"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Worry the bottle Mamma,
it's grapefruit wine

A second restaurant in as many weeks where there’s no meat or fish on the menu. Please say it isn’t so Hermano. Sure – it isn’t so Hermano…or rather it is so. After some distinctly average meals at animal protein-lead gaffs I though it would be nice to have a change (that and the fact I would be knocking back large amounts of jamón and big chuletón in Spain). So the second day that Vanilla Black – a restaurant previously based in York – was open I popped in for some lunch.

The owners have decided to set up shop, so to speak, in Lawyerland aka Chancery Lane on the site of the short-lived and apparently not very good Shimo. Previous to Shimo it was a French bistro, Tooks (later Dine) which I liked but which also crashed and burned when the owner couldn’t make the numbers work.

So will Vanilla Black succeed where others have failed ? On their showing when I went I have my doubts. First there’s the prices: they’re bloody steep. A set lunch menu should be a reasonably priced deal to pull in punters who would otherwise be eating at a Pret or some other dreary corporate sandwich bar. VB’s set menu is priced at £21/£26 for 2/3 courses which feels at least 30% overpriced – I mean do you want to pay a fiver for a cucumber spring roll ? Oh and don't forget the 12.5% service charge.

The ALC, which I went for, is priced at £25/£32 which seems similarly overpriced given the food I received. There was nothing particularly wrong with it per se, save for some gluey pomme puree in the first course, it’s just that, well, I was expecting a bit more for my money. It was all a bit prosaic. There wasn’t even an amuse or two to whet the appetite, just bread rolls.

A Deconstructed Puy Lentil Dahl offered up some Puy Lentils, with some slivers of chilli and some onion puree drizzled over the top. There was also some curry oil in the mix which gave the dish the whiff that you catch downwind of your local curry house. Not unpleasant actually. And that was it. Spicy and nice to eat but is this really indicative of vegetarian fine dining ?

Hickory Smoke Duck Egg ad Ducketts Caerphilly Pudding was a little more ambitious. There was a little cheesy pudding with a perfectly cooked egg that had taken on a deeply savoury note from the hickory smoke. There was a nice potato croquette where the pomme puree within actually tasted of potato and the best thing: a very good pineapple pickle. Yet again, a dish that was ok, but as a whole was less than the sum of its parts. An attempt at a few culinary fireworks, even if they were indoor, would definitely not go amiss here.

Pud similarly failed to wow. Tomato Ripple Ice Cream is an interesting idea but tasted bland. The Curd Cake had a good texture and plenty of Raisins but needed a lot more Rum to kick it up a notch. The shortbread wasn’t very er…short.

So the prices aren’t right and the food at those prices failed to ignite my ardour. Anything else ? Well, since you ask, it’s not a great site for a restaurant. Even assuming there are enough vegetarians in the area and I doubt it – lawyers love the smell of blood - then they’re unlikely to happen upon the restaurant as it’s hidden down an alley. Also, as far as I know, it’s not a residential area so there would be the same problem at night. They would have to rely on bookings.

From talking to one of the owners it seems this might be the plan as they wanted to build things up gradually. But can it be good business to go a whole service with just one customer ? Then again I’m not a restaurateur so maybe with their niche position in the restaurant market the 60k rent I read about will be a doddle to pay. I hope so because they seem like decent folk at VB and we (that’s the London we) need more independent businesses. Still, I think my (brief) sampling of veggy and vegan restaurants is done with. Now where’s me STEAK.

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