Introduction: Another first for our lifestyle and self-development blog, Kenneth Cheung, who has been to every Michelin-starred restaurant in London, is here to find out which vegan restaurants that is delicious and worth a try!
Essence Cuisine, 94 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4RH
There is a reason the late chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain described vegans as the “Hezbollah-like splinter faction” of vegetarians. Vegans are often smug and sanctimonious. They never miss an opportunity to extol the virtues of their fad diets to all and sundry. Yes, I know all the arguments relating to animal ethics, health and environmental sustainability but vegan food is at best too bland and at worst inedible to anyone with any functioning tastebuds.
Therefore, when I was asked to give a series of vegan restaurants a try for the Kossie London lifestyle meagazine, it was not a prospect I particularly welcomed. However, I am open-minded and would be more than happy to be proved wrong.
My first stop was lunch at Essence Cuisine which offers a raw vegan menu created in collaboration with the American celebrity chef, Matthew Kenney. Naturally, it is located deep in hipster Shoreditch. My first impressions were good. The décor is light and airy with a minimalistic techy vibe. However, the hard seating and cramped industrial-looking tables proved less than comfortable.
The food itself was a bit hit and miss. We started off with the vegan Caesar salad which was nice enough. I enjoyed the crunchy croûtons and the capers added a sharp, salty kick in place of the usual anchovies. There was a slight bitterness aftertaste as well which I didn’t particularly like but that’s a minor issue. Overall it wasn’t too bad but then again, the non-vegan original didn’t contain a lot of animal products anyway.
I then went for the heirloom tomato lasagne which was pretty tasty. It was rather elegantly stacked with layers of thinly sliced courgettes and looked pretty as a picture. The heirloom tomatoes were full of flavour and this was supplemented by the sun-dried tomato marinara sauce. The macadamia ricotta was also a good replacement for the real thing. The pistachio pesto and herb oil completed the classic Mediterranean flavour profile.
“… it was an interesting experience and my dishes were better than expected.”
Finishing off, we ordered the chocolate caramel brownie and the hibiscus strawberry cheesecake. The less said about the former the better. It did not look particularly attractive and had none of the rich indulgence you’d normally expect of a chocolate dessert. Instead the dish was dominated by a less than pleasant bitterness. Having said that, I did polish off all of the ‘cheesecake’. Since it was not made from vegan cheese rather than mascarpone, it tasted somewhat lighter than normal cheesecake. It was also beautifully presented with bits and bobs artfully arranged around the plate.
Overall, it was an interesting experience and my dishes were better than expected. This could be down to my choosing judiciously though since the brownie left much to be desired. Have I been convinced that vegan foods can be edible? Well, it can be but only if the original dish or flavour combinations the vegan version is aping does not have any animal products as a key element.