Being the metropolitan that it is, London is no stranger to healthy food and lifestyle options. But because the city used to be called “the Big Smoke” because of its smog, I was surprised to find that it comfortably caters to a plant-based diet and active lifestyle.
Roaming along the aisles of its popular grocery stores, such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Whole Foods, you’ll come across a larger variety of raw and vegan food specialty items than you would even in New York City. And if you enjoy a good outdoor workout, have no fear, because London’s parks are highly accessible for the avid runner or walker. In the event the city’s healthy charms don’t stop you in your tracks first, here are some standout eateries that will orient you.
The UK may be known for its fish and chips, puddings, and roasted meat, but in recent years, eateries with vegetarian, vegan, and raw food options have emerged and subsequently gained popularity. The following cafes and restaurants will make your transition to London a healthier and happier experience.
1. Since 1988, Mildreds has been serving a vegetarian menu in its quaint location on Lexington Street in West London. The menu will seduce even the most skeptical of carnivores. From its pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with chestnut mushroom cream and white wine sauce to its sun-blushed tomato, mozzarella, and basil risotto cake, you’ll be drooling far before the food arrives to the table.
2. The world-wide vegetarian chain, Govinda, has a location in London’s Soho neighborhood. Govinda is a restaurant that hails the “karma-free diet” and provides a no-frills environment that promotes tranquility, health, and balance. Govinda does not use meat, fish, or eggs in any of its dishes and also shuns onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Take a bite into its egg-free quiche, veggie burger, and spinach rolls for a wholesome and rounded meal.
3. It would be a mistake to overlook the South Asian influence on local cuisine. It seems like an Indian restaurant can be found every few blocks and, considering lots of Indian food is strictly vegetarian, it’d be helpful to filter through the many restaurants and pick the right place. One dependable option is Woodlands, which has locations in Piccadilly, Hampstead, and Marylebone Lane. The interior of the restaurants is decorated with bright, fresh colors, the dishes are elaborately plated, and the atmosphere is high-end but casual. The restaurants also provide a vegan menu.
4. Vitao, located in Soho, has an international vegan menu that changes weekly and features seasonal produce. With its lentil dhal, kale and pomegranate salad with grape dressing, Thai green curry, homemade kimchee, and paella, it’s clear that a meal at Vitao is a trip around the world.
5. For a quick lunch or take-out vegan fare, check out Beatroot on Berwick Street in Soho. The small eatery displays ten internationally-inspired and ready-to-eat hot dishes, most of which are vegan. Dip into the moussaka or cut into the soy-based sausage for a hearty vegan experience. Beatroot also offers homemade vegan sweets – nut and dried fruit-based power balls and a variety of muffins – for a post-munch delight. If you in the mood for something lighter, ask for a fresh juice or smoothie.
6. For those with even stricter food preferences, the raw food options in London are growing. Without question, the premier raw restaurant is Saf, which means “pure” in Turkish. The menu features items that have not been heated above 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit), preserving optimum flavor and nutrition. The restaurants location may throw you off, as it’s situated in the top floor of the Whole Foods adjacent to the High Street Kensington station, but its cuisine rises to the occasion and has truly set the precedent for London’s raw food scene. Head to Saf for a unique culinary experience and indulge in a Mexican raw tostada or lasagna verde without craving anything else. To get a sample of it all, order the raw tasting board, which includes maki rolls, cashew cheese dolmades, bánh tráng rolls, and nachos with guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream.
7. The Wild Food Café in Convent Garden is an independent eatery that aims to create “heart-opening” food. The environment is light and friendly, with all the food prepared in an open kitchen. While not all menu items are raw or vegan, the menu makes it clear what dish falls under what category. All ingredients are also sourced thoughtfully from trusted farmers and producers. This summer, Wild Food Café will introduce wines from organic and bio-dynamic producers. The café offers an abundant wild salad with foraged greens, wild rocket, Romano pepper, carrot, zucchini, pomegranate seeds, and a mustard and dill emulsion, which is entirely raw and best enjoyed with the café’s sourdough bread. It also serves living pizza, falafel, and an olive and shiitake burger that is best finished off with a raw chocolate and almond mousse.
Other raw-vegan eateries are increasing in popularity:
8. Dragonfly Wholefoods, which hosts a daily buffet, is a whole food shop turned vegetarian café with vegan and raw options.
9. InSpiral Lounge is a raw and vegan hot spot run by the Ekopia Poject collective that hosts festive events.
10. The Bonnington Café is a community vegan and vegetarian restaurant that hosts a feast every second, fourth, and fifth Sunday of the month. Bonnington Café’s chef is the mastermind behind the raw food delivery service Raw Fairies.
For more information on taking your culinary adventures to the streets, check out London’s many open markets. No matter where the city takes you, you can rest assured knowing that the city is large, diverse, and open-minded enough to accommodate your personal preferences. Safe travels!
Photo Credit: Mildreds, Aylin Erman, Oatsy40, Zooey_, EEPaul, Jeremy Weate