Vanilla Black 1

17-18 Tooks Court , London, EC4A 1LB

vanilla black 1

SquareMeal Review of Vanilla Black

After years of enduring the dreaded 'veggie option', vegetarians should be giddy with excitement when faced with the remarkable creativity on show at Vanilla Black. There's not a pasta bake or soupy bean stew in sight. Instead, diners are treated to imaginative combinations such as a multi-layered dish of cornmeal, beetroot and horseradish with aged garlic oil, artichokes in hay, parsley root and hazelnut milk or dried-yeast ice cream with red pepper and almond milk purée, cured yellow pepper and avocado brioche – proof positive that experimental technique isn't the preserve of carnivore establishments. Some say Vanilla Black's unapologetically complex food has "a high opinion of itself", and the bill will certainly come as a shock to those who equate vegetarian fare with cheap prices – though the set lunch (£19.50 for two courses) will impress both bean counters and bean eaters.

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Vanilla Black is recommended for

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Nearby Tube/Rail Stations

Chancery Lane Tube Station 239m

Farringdon Station 571m

Address

Address: 17-18 Tooks Court , London EC4A 1LB

Area: Fleet Street St Paul s

Opening times

Mon-Sat 12N-4pm 6-10pm

Nearby Landmarks

Chancery Lane 2m

National Archives (HMC) 49m

Details

Telephone: 020 7242 2622

Website:

Cuisine: Vegetarian

8.1

Food & Drink: 8.1

Service: 8.4

Atmosphere: 6.5

Value: 7.8

Food & Drink: 3.0

Service: 2.0

Atmosphere: 1.0

Value: 2.0

Kaana George bronze reviewer 10 June 2015

The food definitely had a high opinion of itself !! But the taste was good in the main, if not a tad rich for lunch - very disappointed not to be able to obtain actual vegetables as a side dish in a veggie restaurant though. The wine list is massively over priced and I was really shocked that on a Monday lunchtime when we went there - the staff could not wait to push you out of the door - given that the restaurant was half full and no-one was waiting to dine at 2.30pm ! Overall, it was nowhere near as good as we had hoped and I feel that the restaurant has delusions of grandeur that it does not actually possess. Such a shame because the idea is sound.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 4.0

Peter K. 19 August 2014

I am not a vegetarian but ate at Vanilla Black to show solidarity with a friend who is. The food would pass muster in any highly rated restaurant – well presented, inventive and tasty. I will be going again with or without vegetarian companions.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 3.0

Tibor G. 23 October 2013

Lunch at Vanilla Black is great for meat and fish eaters venturing to try refined vegetarian cooking – just don't expect large portions or expect to leave with a full tummy though you won't go hungry. The staff is very charming and the atmosphere is very pleasant.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 1.0

Value: 3.0

Continental Diner platinum reviewer 02 July 2013

In one sentence, I am happy Vanilla Black adds a slightly cutting edge option to the Chancery Lane dining scene – the smoked butter is great fun – but I do not rush there at every possibility. However for clients or friends who are vegetarians this is a great option and very different. The main let down is the atmosphere at Lunchtime which is a million miles from the partly justified but substantial bill. Ah yes… and vegetarian-ism imposes restrictions on the wine list. Enough said. Sparks of brilliance in the cooking and attention to detail is offset by other oversights, but one of London's top options for those with a green tooth (?!?).

Food & Drink: 2.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 2.0

Value: 2.0

The Cheese platinum reviewer 05 April 2013

A veggie restaurant worth its weight needn’t be apologetic. Many regional cuisines across the globe are defined by masterful use of local roots and greens, of beans and brassicas. An upstanding, meat-free option is no longer the elephant in the room, or a pale imitation of a ‘proper’ meal. And so to vegetarian stalwart Vanilla Black, with such high hopes. Despite the occasional chandelier adding razzle dazzle, the room is decked out in bleak, austerity tones. It’s crying out for a focal point; a statement painting; anything to offset the endless DRAB. It’s like the most demeaning caricature of vegetarianism, hauled from less enlightened times. You don’t have to flirt with naff themes or clumsy styling to give a room a coherent concept, and this space is yearning for some aesthetic love. The wealth of retro over-mantel mirrors nods to ‘50s/‘60s suburbia, yet has no connection whatsoever with the food or ambience. It didn’t make sense to us, and I suspect other diners were equally befuddled because the clientele seemed mismatched. (The website is notably bereft of interior snaps, offering little to go on when gauging the dress code. I got dolled up in line with the extravagant menu, but was in the minority). At risk of sounding precious and as the birthday girl that night, I’m sad to say I walked in and felt disappointed. An amuse bouche set the tone more fittingly than we initially realised. The blackberry puree was a rich, sweet-sharp jolt straight from the hedgerow; the kind of thing that demands your tastebuds stand up and take notice. Why then top it with a ruinous lilac creme, akin to licking a talc-laden powder puff? A riff on palma violets, or just a mistake? My starter showed promise. Heaven knows what a roasted onion curd is, but I loved the taste. And I found it exciting, too: an intriguing, textural fiesta of fatty, smooth chestnuts and crisp, crackling sage bread. (One to divide a table though, I think). My main of Ribblesdale pudding was a gorgeously rich souffle, in contrast to the rib-sticking cobbler I’d imagined. It didn’t belong with the floury, stodgy croquette on the side, so I found myself longing for a side of humble, untouched green beans or the like. There was certainly a lot of trickery behind each dish, but surely the only reason to give an ingredient the full gastro-experimental treatment is to better its original state? Taste is subjective, but no amount of skill compensates for an ill-conceived idea. Let’s take my partner’s dishes – firstly, the savoury ice cream starter – as our case study. I recall footage of a festive Delia hovering over a pongy car boot, reminding us to free our cheeses from the shackles of the fridge to enhance their flavours. While a soft-rinded wheel shouldn’t exactly swim around your plate, releasing that pungent aroma and natural ‘ooze’ nearer to room temperature is a vital sensory step. In that case, why take a fine Brie and a hint of mustard, mash them firmly into a shell-like mould and then banish them to the chiller so the individual components are lost forever? Plenty of time-honoured taste combos work, but isn’t it a joy to discover them bite by bite and in tune with your own palette? It was a pretty plate but the cool, homogenised smoothness was unnerving. I’d fantasized about the moment I'd be able to say: ‘POW! Take that, burger-chomping boyfriend!’ but his chippy-inspired main of deep-fried pickled egg sadly didn’t succeed in socking it to him (or carnivore kind). It was telling that we weren’t particularly fussed about dessert. As this was the course where the playing field was completely level with a ‘conventional’ restaurant, and in the interest of fairness, we got stuck in. You might wonder how paprika fudge with builder’s tea ice cream can come together as a delectable pud, as I did. Just so you know, it didn’t; and I fear it never should. The dish arrived aggressively dusted with pepper, and a mere spoonful later had acquainted me with the full horror. Which focus group casually waved this on to the menu, and why? WHY?! It was awful, and trashed my palette for anything to follow. I still can’t comprehend how a fat ‘pipe’ of fudge became the body of a dessert; alas the chef was dead-set on walloping diners with a riot of angry flavours and cruel sensations: play-doh, gummy malt loaf and an ever-decreasing Horlick’s foam. As for the other half’s ‘liquid donut’; the concept eluded us completely. I realise this is controversial – perhaps we chose the wildcards? – but Vanilla Black was not for us. This meal weaved from the sublime to the ridiculous and resulted in grimaces all round, plus it cost an arm and a leg. If you’re splashing the cash, go to Nopi instead where you can bask in real splendor and an upbeat atmosphere to match. Go to Mildred’s, where there’s always a reliable pie, burger and curry to please alongside the wholesome seed and sproutery. I even think veggies get a more consistent offering somewhere like Wahaca, where veggie dishes stand proudly alongside meat, fish and good times. We won't be back.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 2.0

