
For the main, she got the Goats Cheese and Toasted Cauliflower Mille
Feuille. She said it was good overall, and the cauliflower sublime.
I got the Salted and Ash Baked Celeriac and Foraged Garlic Leaf. My
whole plate was brilliant. The ash did something amazing to the
celeriac, and the remaining members of the ensemble held up their end
of the bargain.
After this we had to get dessert. She got the Peanut Butter
Cheesecake and Cracked Cocoa Beans. The "cheesecake" wasn't anything
like we expected in form factor -- they were little sticks. They
unfurled in three distinct flavors: first a setup, the second a solid
peanut butter, but the third a cleanser that left no PB taste in the
mouth. Brilliant engineering, but a bit odd. The toffee sauce and
banana bread were very good.
I had the Iced Malt and Burnt Orange Marshmallow: a soft but spottily
crunchy marshmallow with an orange infusion. My meringues were too
hard: you want them to crunch a bit and then yield, but they persisted
a little longer than one anticipates (though they tasted fine). The
puree tasted a bit like Horlicks or Ovaltine (I can never remember
which one's which), a bit on the malty side, and a lovely complement
to the crunchy sugar marshmallow. A superb ensemble.
Overall, my partner chose conservatively and got solid dishes; I
picked the riskier options and in each case it paid off splendidly.
There was potential for much greater variance in my dishes, but these
folks seem to know what they're doing. I'd gladly eat the same set
again, and I wouldn't trade any of my three dishes for my partner's.
Despite being small servings, the food is dense and hence very
filling. You won't be stopping for a Pret sandwich for the dinner
after the dinner.
We expected snooty service, given the price and location and concept
and that we weren't dressed up, but it was very much the opposite: the
staff were friendly, helpful, and seemed to know precisely when and
how to glide in and out.
95 GBP for two people to have three courses and a glass of wine each +
service. Totally worth it.
Great service and food. Really enjoyed dining here.
I ate at Vanilla Black with a couple of friends. The standard menu was £24 for two courses and £30 for 3. Two of us opted for 3 course and one for 2 courses and we had a bottle of wine, a couple of beers and coffee to finish and the bill came out at £126 including the 12.5% tip that apparently goes straight to the staff.
I didn't check the tipping situation with the staff so I don't know if the tips go directly to the staff or it is used to help make their wages but as the law changes on this in a couple of months time in favour of the staff I'll let it go this time.
Food was excellent and delicious - nice to eat interesting dishes without a meat or fish base.
I had a starter of Candied Chilli Stuffed Black Olives and Lemon and Avocado Cream which was light and had some pazzaz followed by truffled potato that was okay and finished with a Lemon Meringe 'Pie' and Whipped Cream with Coriander Purée that was somewhat deconstructed - their term that meant it wasn't like ordinary Lemon Meringe 'Pie' hence the quotation marks.
I'll have to work out how to do the Coriander Purée for my own deserts - a wonderful idea.
The wine was a Temparinollo for £15.50 that was good and very reasonable and the coffee at the end that I don't think that they charged for.
As an introduction and 'to clear our pallets' we were given a tomato juice with celery and an assortment of flavours that was very nice but I felt that the meal lacked these pallet cleansers as that was the only one that we were given - a couple more through the meal would of not gone amiss and raised the stakes on this restaurant no end.
Staff were v good, none of the fussing and continual pouring of wine that is often so irritating so top marks on waiting staff.
A funny little witticism to finish this review in line with most other Yelp reviews is being prepared as you read this and will be edited in later once it has been honed to perfection.
PS this restaurant is just off of Chancery Lane and everybody else except my table were in suits - I was under-dressed - thank god I was not in shorts and sandals nor my motor bike gear - dress well if you decide to eat here
Worst restaurant experience ever. I was in town for work with a colleague and saw this place on Happy Cow so we decided to check it out. When we arrived it was 6pm on a Wednesday and only 1 other party was there. They asked if we had a reservation, we said no. (Not realizing we needed one.) The bitchy hostess snapped that we needed a reservation, as if how dare we enter their large empty restaurant without one. We said "fine, we can go some place else."
The hostess said "well, if you can eat quickly I suppose we can fit you in." We only stayed because the menu looked good.
Once seated we asked the server which items on the menu were vegan. He angrily snapped that "THIS IS WHY WE INSIST YOU MAKE RESERVATIONS! WE ARE A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, NOT VEGAN!" I wanted to throw my drink at him. Also, they had vegan items on the menu. He just wanted to make us feel as uncomfortable as possible.
When our food came we found the vegetables bland and over cooked. Who the hell boils carrots and cabbage, any way? It was disgusting. It was also so unbelievably scalding hot that both myself and my colleague severely burned our mouths on the food.
I was so embarrassed for having suggested this nightmare of a restaurant. Also it stayed empty the entie time we were in there, so clearly there was no need for them to be so damn rude about their reservation policy.
If you're vegetarian in London, go to Saf. The service is good and the food is exceptional.
As a fellow vegetarian I was excited about going here.... This restaurant was delightful, the food and service was amazing; I had a very fancy version of chips and curry sauce!
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