The vegan food scene has never had it so good. While just a few years ago the idea of veganism brought about images of lentil-munching, hemp-clad hippies, plant-based diets have hurtled into the mainstream. The increase in veganism has been startling — a 360% rise in the U.K. and a 600% rise in the U.S. since 2014. Where once upon a time vegans had to make do with a token tofu-and-veg or pasta plate, high-end vegan menus (often at non-veggie restaurants) have now become the norm.
After exploring the vegan food scene in New York City, it’s time to hop across the pond. From upscale veggie restaurants to plant-based fast casual, here are the best places to eat vegan food in London.
Millennial hotspot By CHLOE may not need much introduction stateside, but just last year the name would have drawn blanks with most Londoners. Thankfully, By CHLOE has crossed the pond and is now bringing Manhattan-style veganism to London’s Covent Garden. In the U.S. it’s the burgers that are bestsellers: the Classic, with a tempeh, lentil, walnut and chia seed patty, is fresh and tasty, but even better is the Guac Burger, a black bean, quinoa and sweet potato patty with corn salsa, guacamole and chipotle aioli. My favorite was the pesto meatball sub: Italian seitan ‘meatballs’ drenched in marinara sauce with sweet peppers, basil pesto and cashew mozzarella.
But on this side of the Atlantic, the bestsellers may be somewhat different. In honor of the first U.K. branch, By CHLOE has created a few dishes that are exclusive to the London menu: veganized British favorites like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and sticky toffee pudding. The ‘fish and chips’ is exceptional — crispy battered tofu served with mushy peas and tartar sauce; the tofu even had a nori seaweed layer, which gave it that unique plucked-from-the-sea flavor previously-fish-loving vegans may miss.
For the more health-conscious among us, there are plenty of flavorful salads that pack quite the punch. A kale Caesar will always be a good choice, but the quinoa taco, with chopped romaine, spicy seitan chorizo, black beans, sweet corn, avocado, tomato and tortilla strips hits every spot (and then some). Despite the fact that the first U.K. By CHLOE only opened this February, five more restaurants are already in the works — a confidence that’s certainly not misplaced in this current climate.
The Gate has long been London’s most famous vegetarian restaurant chain, but now it’s leaning more towards veganism. Known for its cult celebrity following, The Gate has three London locations: Islington, Marylebone and Hammersmith. While the menu is varied, there’s an inclination towards Asian/Middle Eastern nuances – perhaps due to the Indo-Iraqi-Jewish heritage of the original owners, Michael and Adrian Daniel. Extreme care is given in the selection of ingredients and flavor pairings.
As a starter, the miso-glazed aubergine is outrageously tasty: roasted aubergine so tender it genuinely melts in your mouth, topped with toasted cashews, micro coriander and ponzu sauce. The Tofu Tikka is a wise choice for fans of Indian food who miss paneer-style cheese; chunks of smoked tofu are marinated in tikka spices with a chana salsa made of kalamata olives, shallots, tomatoes, roasted pepper, coriander and harissa.
Onto the mains, and the beautifully presented tortillas are a delight: black beans, sweet potato, sweet corn, onion and coriander in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, paired with a satisfying crunch from the crisp tortilla and served in a pool of guacamole, green tomato and sweet pepper salsa. As for dessert, the soft cappuccino cheesecake with a crumbly hazelnut base and luscious mocha cream is an utter revelation.
Based in London’s upmarket Mayfair, COYA has already carved out a stellar reputation for serving up the best contemporary Peruvian food in the city, and the launch of their new vegan menu has attracted a whole new clientele. Shunning meat substitutes like seitan or soy, executive chef Sanjay Dwivedi’s menu is proudly plant-based, fusing traditional elements of Peruvian cuisine with creative vegan cooking, and for £45 (about $63) you can eat your way through a carousel of colors, flavors and textures.
The stalwart combination of miso and aubergine has never been so good as here: sweet, sticky and — dare I say it — meaty aubergine kebabs on a stick that are perfectly crisp-yet-tender. The standout dish might be the risotto-style pumpkin, however, which was a flawless mix of creamy, salty and spicy. The simple, fresh sides (kale, goji berries and candied walnuts, and quinoa, mint and pomegranate salad) balance out the richness of the mains.
