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Gone are the days when vegetarian menus meant soggy tofu-and-cheese omelettes. Meat-free catering across the country has undergone a gastronomic transformation, stepping out of the bland and into the world of fine dining.So it was with more than a hint of excitement that Venues & Events walked through the doors of The Window in Islington, London’s only exclusively vegetarian venue and the location of our second Lunch Club. The party consisted of nine PAs and event bookers as well as five Square Mealers, armed with notebooks and ready to swap tips on booking PDRs.
Kyrsten Perry, The Window’s director, and head chef Annie Brown welcomed us warmly and gave us the lowdown on the social and health benefits of giving beef the boot. ‘What we choose to eat is one of the biggest factors in our personal impact on the environment. A meat-based diet requires more energy, land and water resources than a vegetarian diet,’ said Brown. ‘You’ll also find that a vegetarian diet can offer a wide range of health benefits. The word “vegetarian” was derived from the Latin word “vegetus” meaning lively or vigorous. I think this describes a vegetarian lifestyle perfectly.’ Despite this, some of our guests still needed a little convincing. ‘I have been dubious about booking a vegetarian venue as in the past, the options I’ve seen haven’t been particularly imaginative, appetising or exciting,’ explained Diane Mattison, a PA at Freshfields.
But Brown was about to change the minds of even the most devout carnivore. Lunch kicked off with baby-carrot terrine with frilled artichoke, dill oil, balsamic dressing and toasted focaccia, followed by white-bean-filled filo pastry with grilled garlic polenta and sweet potato, porcini sauce, broccoli and pumpkin-seed-encrusted chestnut mushrooms. With a menu like that, it’s not hard to see why our only authentic veggie guest was impressed. ‘All too often I am fobbed off with the ubiquitous mushroom risotto or something equally uninspiring,’ said Rachel Warnick, an executive assistant at Goldman Sachs, ‘but here I have tasted what can be achieved when a dedicated chef gives a vegetarian dish their true attention.’ It was, however, the dessert that deserved a medal – a warm apple tart with coconut and date ice cream served with caramel and pecan sauce. With it came the news every woman longs to hear: it was sugar-free.
While the room marvelled at the phenomenon of the guilt-free dessert, V&E’s editor Annica Wainwright revealed the names of her favourite vegetarian eateries. Top of the list was Alexis Gauthier’s eponymous restaurant in Soho, which, although isn’t strictly vegetables-only, has a seven-course vegetarian tasting menu and a private dining room for up to 20 guests. Gauthier’s former Pimlico kitchen, Roussillon, and The Greenhouse in Mayfair also cater well for diners who insist on the veggie option. For completely meat-free menus, she suggested Amico Bio in Clerkenwell; The Gate in Hammersmith; Mildreds in Soho; Saf in Shoreditch and Vanilla Black in the City. Our guests, meanwhile, recommended the London chains Ottolenghi (which offers event catering as well) and Woodlands.
N1 is not the first place you would expect to find one of London’s most peaceful conference centres, but that is precisely what you get at The Window in Islington. Unlike more conventional venues, there are no stark strip lights, grey furnishings and whirring ceiling fans. Instead you’re treated to natural light, whitewashed rooms decorated with modern art and instrumental jazz pouring from the speakers. Everything at The Window has been designed to motivate and inspire, from the interiors to the menu, and there is even the chance to kick off events with group meditation. The venue is split across five floors, fronted by a leafy courtyard which leads into the ground-floor reception room. Best suited to drinks parties and weddings, this space can hold up to 100 standing guests. Up one floor, via a stairwell adorned with photos of philosophers, is the Banqueting Hall, which has capacity for 80 seated or 100 standing guests. The second- and third-floor executive suites are often used for brainstorming sessions and training days. They can each accommodate up to 50 delegates and have smaller breakout rooms adjoining. A large round window is the statement feature of the fifth-floor conference room, offering views over London’s skyline and natural light aplenty. With capacity for up to 150 theatre-style, the room is perfect for conferences and seminars and has excellent AV facilities. However, it is equally suited to product launches and private parties, with capacity for 100 standing guests or 60 for a sit-down dinner. The in-house kitchen can rustle up anything from private dining for 15 to buffets for 150 and head chef Annie Brown works with each client to create a bespoke, nutritious menu
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events, Autumn 2011