“What, so they don’t cook the food? What’s the point?!”
This was the probably the most positive reaction I got from my colleagues when I announced I was off for a post-work dinner at a raw vegan restaurant. Everyone else was much more…colourful.
And to be fair, I wasn’t exactly psyched. Post-work catch-ups are supposed to be calorific, wine-based affairs; after all, nothing gives me more oral pleasure than smothering carbohydrates in lashings of saturated fat and washing it all down with a gallon of wine. But, like the rest of the northern hemisphere approaching the dreaded summer months, we were all trying to be more health-conscious, so we thought we’d give the raw thing a whirl.
To be clear, Tasha, Louise and I are not raw. Or vegans. In fact, Tasha is one of the most hardened carnivores I know. Louise and I are both vegetarians, but only for the last year or so. So whilst we’re perhaps not the toughest crowd, I certainly wasn’t falling over myself to spend my hard-earned wedge on a plate of raw veg.
We decided on Tanya’s Cafe because of its ‘superfood cocktail menu’, which, in my opinion, in a fantastic idea. I understand why most health restaurants don’t want to promote alcohol, but, well, most people like a drink with dinner. Even healthy people.
The cocktails were innovative – though on the pricey side at £10 a go – and my favourite was the Sweet Burn, a Christmassy concoction of fresh strawberry juice, coconut palm sugars and spiced rum. (The green thing is a Matcha Pina Colada, cold-pressed pineapple juice with coconut palm syrup, lime juice, coconut tea powder, matcha green tea powder and organic gin..!)
The main menu is split into two parts: Salads and Living Mains. The menu itself came with no explanation, but I believe the idea behind the Living Mains items is to recreate raw vegan versions of non-raw, non-vegan favourites, such as tacos, Thai curry noodles and risotto.
Tasha chose the Pad Thai (£11.95) from the Salad section, described as shredded rainbow veggies with mixed seeds and nuts, and a sauce of fresh coconut meat and spices. This description does not remotely do justice to what was served. It was a mountain of spiralised vegetables and paper-thin sliced radishes, drenched in such a flavoursome sauce I couldn’t believe it wasn’t cooked. It tasted so fresh and vibrant, a mix of sweet and sour, subtly spiced throughout.
My gnocchi (£13.50), on the other hand, didn’t provide such an epic visual. At first glance it looked like a bowlful of finely cut spring onions and little else. I was also disappointed to see I only got six nuggets of gnocchi. However, once I got tucked in, I realised the bowl has been lined with the rich cashew nut cream, presumably because when the dish is dressed it looks a little drowned. But it did taste really good. The ‘gnocchi’ turned out to be made of firmly compressed and well-seasoned peas, and I soon realised I didn’t need any more than six. They were dense and rich and along with the cashew cream, the portion was plenty.
(An aside: let’s talk for a minute about cashew cream. I don’t know how they do it, but that shit is fucking delicious. It is cool and comforting, like sour cream, and it has the same thick, inviting, dippable texture. I’m baffled. It’s amazing. I’ve since bought a bag of cashew nuts, and I’ll be trying that at home. Stay tuned.)
Louise’s dehydrated sweetcorn and tomato nachos (£13.50) looked more familiar; they were dressed up all pretty with more leafy greens than your standard chip ‘n dip, but overall it looked how you’d expect. The crisps themselves had a, well, crispy texture. I’m impressed it can be done by compressing and dehydrating sweetcorn. Much healthier than the usual bag of Doritos and without compromising on crunch, though frankly we all know that chips are just a vehicle for the dips; in this case, guacamole, soured cashew cream and a tangy pineapple salsa.
Cauliflower Popcorn (£4.25) and Aubergine Caviar (£5.95) were ordered out of sheer curiosity. The former was a surprising win despite the misnomer (cauliflower is NOT popcorn), but the ‘caviar’ was doomed to fail. It was pleasant enough, but a name like that gets the imagination running wild. I was therefore a bit miffed with the dehydrated seed bread and salsa that is apparently the vegans’ answer to one of the world’s most luxurious dishes. (Though, to be fair, it was sitting in the shadow of Tasha’s glorious Pad Thai mountain, which would make anything look a bit shit.)
One things that vegans do not fuck around with is pudding. Half a second on Instagram and you’ll know raw vegan baking is a force to be reckoned with, and the salted caramel slices were the absolute business. They were made of dates, maple syrup, coconut oil, cashews, coconut and something called algarroba, and I could have downed at least fifteen of them.
By the end of the meal I was bursting at the seams, which I didn’t expect at all. I couldn’t have eaten another bite, but my stomach didn’t have the usual bloated watermelon feel. Overall, I was really impressed by Tanya’s and I’d recommend it, if only for a totally different dining experience. And, yes, if you’re going on holiday soon.
Tanya’s Cafe, 35 Ixworth Pl, London SW3 3QX
Author: Carla Juniper
Carla is a proud Putney-dweller and newly-minted vegetarian. She loves pickled beetroot and experimenting in the kitchen, especially when accompanied by a very large glass of wine, which is known to aid creativity and culinary prowess. In her spare time she uses her degree in Illustration to create bespoke digital portraits (you can check our her work here).
She also sucks at the flying trapeze.