, with its open grill and famed Turkish kebabs, is a Sheffield institution for meat eaters, but I wouldn’t have been a loyal patron for the last 6 years is they didn’t know how to treat a vegetarian too. For most of those 6 years I’ve been ordering the same two things - Kisir (a spicy bulgar wheat dish with walnuts and yum) and their vegetarian kebab. The kebab is a total feast - perfectly cooked vegetables served with the best rice in the world, homemade hummus and halloumi. Whilst I‘ve been perfectly content to order the same thing for the past 6 years, I was starting to worry that the waiter was getting disappointed with me. 6 years of warm welcomes and I repay him by barely looking at the menu - as a loyal customer, I decided on my latest visit that I simply must try harder.
I went for Iman Bayildi (Priest Fainted), a whole baked aubergine, filled with vegetables and sauce. Oh boy, it was worth dragging myself away from my usual for. Deeply rich in flavour, covered in a scrumptious sauce, served with that perfect rice I love so much and some creamy, yet tart plain yoghurt. I have a feeling the waiter was pleased I’d been less predictable than usual, as we were treated to a portion of this delicious dessert. Pistachios are the best, especially served with crispy noodles, honey and ice cream.
Spinach Boregi (starter)
Being a Vegetarian at Noma
Somehow @topfife and I have been lucky enough to go to the world’s best restaurant Noma three times. It’s been a mixture of daring and luck, but I suspect it’s something to do with the fact that we’re young and excitable and clearly not rich, as I spotted this lovely quote from Rene Redzepi recently. When he was 18, he saved up for months to eat at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Arzak:
“We were shitty customers — we didn’t buy wine, just a glass of water. But opening a door to a restaurant like that when you’re young … I was just totally blown away. You might have to live like a tramp for six months, but it’s worth it. It’s something we always remember whenever young people are eating at Noma — we usually give them a little extra something.” London Evening Standard, 1st May 2012
Normally, asking for a vegetarian menu at a top restaurant, coupled with avoiding alcohol (it was the day after our wedding - I was feeling a little tender) would have made me feel like I was being awkward or a nuisance, but Noma presented me with 20 meat-free (and largely dairy-free) dishes that were beyond incredible, using vegetables and herbs in a way that challenged my palette and had me giggling with joy. Yes, I really am that much a vegetable nerd.
Going alcohol free also meant that I could order the juice menu. It was bloody lovely, and had all the Noma-esque flavour tricks that crop up in the food - pine, juniper and earthy, northern vegetables. It really was worth skipping the booze for, as I don’t know anywhere else doing something that interesting for non-drinkers/ those with a bit of a post-wedding hangover.
Most top restaurants these days are coming around to providing full vegetarian menus, and I think Rene Redzepi is leading by example - he is never rude or dismissive about vegetarians and even seems to support it as a way of looking after the planet. The only advice I’d give when eating out at a top restaurant is to get in contact well in advance to let them know you’re a veggie - they might have to create a menu for you, but they’ll appreciate the heads-up and you’re likely to get something really special and thoughtful.
All of the pictures from my meal at Noma are on Flickr. Have a look here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/topfife/sets/72157630162911880/