The dessert deserves a paragraph all of its own. Forget the usual ‘vegan’ desserts of fruit salad or sorbet — COYA serves up a mouthwatering plate comprised of a dark, intense sphere of Inka chocolate mousse, a tart lime sorbet, candied walnuts and a fragrant mango coulis. It’s the type of dessert to eat if you think a vegan diet can’t be decadent and, like the rest of the vegan menu at COYA, proves that plant-based diets are interesting, intricate, flavorful and subtle — all at the same time.
What The Pitta
Finishing a night out with a meat-packed doner kebab might be a very British tradition, but thankfully What The Pitta’s cruelty-free vegan kebab has redefined the very idea of a boozy late-night treat. The brainchild of British-Turkish friends Cem Yildiz and Rojdan Gul, What The Pitta’s roaring success belies its humble beginnings as a food stall in Shoreditch, and today there are almost always long lines snaking back from the three popular branches in Camden, Shoreditch and Croydon.
Replacing the questionable meat in traditional kebabs are succulent chunks of soya that are marinated in Middle Eastern spices, then grilled for an intensely satisfying smoky taste. Heaped on top of that are piles of fresh, crispy salad, chilli sauce, homemade hummus and vegan tzatziki (made with soya yoghurt), all wrapped up in a gorgeously chewy wrap that’s the perfect consistency; substantial enough to keep the juices from dripping down your wrist, but not so doughy you fill up on bread.
The vegan doners are enormous and should easily slake even the keenest hunger pangs, but for the seriously starving, the meal deals (with chips or salad and a drink) are a wise choice. Other delights on the menu are Lamacun, a Turkish-style pizza topped with minced soya, vegetables and spices, and the healthier Couscous Salad Box. Be sure to leave room for the vegan baklava, which is a syrup-soaked slice of heaven.
Located on London’s iconic Brick Lane is Mooshies, a vegan burger joint. While seitan is becoming increasingly popular as a meat replacement, there still seems to be some confusion over why many veggies and vegans eat “fake meat” (quick answer: vegans stop eating meat because of ethical issues, not because they don’t like how it tastes). Mooshies, however, is a fine example of a vegan burger bar that has no time for any meat — real or otherwise — and the burgers here are proudly all about the veg.
Despite their whimsical names, the burgers here aren’t trying to be meat, and the result is lip-smackingly good food that’s actually pretty darn healthy. The What’s Ur Beef? (a quinoa and black bean patty doused in tangy sauce, topped with caramelised onions, vegan cheese, gherkins and lettuce) is an enticing blend of tastes and textures: crisp, chewy, creamy, salty. Even better is the Pulled Mooshie burger, where BBQ jackfruit makes a sublime (and uncannily similar) alternative to pulled pork.
Ask a vegetarian why they aren’t vegan and you’ll invariably get the same answer: “cheese”. It’s true that producing a really delicious vegan cheese has been harder than mimicking meat well, but things have changed recently (just check out the amazing range at Violife). The mozzarella-style sticks at Mooshies are outstanding: coated in crunchy batter, they’re stringy, gooey and seriously cheesy. Dipped in a sweet chili and garlic mayo dipping sauce, they’re indistinguishable from the real thing (yes, really).
For something a little different, head to one of the two London branches of Tibits — either Bankside or Heddon Street. This coolly bohemian veggie restaurant is the brainchild of Swiss brothers Christian, Daniel and Reto Frei, as well as Rolf and Marielle Hiltl, owners of the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world — Haus Hiltl in Zurich. The concept is an upscale vegetarian buffet-style restaurant, most of which is already free from dairy and eggs — but every Tuesday Tibits goes fully vegan.
Choose from a dizzying array of diverse, colorful dishes — there are over 40 salads, hot dishes, soups, fresh juices and desserts to drool over. Every dish is perfectly flavored and balanced, from the velvety lentil daal to the creamy pasta bakes and piquant vegetable tagines — but the salads may be where Tibits excels most. I dithered over deliciously earthy beetroot, celeriac with walnuts, kale and swede, apple-fig-tofu-pear and the orecchiette pasta salad, before loading my plate up with all of them.
Payment is by weight, so you can eat as much or as little as you like. This is the type of food where you can eat as much as possible but still leave feeling healthy and relatively light (a fact which belied the heaviness of my plate). The desserts are great, too; you’ll probably be stuffed, but the beauty of the pay-by-weight system is that you can sample mere spoonfuls if you wish. My only suggestion? Go fully vegan every day!
