“ Type: Vegetarian / Address: 17-18 Tooks Court / London / EC4A 1LB / United Kingdom / Tel: 020 7242 2622 „
A trip to Vanilla Black was my Valentine's treat. It is one of the top vegetarian restaurants in London specialising in using food combinations to make exquisite flavours, just without meat. The emphasis is very much on quality, seasonal foods; the vegetarian aspect is almost coincidental. As it was Valentine's weekend we had a special menu, normally they charge £20 for two courses, and £30 for three.
The restaurant is situated about 5 minutes walk from Chancery Lane tube station. It is hidden down a little side street and you would never stumble across it by accident. It was a Saturday night and nothing else in this business area of the City is open, most restaurants and pubs close at the weekend as their clientèle are only in the area midweek. Our booking was for 9pm, as there had been nothing available any earlier, but we arrived about half an hour early as we had allowed too much travelling time. When we arrived the restaurant was only about three quarters full so we were able to choose from a couple of tables, so it was strange that there were vacancies, when we had been unable to book earlier. We selected one in a secluded corner where only three other tables were. Obviously as it was Valentine's weekend, all the tables were in twos, but otherwise this corner would be excellent for a private party of 6-8.
The décor was simple in green, cream and white with dark wood furniture and subdued lighting. Our greeter was very warm and polite - all the staff were dressed in black shirts and trousers (and all women that I saw) - and once we were seated she brought over our complimentary glasses of champagne which was part of the Valentine's menu. We were presented with some butter circles on a small slate plate and some bread rolls, which were small but tasty and I suspect homemade, we were offered further bread rolls but I declined mine on the grounds that I still had three courses to go through. The menus were also brought over, they were more limited than the usual menu but we still took our time making a decision, trying to order different dishes so that we could try each others. Another waitress came and took our order, initially I thought she was a bit snooty, but she soon warmed up and was smiley and friendly. When she took our menus she also tried to take the Wine List, although we hadn't made a selection from there yet, so we asked her to leave it. I did think this was a bit odd as she hadn't even asked us if we wanted wine, before taking it. Wines start at £14.50 per bottle and champagnes, ports and a range of spirits are also available. They do not sell beers. We picked a mid priced New World Sauvignon Blanc which was very aromatic and went well after the sweetness of the champagne. We also had a jug of tap water.
First of all we were brought a pre-starter of Amuse Bouche, a small hors d'oeuvre, which was a small cornet filled with herbs and lemon jelly that was gone in two bites, the idea being to stimulate the taste buds. After this our starters arrived. I ordered a Yorkshire Feta cheesecake with toasted olive bread and fruit chutney. The cheesecake on its biscuit base was creamy and tasty, but not overly Feta-ry, so wasn't too rich. The olive bread was more like a little melba toast and worked very well with the soft, creamy cheese and the subtle fruit chutney. It was not a chunky chutney, more a puree as it was smooth and gentle in its flavours. My other half had Whipped Celeriac and 'Waldorf salad' with butternut squash and sage gnocchi. The apples and celery of the salad worked very well with the pureed squash, it is a combination I wouldn't necessarily put together, but actually worked well I thought. The whipped celeriac was served in a little wafery biscuit cup and the crunch of this and softness of the whipped celeriac worked very well. The celeriac wasn't over-powering but I think with both starters we got a good mix of flavours and tastes.
After a short while we received our main. I had ordered roasted sweet potato with Thai green sauce served with Saffron Risotto and Vegetable Pakora. The sauce was lovely - herby and tangy, I certainly picked up hints of coriander, but not overly spicey, but enough to give a latent kick towards the end. Consistency wise it reminded me of pesto. The sweet potato was roasted beautifully. The vegetable pakora was tasty as was the saffron rice covered with wilted spinach. My other half ordered Leek and Chervil Tatin and yoghurt curd with potato and chive pancakes with a leek puree. He loved it and thought the flavours superb, I really liked the aspects I tried from his plate too. The meals are not just about flavours but also texture which I really like.
For my dessert I chose chocolate truffle and passion fruit with a white chocolate and rose geranium ganache. It came served with a thin, crunchy biscuit on the top. The truffle was sweet and I found the rose flavour in the white chocolate sauce a bit different, I am not sure I liked that aspect but it wasn't completely off-putting. My boyfriend had carrot cake with cheese frosting and carrot ice cream. I initially thought the carrot ice cream was a bit like something Heston Blumenthal would come up with, but it was actually pleasant; sweet yet not overbearingly carrot flavoured.
Included in our meal was coffees or tea with homemade chocolates. I skipped the hot drink and sipped the rest of my wine and admired my chocolates. These also came on the small slate plates and we got three each - two dark chocolate with orange and one white chocolate with almond. The dark chocolates were very rich and I couldn't finish my final one. I did feel rather ashamed to be beaten by a chocolate but the rich, dark flavour was very intense. The white chocolate was soft and surrounded a half almond and oozed out of the dark chocolate case it was in. They were a perfect finish even if they were very rich.
Toilets were downstairs (I didn't see any disabled access), and were clean, well decorated and adequately stocked with soap and paper towels etc. My only comment is that it was chilly downstairs, but it was close to the kitchens, so I assume they did not need much heat on.
The Valentine's special menu was £49.50 per person, and a discretionary service charge of 12.5% was added. I think considering the occasion and the quality of food this was actually rather good. Service was polite and unobtrusive, the staff will not top up your wine glass every five minutes and I like that - I prefer to know how much I have drunk. The flavour combinations and textures were excellent, just the right amount of flavour and taste, without anything becoming overpowering or 'too much' and I think would appeal to any foodie types, not just vegetarians. The restaurant say they can cater for vegans and other dietary requirements on request. I was impressed that so much of the selection was seasonal and that the offerings were not typical. For example only one dish was cheese based, traditionally a staple of the veggie diet in restaurants; there were no peppers, mushrooms or tomatoes included, which are the normal, safe foods available in 'regular' restaurants (although some do appear on main menu and possibly more so in season). I would definitely come back here and can only reiterate that I would expect even non-veggie foodies to enjoy the flavour combinations that have been achieved.