National Vegetarian Week: London’s best vegetarian restaurants (that will appeal to meat eaters too)
Long gone are the days when a herbivore could go hungry in London. Vegetarians and vegans alike are well served now, with a growing number of restaurants boasting not just the odd token dish, but plant-based menus — even, at some places, an exclusively plant-based offering.
While much of the veggie-centric scene has sprung up over the past few years, its innovators are institutions in their own right: Soho-born Mildred’s has six outposts; Sagar serves South Indian vegetarian and vegan cuisine from Harrow to Covent Garden; and The Gate in Hammersmith, one of the very first vegetarian restaurants to open in London, now has three outlets. But the Gate shows something else interesting too: where last year, there were four Gates, the loss of one perhaps is an indication that exclusively vegetarian spots are somewhat on the wane — not because they aren’t up to par, but because the competition is stiffer from more mainstream spots. The welcome upshot of all this is that groups that are mixed between those eating meat and those avoiding it are better served than ever.
As the below shows, there are a great many restaurants beyond the old reliables mentioned above that serve a globe-spanning array of dishes which will delight vegetarians, flexitarians and even carnivores with their hot (and cold) takes on plant-based cooking. From clever to comforting, creative to classic, here’s our guide to London’s best restaurants for those living life on the veg — and those just tagging along for the ride.
This diminutive, candle-lit Middle Eastern restaurant is exclusively vegetarian, but don’t let that stop you taking more carnivorous pals — a pillowy pile of laffa bread and a bowlful of burnt butter whipped hummus is sure to silence anyone. Follow that with the now-fabled pan-fried halloumi — thick, yielding yet crisp, slathered in black seed, chili-infused honey — and the cabbage, seared until charred, showered with hazelnut brittle and served on a creamy bed of caramelised cauliflower. One of the hallmarks of a great veggie restaurant — a great restaurant, in fact — is if they can render this beleaguered brassica memorable. They do here; it is my personal highlight. Staff are cheerful, the vibe is comforting and the prices reasonable. Those familiar with Yiddish will know the rough translation of “bubala” in English is “darling”. It’s fitting.
65 Commercial Street, E1 6BD, bubala.co.uk
Yard Sale Pizza
Yard Sale has the platonic ideal of pizza dough: stretchy, soft and lightly speckled with black blisters. Were their pizzas not quite so gigantic, I’d criminalise leaving even half a crust – especially given the array of dips you can order, from chilli oil to chimichurri — but at 18”, I suppose it might seem tyrannical. The toppings are better still, and largely vegetarian or vegan. The punny Mush be Love — caramel brown chestnut mushrooms scattered with oregano over a generous layer of mozzarella — has my heart, but if you’re doing half and half with a friend, The Aubergine and American Not (featuring genuinely good homemade vegan pepperoni) are strong contenders. The ambience is more rough-and-ready than relaxed so I prefer ordering in to eating out, but if you’re up for a good time rather than a long time, it’s ideal.
Across London, yardsalepizza.com
After four years of confinement in Bethnal Green, last year Lahpet brought its funky, crunchy pickled tea salads, fritter platters and fragrant, cockle-warming, noodle-laced curries to the West End. The range of plant-based small plates is as extensive as it is intriguing, from the aforementioned, variously-flavoured fritters — the sweetcorn and shallot is sublime — to the marvellously mushy yellow pea paratha, to the near legendary lahpet phok made with doubled fried beans and pickled tea leaves. Vegetarians aren’t spoiled for choice with the big plates, but don’t need to be — it’s hard enough choosing between the sweet-savoury stew of lentils, glass noodles, roasted gourd and sweet potato, or the silky split pea soup with pickles and tofu fritters. The vibe is modern but relaxing; perfect for partners, pals and parents. Prices reflect the location and the quality of the food.
WC2 and E1, lahpet.co.uk
Mestizo, with its deep-fried cheese stuffed chillies and margarita pitchers, doesn’t do the most refined Mexican fare you’ll find in town – for that, you’ll need El Pastor or Santo Remedio, both of which have strong vegetarian offerings too. But this place is pretty authentic, and is significantly better than the rest for vegetarians in terms of scope. There are some classy takes – tacos with black corn mushrooms or courgette flowers, a smattering of nice-sounding salads — but it’s the cheesy, fried and refried things that Mestizo does best. After the freshness of some cool, zingy guac, dive straight into the potato and cheese stuffed flautas, or the fried chihuahua cheese sticks lounging on a pool on tomatillo salsa. Soak up a Tequila Sunrise with a crepas de cuitlacoche — mushrooms sauteed with onion, stuffed in pancakes and smothered in a white and cheese sauce. It’s not for every night, but there are those when it absolutely suits.
103 Hampstead Road, NW1 3EL, london.mestizomx.com
“Conscious creativity’” is how chefs Will Murray and Jack Croft define their cooking at Fallow. It means, of course, careful sourcing, sustainability, and putting plants on as much of a pedestal as the meat courses – quite literally in the case of the seaweed growing above the pass. But it also means brilliant, witty originality, in the form of corn ribs dusted with kombu seasoning or the silky mushroom parfait with butter-drenched sourdough toast. It means stylish execution on behalf of both chefs and front of house, all of whom seem thrilled to be part of something that feels genuinely different, whilst at the same time being everything a restaurant should be: delightful, convivial and satisfying.