Value: 4.0

Richard E. platinum reviewer 22 June 2012

I openly confess to being of the school of thought that there is nothing wrong with a vegetarian meal that a slab of bacon cannot cure. Vanilla Black, however, needs nothing of the sort: the food is creative, light and full of flavour. OK, not everything works (pickled pineapple with the Ribblesdale pudding), but the fact that it doesn’t work is nothing to do with the fact that it is vegetarian, more to do with the fact that some thing will never work, even with addition of a slab of bacon. Not actually being vegetarian, I can’t really say whether there are better places in London to go for the non meat option. Eat and Two Veg is long gone, and the only other vegetarian restaurants that I am acquainted with are some of the odder ones on Brick Lane, where BYO lager is as important as the flavour of the food (in some, more so). At Vanilla Black the dishes, whilst delicate, are flavoursome and perfectly filling. The combination of flavours, the picture painted on the plate, everything about the food is extremely good. Not so good that I will forego the pleasures of a crusty bacon roll, botulism bap or sphincter releasing doner, but good nonetheless. The room is the least interesting part of the place: it is dull when it should be light. Claustrophobic when it should be airy. In other words, it doesn’t match the food. It seems as if the restaurant itself and the food on the plate belong to different places, which is a shame, as you can just imagine what the immediate reaction of an already sceptical omnivore on walking in is going to be: “looks dull, just what I bet the food will be like”. And it is quiet. I’ve been there for lunch a couple of times, and it is never more than half full, and always hushed. This is such a shame, as not only is the food of a high standard, but the set lunch is astonishingly good value and is perfect for a light lunch: two courses, with no need to worry about the arteries or getting it through expenses. Having been with both veggies and omnis, I shall continue to go back with both: the former to show them the best place I’ve so far found for them to eat, the latter to rid them of prejudices about those unfortunate enough not to eat meat.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 3.0

Junglefresh. gold reviewer 19 November 2011

This is the most serious, "correct', imaginative vegetarian food I think I've ever eaten. And I've been here twice for lunch recently. I can only agree with the Squaremeal review (for once). Portions are laughably tiny, though, and the price is high considering the raw material cost. BUT the textures are good and the flavours just what one needs to dispel the conventional wisdom that veggie is boring and “grey”. This is anything but – so management, increase the portions a little and in return I'll visit often.

Food & Drink: 5.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 5.0

Value: 5.0

Tanya D. 04 February 2011

We had a team dinner here last night and everyone was so impressed with the food, service and ambience in the restaurant. Every single dish was amazing (all plates were cleared for every course) and everyone commented on how delicious and creative the food was and I may add, there were some diehard carnivores in the party who were completely converted! The service was attentive without being intrusive, nothing was too much to ask and everything was done with a smile – compared to the dismal service that seems to be the norm in London restaurants, this made a wonderful change and all of us said that we would come back again. The ONLY thing I could fault the restaurant on was the fact the lighting was a bit dim in places, but a tiny and very trivial gripe which definitely did not spoil the evening.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 3.0

Grumbling Gourmet platinum reviewer 16 November 2010

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).

Food & Drink: 5.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 5.0

Emma W. 02 July 2010

To say Vanilla Black is ’good for a vegetarian restaurant’ is to do it an injustice. It's a really great restaurant in its own right, and one of my favourites in London. It just so happens that it’s also vegetarian. The food's delicious, creative and elegant without being pretentious and fussy, the atmosphere is sophisticated but relaxed, and the staff excellent. Really good value – would highly recommend.

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