(Saint Nectaire on toast)
Tasting menus used to seem to me to be something designed for meat-eaters - opportunities for chefs to showcase their butchery skills, their meat cooking techniques and to introduce new types of animal bits for diners to try. No ta.
However, this seems to be seriously changing. I’ve been to several places in the last few years that not only provide full vegetarian tasting options, but publicise the menus on their website - it always makes me relax to see a meat free menu in advance.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I see Noma as leading the way on this, and have eaten some of the most incredibly exciting and challenging vegetarian offerings there - whilst feeling that the menu was not just a concession to my dietary choices, but a big part of the wider ethos of Noma. It’s very pleasing to see other restaurants doing the same.
As I was working in London a few weekends ago, we decided to book The Ledbury after seeing their veggie menu proudly sitting on their website. We were a bit nervous before hand, as although I’ve been to a fair few Michelin starred restaurants I’d never been to one in London - I figured with my Northernness and crap hair (my straighteners have bust), I’d stick out like a sore thumb.
And yeah, it was full of a lot of bankers and rich people but I started to realise something after the amuse bouche came out - good restaurants don’t care if you’re rich or posh. They just want you to be engaged with the food and to enjoy yourself. I relaxed quickly as I munched this lovely thing:
Matching wines also helped.
The food was pretty wonderful. Brett Graham cooks with an Asian slant on his food - not in a gimmicky ‘fusion’ way, but in a way that introduces Asian flavours and ingredients with perfect balance. It’s not evident in every dish, but the ones that did introduce some Asian flavours (gnocchi with lemongrass and ginger; aubergine with black sugar and shiso) were definitely the strongest plates.
One of the highlights of the evening was when the waiter brought out a beetroot baked in clay and tapped it open in front of me.
He then whisked it away to plate it up into this magnificent thing:
I was really pleased that they made the effort to bring something out to show to me, as this is what they’d done with a meat dish that @topfife was having. Places that make sure vegetarians don’t miss out on any of the experience are really special and worth spending your saved-up money on. I’d definitely want to go to The Ledbury again, just for that. Oh and the cheese. I’d go back for the cheese:
Oh and eucalyptus chocolate petit fours. Can these be shipped in bulk to Sheffield?
I firmly believe that it’s perfectly possible to be a vegetarian and a foodie. No, I don’t eat meat or fish - but I think that a good chef can be just as much an artist with vegetables, cheese and herbs than with lobster, lamb and steak.
Last year, on a whim, I booked a ‘gourmet break’ at Nigel Haworth’s 1 star Northcote, in Lancashire where the amazing Lisa Allen is head chef. Great British Menu is one of my very favourite current TV shows (just behind Doctor Who), and Lisa was one of my favourite competitors when she appeared in 2010 and 2011. Northcote offers vegetarian counterparts to every menu item they offer, which puts it head and shoulders above so many other restaurants I’ve been to.
When we arrived at Northcote we ended up upgrading to the 7 course tasting menu, had canapes and champagne, ordered matching wines, had the cheese course and basically went all in. Somehow, the dishes were so perfectly sized, paced and full of fresh flavours that we only felt overly full mid-way through - after which we were presently with a welcome salad course and quickly recovered. Four hours later we were blissfully happy, rather pissed and got to overhear a little backstage gossip from GBM. A bit of a perfect evening really. The picture above is of one of my favourite dishes from that night: wild mushrooms on toast with chervil purée (the beginning of my chervil obsession). A full set of pictures can be seen here http://www.flickr.com/photos/topfife/sets/72157626937375214/with/5821384579/ (the meat and fish dishes are included in the set as they were taken by @topfife).
The best restaurants for vegetarians are the ones that don’t make you feel like you’re a hassle, make the effort to create as special and interesting food as your meat-eating dining companion’s and accept that we can be foodies too. Northcote is really one of the best.
Take a look at their current menus: http://www.northcote.com/restaurant/menus.htm