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Vanilla Black


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Vanilla Black, Took’s Court, EC4

Dinner, August 2008

I love vegetarian food but rarely order in restaurants and the offering is usually so poor and unimaginative involving goats cheese or other culinary horrors. I’ve only recently heard of Vanilla Black which is curiously located in the Inns (i’d have thought most lawyers dined on raw meat). Rather than the usual bit scruffy around the edges restaurant/cafe this is aiming at haute dining for veggies in a rather lovely space – perhaps a bit international anonymous but a welcome change to the usual militant vegan pinewood and gingham overdose. Front of house were pretty friendly and happily moved tables around for us.

Bread is always a key indicator of restaurant and i have to say the offering was shockingly poor – one type of miniature bun – very soft, no crust – a bit like the kind my toothless gran used to gnaw. However, the menu itself read like a dream with things like

- Sweetcorn Créme Brulée and Smoked Paprika Biscuits with Tomato and Chilli Salsa

- Spring vegetable terrine and Mustard Panna Cotta (ok maybe a bit out of season)

- Deconstructed Puy Lentil Dhal, Potato Purée and Curry Oil

Per-starter of tomato juice/puree with celery oil was fine but lacked something – vodka, i think... a bloodyless mary is simply no fun at all

On to starters. The sweetcorn brulee was tiny, sweet and a little too grainy for a brulee. I could not really tell if that was because it had curdled or because of the corn husk bit which had not be sieved – either way – not nearly as nice as it promised.

Veg terrine lacked a major component: salt. Without it it came over as tired and flavourless – a great shame. The accompanying mustard panna cotta was genuinely flavourful but a little too much setting agent caused to come over as a over rubbery. My own amateurish attempts aside – veg setting agents like agar agar just don’t seem to have the finesse of gelatine – an obvious no no here.

However, the true disaster was the dhal. Puy just doesn’t work – deconstructed or otherwise – it holds itself together too well for something wonderfully sloppy like dhal. And presentation – at least the other dishes look beautiful – this look a little too much like what happens to a curry at the end of a night.

We were all very disappointed by now so mains were going to have a tough time. Truffled Potato 'Bubble and Squeak' was, I have to say, a bit of a non-memorable blank for me. Although I tried it – I have no recollection if it was good, bad or otherwise.

My dish: Mushroom Duxelle Torte was very good in places – specifically the burgundy sauce - a triumph with superb taste profile and a great compliment to the mushrooms. I have to be honest, I am not entirely sure i know what a mushroom duxelle torte is, however, I am also not quite sure that the chef here does either. What was presented was something which look a bit like a Greg’s sausage roll cut into three sitting in a plate of competently cooked veg – hardly appetising. So far the restaurant scored high because it didn’t try to that awful thing of presenting stuff to look like meat. Taste was good – just need to work a little on the presentation.

Desserts were sadly forgettable. Strawberry and Burnt Pastry Mile Feuille with Chantilly Cream, Milk and Strawberry Syrup did what it said on the tin – but the burnt pastry just dominated everything and not in a good way. My Olive Oil and Vanilla Roasted Pineapple, Mango Purée and White Chocolate Ice Cream was five pieces of pineapple, shockingly small amount of ice cream and some rather clawing puree. Maybe the smallness of portion worked in its favour.

With £24 for two course sand £30 for three the the real shock of the evening was the bill –over £200 for the three of us, gulp. The wine list was eye watering. It was quite a small list to begin with – 3 or 4 dozen wines – but they rose steeply in price when you got the stuff you’d actually want to drink. Very disappointing. Guess I’ll be sticking to pinewood & gingham.

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They moved from york to london, i think in search of a wider audience for their wares but seem to get nothing but, 'brave but flawed' type reviews.

I wonder about the location too, i know many loved 'tooks' but it never got the punters, i assume this is the same site.

Jay reviewed the york one some time ago, i think with similar conclusions.

call me old fashioned and to steal your bloody mary anology, a night out at a vegetarian restaurant is like a night out on non - alcoholic beer, not impossible to do but not something i'm quickly going to volunteer for.

Edited by Gary Marshall (log)

you don't win friends with salad

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They moved from york to london, i think in search of a wider audience for their wares but seem to get nothing but, 'brave but flawed' type reviews.

I wonder about the location too, i know many loved 'tooks' but it never got the punters, i assume this is the same site.

Jay reviewed the york one some time ago, i think with similar conclusions.

call me old fashioned and to steal your bloody mary anology, a night out at a vegetarian restaurant is like a night out on non - alcoholic beer, not impossible to do but not something i'm quickly going to volunteer for.

Funny how this has surfaced now, I've never been but am going this week with a vegetarian friend, and I specifically chose it as remembered quite a lot of good reviews. This thread had me worried but a quick check turned up an admittedly mixed bunch of reviews, but mostly very positive. Out of fairness to the restaurant, whilst emphasising I'm yet to try it myself I feel obliged to point out Jay's review is hardly what I would call "brave but flawed".