Wulf & Lamb
Located on pretty Pavilion Road, just off Chelsea’s Sloane Square, Wulf & Lamb is one of London’s newest vegan restaurants, but this minimalist eatery has already proved itself on one point: serving up the best vegan macaroni cheese I’ve ever had. My pescatarian guest exclaimed over its unbelievable cheesiness, and every mouthful is genuinely a moreish delight: the sauce is creamy and gooey, the pasta light and fluffy and the crunchy top the perfect golden brown.
Other tasty dishes include the Wulf Burger (a seitan burger topped with tomato, red onion and cashew aioli in a brioche bun with sauerkraut and wedges), the Wulf Pie (pulled jackfruit and lentil stew with mashed potato and baby carrots) and the Chili ‘Non’ Carne. The latter was my favorite: spicy, smoky, earthy and satisfying, the lentil, kidney bean and seitan chili is gorgeously complemented by cashew sour cream, which is creamy and mellow with a welcome tang of lime.
Wulf & Lamb will likely become known for its desserts, which are truly excellent. Unlike some vegan cakes which can sometimes be a little stodgy, the cakes that sit enticingly at the counter here are light and fluffy. The mango and passionfruit dairy-free cheesecake comes served on a bed of macadamia nuts, pistachios and sesame seeds, and is topped with raspberry crumble and cute, eggless mini-meringues made from aquafaba, the water in a can of chickpeas. The mind boggles.
Located in a tree-house themed restaurant in West London – complete with a counter made from a 21 foot fallen oak tree – Squirrel is a healthy-eating haven that embraces sustainability as well as fresh, seasonal food. While this fast casual concept isn’t actually vegan (or even vegetarian), it offers a balanced and delicious selection of plant-based dishes that should satisfy even the most discerning vegan.
The house salads and grain bowls are a good choice for a healthy lunch, though you may have to fight to get a table (takeaway options are available). Two of the four grain bowls are vegan: the Carroty Kid, with avocado, spinach, brown rice, edamame, carrot, spring onion, roast mushroom, kimchi and a lime tamari dressing is excellent, but I prefer the Ginger Spice: tofu, quinoa, spinach, beetroot, sweet potato, red cabbage, mixed seeds and avocado, all doused in a carrot, ginger and miso dressing.
Other options are stews, soups, jacket potatoes and restorative seasonal options like chickpea lentil curry with spinach, brown rice and pumpkin seeds; healthy breakfasts are available too. Be sure to pick up a drink before you go: choose from matcha lattes, turmeric lattes, and spicy reishi hot chocolates, or for something more refreshing, zingy cold pressed juices, seasonal water infusions, iced teas and even fresh coconuts.
Fed By Water
Given the preponderance of cheese in pizza, pasta and risotto, finding decent vegan Italian food is generally harder than finding good vegan Indian food or Thai food. Londoners will be thankful, then, for the ambitions of Fed By Water, a trendy vegan Italian in Dalston, East London. Though it began as a “regular” restaurant, Fed By Water soon transitioned to fully vegan, and promotes a healthy Mediterranean diet with food that’s been cooked in purified water (hence the name).
You can opt for either white or black pizza dough (black is mixed with activated charcoal powder) and choose from toppings including spicy salami-style seitan, marinated tofu, cashew mozzarellina cheese, sage butternut squash, caramelized onion and chestnut mushrooms to name just a few. The pasta is equally good, and new vegans will relish the chance to dig into ostensibly off-limits dishes like spaghetti carbonara (made with smoked tofu, turmeric, soy cream and topped with crispy seitan) or a rich and creamy lasagne.
Fed By Water also has the honor of serving a seriously unbelievable plant-based cheese platter: a dish that left me feeling overwhelmingly positive about the future of vegan cheese. Made with either a soy or cashew base, there are variations of several soft and hard cheeses, but the highlight was the turmeric-coated smoked scamorzette – the creamy, smoky taste and silky smooth texture were identical to the real thing. I challenge anyone to eat at Fed By Water and not leave praising the utter innovation of modern vegan cooking.
The arrival of so many popular vegan eateries, as well as new vegan-friendly wine companies, highlights how quickly the food scene is changing. The days of meat-and-two-veg or even bland veggie lasagnes will soon be over; the rise of veganism is paving the way for a future of nutritious, diverse, and experimental food which just so happens to be sustainable and cruelty-free. What a win for the world.