Like me, the people at Squirrel are sick of the vicious rumour that salads are boring. Salads are almost always cast as a limp green sidekick, but they can be beautiful and varied beasts in their own right. You can’t judge them on the iceberg and raw onion monstrosities found in supermarkets, hermetically sealed in a ‘protective atmosphere’ and boasting a similar nutritional value to kitty litter. If you don’t believe me, get yourself to Squirrel, the new health food restaurant in South Kensington, and prepare to be converted.
Frankly, they had me at ‘We’re nuts about salad’ (hahahaha….aha…ha), but it’s worth a trip just to marvel at the designers’ steely commitment to a theme. It’s like a Disney treehouse, but instead of Coca-
Cola and grease-laden reconstituted meat there’s beet juice and things that remember, not long ago,
what it was like to be in the ground.
The side of one enormous oak tree fronts the serving counter. The lampshades are massive acorns and the cutlery holders are birdhouses, precariously straddling that narrow line between awesome and ridiculous. Giant Beatrix Potter-esque squirrels adorn the walls (a couple of them seem to be doing the dirty up the stairs) and old-fashioned toys hang from the rafters, Swallows and Amazons style. There’s also a whimsical ‘Drinking Well’ with a range of bottomless teas to choose from, and a ‘Squirrel Away’ nut dispenser to create your own tailored nut and dried fruit snack bowls.
Main meals are served from an enormous salad bar, and suggested combos come with tongue-in-cheek names (‘Prawn Star’, anyone?) The format offers a relaxed approach to customisation, making it a good choice for coeliacs, vegeterarians and vegans, and you can design your bowl from scratch if you like. I tried the Guac and Roll (£7.95) from the ‘Warm Bowls’ menu (substituting the chicken for tofu), which was like a posh burrito in a box. Andrew tried the Kale Yeah (£7.95), a symphony of bold flavours including fennel, kale, sweet potato, cucumber, radish almonds, pickled red onions and a zingy citrus dressing.
Ordering is set up is set up like Subway, except the sauces are fresh and not dripping in sugar and the meat looks like real and juicy and inviting, not like its just been scraped out of a lorry. You walk along the counter with the Squirrels (!) and are free to direct proceedings as you please. The salads are all shaken up in bowls ensure everything is dressed in your choice of sauce and then dispensed into acorn shaped containers.
Portions are healthy (ha) and you’re encouraged to enjoy them on the treehouse mezzanine level. Unless you’re in a rush, you’d be a fool not to because it’s a fun, immersive experience. I predict the place will become popular with parents bringing their kids here to trick them into eating cabbage.
I couldn’t help but perv on the rest of the menu while I ate and breakfast in particular looked very seductive. As well as various chunky toasts and porridge options, they also offer three types of poached egg bowls for £3.50, each with a different base, such as black beans, feta and spinach, or smoked salmon, avocado, rocket and tomato.
Squirrel is a great spot for anyone after a healthy lunch (or early dinner – it’s open until 9:30pm), but it isn’t trying to show off with foods nobody’s heard of. Overall, it’s a unintimidating experience, good for both long-standing health nuts and occasional salad-dabblers. And, of course, anyone who never got their own treehouse as a kid.
Squirrel, 11 Harrington Road, South Kensington, SW7 3ES
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.