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|Address:||17-18 Tooks Court, London EC4A 1LB|
|Tel:||020 7242 2622|
|Price: £48.00||Wine: £18.00||Champagne: £42.50|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Fri 12N-2.30pm Mon-Sat 6-10pm|
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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).