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hmm... just read Jay's review and the food does't seem to have changed/evolved all that much. Maybe a trip to the superb Terre a Terre in brighton to nick a few ideas wouldn't be a bad thing - or even Morgan M to sample the veg tasting menu (assuming they still do it) up the road.

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I love vegetarian food but rarely order in restaurants and the offering is usually so poor and unimaginative involving goats cheese or other culinary horrors.  I’ve only recently heard of Vanilla Black which is curiously located in the Inns (i’d have thought most lawyers dined on raw meat).

How weird - I went there for lunch yesterday with four work mates, and as one of my work colleagues is over from some far flung part and is veggie, I selected Vanilla Black.

This is only the second time I've ever been to a veggie place, the last time was about ten years ago in Brighton.

The decor itself was clean and inviting. We arrived just after midday and it was empty. When we left at 1:30pm, it was maybe 1/3 full.

I agree that the wine list is rather limited, but I wouldn't call it eye watering - in fact, I thought it was good value for what little was on there. The same bottles in a Conran or D&D or whatever they're called nowadays would demand a rather higher gouge.

I had:

Sweetcorn Créme Brulée and Smoked Paprika Biscuits with Tomato and Chilli Salsa

and

Truffled Potato 'Bubble and Squeak'

The creme brulee dish was OK, but hardly made me forget that I am a meat eater.

I though that the truffled potato was pretty good, a highlight for me.

I also tried one of my fellow diner's mustard panna cotta and I quite liked it. Also there was a cheese soufflee knocking about on one of the plates that was pretty tasty, although up to the Gavroche Soufflee Suissese.

Service was lacklustre, and I didn't get a nice warm feeling that I would get any dialogue that would help me choose one dish over another.

When it came to desserts, we chose instead to furnish the bill immediately and partake of McFlurries all round at the conveniently located Maccy D's at the tube.

I went in with high hopes. I've done veggie only a couple of times in the last year or so, including tasting menus at the Balmoral's Number One in Edinburgh and also at Rasoi Bhatia. Both were successful, but #1 won hands down, and I remember stating at the time that if all veggie food was like that, I could possibly consider living as a veggie. For a day or two anyway.

But Vanilla Black fell rather short I'm afraid. It was interesting, but it was a long way from making me believe that I could enjoy food without the slaughter of many innocent animals.

None of use were in any hurry to return soon, even the veggie among us.

H

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This is outside the backdoor of my office but I only went in for the first time a few month's ago generally preferring the omnivorous Chancery next door.

I thought it was pretty good actually and it almost made me forget I was eating veggie food (only Kastoori Tooting shares that honour).

The space is rubbish however due to lack of natural light - I never went to Tooks but the late lamented Dine suffered from the same problem; they must be jealous of Chancery's corner location.

The area is a bit of a lunching desert despite the huge numbers of offices - Chancery Lance has nothing (OK a Gaucho at the bottom) and you really need to venture into Clerkenwell to hit paydirt.

Edit - desert not dessert

Edited by Winot (log)
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I'm really sorry that they left York. My wife is vegetarian and in their York incarnation they offered friendly, relaxed and high quality non meat food. In York the chef seemed to marry extremely high quality produce with enough twists to keep me interested, and there wasn't a lot to compete with them.

It sounds a bit like they've overstretched themselves in London, lots of vacant premises around back up north these days if they fancy coming back. Green's in Didsbury is a bit far from us to give the wife something other than a wild mushroom risotto or a goats cheese tart when we manage to get a babysitter.

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Well, having eaten there now I may as well add my tuppence worth, mainly I agree with Howard above, it was interesting but is not going to convert me, and the two vegetarians in my party are also unlikely to return. I also agree with Tony H that the amuse could have used a kick of vodka!

I started with the creme brulee which I enjoyed, good texture, but very sweet, and on the side some paprika biscuits which were unpleasant and added nothing, for mains I had a ribblesdale pudding, essentially a souffle, which was very good with a perfectly cooked duck egg and on a bed of smoked potato, the smokiness definitely adding something, but again there was one element too many in a side of pineapple pickle. There's no real excuse for vegetarian desserts not to be good, as aside from gelatine their not missing anything, I ordered a burnt pastry mille feuille, their description not mine so I can't say I wasn't warned, but deliberately burning the pastry was not a good thing.

Wine list is small but good value- an 05 oz semillon for £20 did us nicely, but the overall bill was £40 a head, quite a lot for what your getting.

Overall, there is good cooking here, but there is a tendency to over sweetness and to add one element too many and as its been going so long in York then in London for a while now, thats unlikely to change so I can't say I'd return, that said I'm suprised my vegetarian friends also said they were unlikely to return.

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