I still can remember the first time is saw Michaelangelo’s Ceiling in The Sistine Chapel in Rome, the wonder that something so beautiful had been created and that Art has now evolved over centuries, but still the perfection of a ceiling could rewrite my vision and seduce the poet in me to gasp and be silent.
Then the other week in London I had the luxury of seeing Claude Monet’s lily pond paintings at The Royal Academy. The simplistic but oh so sure images of a scene that was so precious to him that he recreated it so many times in order to demonstrate its beauty.
So what’s this got to do with food, or with London’s Vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black?
Well it’s with the élan of the cooking and the presentation of the dishes. An artists eye for colour. Art you see can be precise, intricate, and flamboyant, Or it can be dark and light, shades of grime amongst the surface, with Vanilla Black the beauty on the plate of so much of the food presented to us was nuanced with compelling flavours and spoke to me of my morning gallery visit. The design to get it right, the light, the lush, the technicolor of shouting through the spectrum of brightness.
That is to me Vanilla Black. To be the best, to be thoughtful with every bite the customer takes. The wow factor, the surprise (by meat eating punters) that vegetarian food can be so good.
So I guess that sounds like a conclusion before I begin. Well in truth it is. Vanilla Black makes you want to mix up the rules, you won’t find burgers, risotto, curry or pasta bake here. Though I guess if you did it would be the best you’d had.
When I first visited Vanilla Black a couple of years ago I was enthralled by it’s heartbeat. Feeling that Nothing could prepare you for the pleasure of eating there. Set in an elegant townhouse in Tooks Court, the legal area of East London, the dining room is a mellow sophisticated hush of understatement. Muted colours, a calming air of relaxation. It feels right before you even begin the food.
Ruth and I visited on a Saturday evening. Its popularity was visible and it was noticeable that their was a fair bit of smiling when people’s food arrived. That wow factor I mentioned.
An amuse bouche, sorbet like. A cleansing begining. Followed by some stunning homemade bread, always a good sign of things to come. Amuse Bouche. Fresh homemade bread.
So to the food. My starter Dried Yeast Pumpkin Terrine with Orange Purée -Seeded Cinder toffee, mulled pumpkin and oil. A beautifully constructed dish of subtle but cooling flavours. The terrine with hints of toffee running through against the bright fruity orange that dances upon the tongue. Layers of unorthodox flavous, sharper with every mouthful. Lovely.
Ruth’s Yorkshire Blue Cheese Toastie, Crisp Rye, Grapes, Puffed Wheat: Light, cheesy, no bread, constructed and flavoured beautifully. She loved it.
It’s when the creative imagination of the chef (Andrew Dargue) consumes a dish that you know that you are in elegant surroundings. Take my main course: Salted and Ash baked Celeriac & Kale-Whey poached celeriac, Broccoli, Yoghurt Curd: A dish with layers and layers of differing textures and flavours.
The earthy, crisp, bright coloured kale, the subtle but soft whey poached celeriac of oozy decadence. Then the ash baked celeriac, the charred crust of the charcoal baked with a riveting harmonious result that’s lifts the root vegetable to another level entirely. Clever enlightened cooking, every ingredient put together perfectly. A supreme dish.
Salted and Ash Baked celeriac and Kale-Whey poached celeriac, Broccoli, yoghurt curd.
Ruth’s main course
Desserts follow a similar creative line as the first two courses. Mine, Poached Rhubarb with Salted Orange Yoghurt and Rhubarb Toffee: Crispy Porridge and Moscatel Syrup: The shocking pink of rhubarb beautifully poached, a depth of tart flavour set off by the dash of explosively crispy porridge as a contrast. Plated like a painting of subtle brush strokes that is playfully mastered and cleverly executed. I loved the complete flavours of this dessert.
Ruth’s Chocolate Brownie crumble with Marmalade parfait and crispy milk: Dark Chocolate, contreau, candied kumquat which she enjoyed especially the harmonious flavours of the chocolate and the orange.
All of this is done with effortless and charming service from front of house Donna and her team, who are passionate about their dishes and the experience you may discover.
The dark cooking clouds have lifted. Visiting Vanilla Black will certainly banish those over cooked risottos and death by pasta bake. Food consumed with big brash bold flavours
Vanilla Black is an upmarket treat that offers thoughtful indulgences of veggie decadance. It’s a remarkable experience of creative, beautifully presented and exciting food that is art on the plate and a brushstroke on the palette. Even non veggies would love the sophistication, the cleverness, the fun and the delight of this bright canvas of vegetables. Food executed perfectly, the fact that it’s all Vegetarian is a bonus.
And then there’s Michaelangelo’s ceiling, well that’s one of the wonders of the world. An idea from a seed of inspiration, much like vegetables, and then it’s what you do with them that matters, that is what makes art. For the food you are unlikely to have tried anything like it before.
Thanks for reading,
Disclaimer: Our food and drinks were complimentary. This doesn’t affect my honest opinion of our meal.
With thanks to Andrew and Donna for their hospitality and conversation.
Vanilla Black, 17-18 Tooks Court, CT London EC4A 1LB.
Subway: Chancery Lane