A vegan crawl in Carnaby, London

A three-course vegan meal, served up by three different restaurants. Could this be the recipe for perfect plant-free dining experience?

By Glen Mutel
Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:58 BST, Updated 20 Oct 2021, 15:51 BST
Classic vegan burger from Dirty Bones.

Classic vegan burger from Dirty Bones.

Photograph by Dirty Bones

There’s never been a better time to be vegan, or so I’m told. Particularly if you live in London, where, fuelled by the growing popularity of Veganuary, more restaurants than ever are spiking their menus with plant-based dishes.

Yet, for all that, exclusively vegan restaurants are still relatively thin on the ground, even in the capital. So, if it’s a real choice you’re after, why not mix and match, course by course, restaurant by restaurant? Admittedly, it’s not a particularly practical approach to dining out, but I’m determined to give it go. And with that in mind, I head to the West End, with the aim of cobbling together a three-course vegan meal from three very different menus.

My destination is the warren of alleyways around Carnaby Street — an area that’s currently trying to rebrand itself as simply Carnaby — and I begin at Inko Nito, a smart yet laid-back robatayaki restaurant on Broadwick Street, where hot charcoals are used to coax great flavours out of an array of Japanese classics.

I’m here for a starter, which, these days, is often my favourite element of a meal out. Perhaps it’s something to do with the ongoing obsession with tasting menus, but so many of today’s chefs seem to do their best work on smaller dishes, so I’m hoping for a strong start. Fortunately, I get it, in the shape of a grilled aubergine, its criss-cross incisions stuffed with an explosive mixture of white miso, chilli, ginger and garlic. The fleshy pulp absorbs these flavours well, and with each spoonful it seems to taste more and more like a wondrous piece of smoked fish. Throw in some edamame beans, a few padron pepper skewers and a boozeless concoction involving ginger, apple, yuzu and coriander, and I leave Inko Nito feeling pure, encouraged and very refreshed.

Next, it’s on to the top floor of Kingly Court, to Dirty Bones, where, in a cosy lounge area, I get to grips with a Vegan Classic burger. The ‘meat’ in question here is the much-hyped Moving Mountains plant-based burger, which is as soft and succulent as promised, and a world away from the well-done, meat-free hockey pucks of my youth. This one is sandwiched into a sesame seed bun (my preferred burger arrangement) and comes with a winning combination of red onion, pickle, veganaise and some surprisingly edible vegan cheese. The whole thing is a hit, and definitely worth climbing several flights of stairs for, although I’m less convinced by the accompanying buffalo aubergines, which are fairly hard going.

From there, it’s on to Kingly Street, to explore the Korean-influenced menu at JinJuu. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to try for a while, so it’s an exercise in restraint to restrict myself to just a dessert. However, after being mistaken for a member of staff by some fellow diners, I summon a real waiter and order a baked almond and tofu cake.

Now, in the normal run of things, I find it extremely difficult to contemplate any dessert that doesn’t contain chocolate. Yet here I am, nibbling away at one that doesn’t even contain dairy. Quite a sacrifice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, as it happens, it’s not much of a sacrifice at all. The cake itself is soft and light, and it’s subtly infused with raspberry. What’s more, it offers up a pleasing array of textures, thanks in part to the smattering of crushed candied almonds. It’s a very well-executed version of something I’d never order. And, I have to say, it’s invigorating — in the way that only new things can be.

And there ends a highly enjoyable three-course vegan meal, provided by three different restaurants. But it’s not enough. I want more. Specifically, I want the thing that’s just caught my eye — the Korean-style shaved ice sundae being devoured by the couple opposite! And I want it all — not just the sweet red bean and berries, but also the green tea ice cream shaved into beautiful milky ribbons.

So I have it. And I love it. And, of course, it isn’t vegan. Which means, by the terms of my own challenge, I’ve failed. But I’ve failed gloriously, with a bewildering combination of flavours in my mouth. So I can have no regrets.

For more info, head to carnaby.co.uk

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