2 St James's Market, SW1Y 4RP, fallowrestaurant.com
Given Yotam’s two decades of success, no vegetarian restaurant list would be complete without an Ottolenghi offering, and no Ottolenghi restaurant does vegetables quite like Rovi. There is meat and fish here, somewhere, but to order them would be akin to ordering pasta at Pizza Express. Why would you, when you could have a celeriac shawarma with fermented tomatoes, or grilled leeks scattered with pickled walnuts and walnut and date praline, all crunchy, punchy, caramelised and sweet? Fuelled by fermentation and cooking over fire, this is a menu that will have you begging your waiter for just another minute, whilst you weight up the relative merits of a Jerusalem mixed grill with mushrooms and tahini or chewy grilled carrots with honey pickled kumquats. No matter. There are seasonal cocktails to linger over and a beautiful, elegant bar to lean on whilst you drool and deliberate.
59 Wells Street, W1A 3AE, ottolenghi.co.uk
Acme Fire Cult
“It’s not just a restaurant. It’s a cult!” So shouts the homepage of Acme Fire Cult. Certainly, Andrew Clarke cuts a cultish figure, with his Viking-esque mane and fearsome tattoos, but there’s no signing in blood or anything else required to enjoy his and Daniel Watkins’s creation, a veg-lead live-fire restaurant based at 40FT brewery in Dalston. Brewing seeps beyond the drinks menu into ancho hot sauce made with beer-soaked chillies, spent grains on pickles and the deeply umami Acme ‘Marmite’ made with leftover yeast, whilst fermentation and fire run through the menu, bringing crunch, char and depth of flavour to veg dishes like fermented squash hummus, coal roast beets, burnt onion soubise and the obligatory grilled hispi cabbage. Outside, on the covered and heated terrace, watch the magic happen on their grill; indoors in the industrial space (because, Dalston), luminous pickles and ferments line the walls. It has been a hit since opening, deservedly.
Abbot Street, E8 3DP, acmefirecult.com
Fresh pasta restaurants may be ten-a-penny, but fresh pasta restaurants with a decent vegetarian and vegan offering aren’t. All hail Pastaio, then, where ancient grain and organic semolina are spun daily into strands and shapes of rigatoni and malfadine, before being tossed with, say, courgette, crusco chilli and rocket or cavolo nero and burrata or basil flecked slow-cooked tomato sauce. And that’s just from the main menu; there’s also the plant-based Green Menu, featuring vegan versions of classics like carbonara and “meatballs” with tomato sauce, as well as head chef Stevie Parle’s veg-lead creations. The sites at both Soho and Westfield are modern, urban and bright and at the latter, you can have an Aperol spritz and unlimited pasta all day on Thursdays for £25 – perfect if one plate of pasta is never enough.
W1, W12, pastaio.co.uk
A burger chain mighn’t seem the obvious choice here, but Leicester Square Honest Burgers is exclusively vegetarian, serving the likes of shiitake nuggets and not chicken wings and rosemary-salted chips (leagues better than any you’ll find in McDonald’s, and suitably addictive). But it’s the burgers you’re here for: a Beyond Meat patty comes dressed to the nines in vegan smoked Gouda, chipotle “mayonnaise”, mustard, red onion and pickles. Or go for a flavoursome fritter of southern fried courgette and sweetcorn, which comes with Hafod cheddar, a tangy, buttery cheese from West Wales which speaks volumes of Honest Burgers’ dedication to sourcing. Only the reasonable prices and the sheer number of outlets betray Honest Burger’s chain status; the staff, atmosphere and drinks are all as satisfyingly un-chainy as the food.
Across London, honestburgers.co.uk
The Waiting Room
The Waiting Room belies its name with trashy subs stuffed with deep fried chicken and ranch dressing, pulled “pork”, peanuts and pickles, or Brick Lane bagels with “sausage” and “cheese” and “ham” – they’re big on the substitutes here, but they’re unusually excellent. There’s a reason this spot has been going strong and recently celebrated its 12th birthday. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, come for tacos, nachos and pre-mixed margaritas. The place is dark, slightly grungy and very Deptford. The coffee is excellent and the margaritas are strong and good enough to have three, by which point – who really cares?
134 Deptford High Street, SE8 3PQ, @waitingroomse8
You could be forgiven for thinking Peckham’s Mr Bao and brothers Daddy Bao in Tooting and Master Bao in Westfield only do Bao buns. You’d be wrong, nevertheless. Both the full menu and the veggie menu of the Bao fold boasts an array of bao-less sharing plates, from smacked cucumber pickled with sesame, to golden kimchi with fermented cabbage to mushroom spring onion pancake at brunch. That said, if bao is what you’re after – and fair’s fair, it’s what they do best – try the shitake mushroom bao laced with yellow bean sauce and house kimchi, or the ginger braised tofu with crispy onions. Cheeringly, prices go from from £2.90 to the heady heights of £5.20.
293 Rye Lane, SE15 4UA, mrbao.co.uk
Berber & Q (and its siblings)
When Josh Katz opened Berber & Q in an old taxi repair shop in 2015, it quickly became beloved for its puffy hot pitta, pimped hummus and smoky barbecued vegetables, which vye for space with meat on the menu. The portions are big, the music is banging, the presentation beautifully messy. The team opened Bar Shawarma in Exmouth Market a few years later, with a pared back menu and a quick turnaround that lends itself more to lunch than lingering. Carmel, meanwhile, is their most grown-up offering so far. There are candles, and unobtrusive tunes, and pretty plates rather than metal trays, and intriguing refinements like macadamia dukkah and pomegranate agrodolce, and an extensive low-intervention wine list. Large plates are more fish and meat focused, but vegetarians are amply catered for by the snacks, small plates and sourdough flatbreads topped with wild mushrooms, confit garlic, or zaatar and tahini.
Various locations, berberandq.com
Pied à Terre
A French fine dining spot wouldn’t be a usual go-to for vegetarians, but Pied à Terre isn’t a usual French fine dining spot, despite appearances. It is chic, of course; the linen is white and starched, the sommelier positively cerebral. But you don’t hold onto a Michelin star for 30-odd years without a certain something, and at least part of that is Pied à Terre’s vegetarian and vegan offering. Delica pumpkin with bergamot and shiitake and kombu tea, baked soybean terrine with sesame and poppy seed crisp, beetroot meringue and pistachio speak of a chef who has put as much thought into his vegan tasting menu as he has his omnivorous one. This is not a box-ticking exercise; this is a proper Michelin starred menu, designed to entertain, delight and intrigue. Chef Asimakis Chaniotis is an underrated talent and practically flutters with ideas.
34 Charlotte St, W1T 2NH, pied-a-terre.co.uk
The six London Dishooms, each as carefully constructed as the last and each with a seemingly perennial queue, reflect founder Shamil Thakrar’s Bombay upbringing and his love for the faded elegance of the city’s old Irani cafes, where people of all walks of life would congregate for chai, chaat and chatter. Particular plant-based highlights across the quintet include the mattar paneer, the jackfruit biriyani – the closet a vegetarian can get to the textural contrasts which define the meat-based classic – and of course, their legendary black daal, cooked for 24 hours until dark, deeply flavoured and delectably creamy.
Across London, dishoom.com
Like the sadly now closed (and much missed) Chapati Club, Mesi’s Kitchen is female-lead, family-run and rooted in a cuisine rich in vegetarian and vegan dishes. The vegetarian combos – various pulses or vegetables simmered or sauteed in Mesi’s array of spice blends, served on a huge homemade Teff injera – with as much pride and generosity as she does her meat versions. That tangy, tearable flatbread will sate all but the fiercest appetites, so starters might be moot. Still... Mesi’s Ethiopian hummus, and her sambusas (crisp pastry pockets stuffed with lightly spiced onions and lentils) are hard to swerve. Mesi, the restaurant’s eponymous and elegant owner, is a feeder: I live a five-minute walk away from her kitchen and not once have I left without contemplating an Uber home.
128 Holloway Road, N7 8JE, mesiskitchen.com
There is precious little to love about the Angel-end of Upper Street, and even less to eat that is vegan, quality and good value. Tofu Vegan is all of these things and more, drawing upon Chinese traditions and ingredients that haven’t been shoehorned into veganism, being instead vegan by default. Many of these will be familiar names by now: miso, sesame dressing, roasted spices, and chilli. Lots and lots of chilli: chilli roasted, marinated in oil, blended into a paste, fried and freshly sliced. Most of the meat replacements are based on mushrooms and tofu, but there are imitation meats too, made to Asian recipes with Asian ingredients, and discovering these in dumplings, deep fries, stir fries and noodles is a sensory delight. Unlike X’ian Impression, it’s Arsenal-based sibling, it is big, with colourful cartoons on the walls; like X’ian Impression, it is deservedly bustling and fragrant with spice.
105 Upper Street, N1 1QN, tofuvegan.com
Club Mexicana was one of the first vegan food brands to be vegan without screaming about it – which is interesting, because when it comes to everything else, they’re decidedly shouty. Their Kingly Court restaurant is flaming hot pink, both inside and out, their playlist plays as loud as the paint. The founder is a tattooed, spiky haired, straight-talking woman who transformed an old boozer in Homerton into London’s first vegan pub – and got the majority of its regulars on board with the shift. The menu is not authentic, and has no interest in being so: think cheeseburger tacos with BBQ sauce, “beef” and “cheese”; a “chorizo” burrito with sweet potato, salsa and chipotle mayo, frozen pina coladas. The group is quickly growing; head to the new(ish) Spitalfields’ spot on a Tuesday, where unlimited tacos come in at £17.50.
W1, WC2H, E1, clubmexicana.com