In this series, we review restaurants from an entirely vegetarian angle. While some restaurants will be specifically vegetarian, others will be mainstream. We’ll be tasting everything from veggie burgers, to posh meat-free menus. Along the way, we’ll try to find out, as far as possible, whether chicken stock, cheese made from animal rennet, gelatine, fish sauce and so on are not lurking in the supposedly vegetarian dishes.
We expected Foodilic to be the lovechild of Leon and Ottolenghi: healthy fast food married with colourful salads and own-made cakes. In fact, it has its own quirky identity, and is not as good as either. It’s owned by long-established restaurateur Peter Ilic – hence the ‘ilic’ in the name, which may also be a play on the word ‘idyllic’. He owns the popular Little Bay chain, renowned for its low pricing and a well-publicised ‘pay what you think your meal is worth’ publicity stunt a few years ago. After the success of two Foodilics in Brighton, this first London branch opened four months ago, and is aimed at the local lunchtime crowd.
The café is a long, narrow space, with a serving counter displaying salads and hot food at the front; plus a small fridge containing pre-packed salads, sandwiches and soft drinks to takeaway. There are striking carved wooden tables that look like misshapen toadstools at the back, seating around 20-25 people. Logos in the shape of bright red tomatoes hang down over the serving counter, and the plain cream walls are lined with circular lamps somewhat eccentrically decorated with owls, lotuses and what looks like multi-coloured Smarties. You queue up for food like you would in a museum café, and grab the cutlery at the back.
Foodilic makes a big deal out of its ‘nutritious’ menu. Indeed, when did kale, agave nectar, chia seeds and flaxseed oil become so mainstream? Many items are vegetarian (a few are vegan, at least according to the website, though we hardly spotted any) and some are raw, gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free. However, these are only marked on the menus, which nobody will read, as people in a queue order by pointing at items that appeal to them visually — so they actually need to be clearly stated on the displays themselves. The salads should list all the main ingredients, as should the jugs of colourful juices temptingly displayed on crushed ice on the counter. If we hadn’t read the descriptions on their website beforehand, we wouldn’t have known what they were.
Although the salads are imaginative and contemporary, the hot and cold veggie dishes are curiously old-school, comprising stuffed vegetables, lasagne, soup and quiche (only lasagne and stuffed mushrooms were available on our visit). A speciality is feuilletes – normally puff pastry parcels; here flat filo pastry cigars – stuffed with sweet and savoury fillings. There’s a wide choice of own-made cakes and pastries, the teas and coffees are organic and Fairtrade, and breakfast is also served. Everything is freshly made on site in the mornings.
Despite this, the staff – who had difficulty answering basic questions about ingredients and dishes, and would certainly benefit from more training – and most of the salads were already looking tired on our early-lunchtime visit. The most successful item we tried is the signature ‘super Foodilic’ salad of cracked wheat, broccoli, avocado, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, cucumber, finely diced feta, pine nuts, chia seeds, spring onions, parsley and mint in french dressing. This might not have worked because of too many ingredients, but in fact it packs a punch in terms of flavour, colour and texture – and the addition of physalis (little orange-coloured fruit in papery husks) is a lovely, unexpected touch. A salad of sweet potatoes roasted with their skin on combined with fresh figs also works surprisingly well together.
Less successful is new potatoes with brie, garlic, ‘chilli seeds’ (either this is meant to be chia seeds or chilli flakes – but anyway we couldn’t detect either) and sorrel (we could have sworn it was baby spinach). The potato slices had a stale, overly-waxy texture and some were too salty – the salad clearly hadn’t been mixed properly. And what were stray chilli stems doing there? Feuillete with cottage cheese, mascarpone and sorrel had a very under-cooked pastry and meagre, indistinct filling. The fleshy, garlicky baked portobello mushrooms stuffed with spinach, feta and pine nuts, though, have a good old-fashioned taste.
To finish, pistachio roll – milk chocolate sponge (though we can’t be sure as it was so bland) layered with whipped cream, coated with pistachio nibs and cut into large swiss roll-like slices – tasted a little musty. The big surprise, however, was ‘kale orangeade’ made from kale leaves, oranges, agave nectar and flaxseed oil. Normally we would run a mile from such an overly health-conscious concoction, but this is wonderfully cooling and refreshing — the taste, a revelation. We paid around £15 as we wanted to try several items for reviewing purposes; normally you’d order less at lunchtime, so it would cost less.
Foodilic’s veggie dishes are similar to what you would find in old-style veggie restaurants, or served as veggie options in public spaces like stately homes. One of the main issues here is that, despite being made daily on site, the salads – very much central to the business – just don’t look or taste as sparklingly fresh and vibrant as they should. Some, like mango, avocado and dill, look unappetisingly mushy, and others have a slightly glazed appearance or soggy texture that comes from sitting around in a dressing for too long. Perhaps this London branch is having teething problems; or had storage issues on a particularly hot, sweltering day. Whatever the case, this and other points mentioned earlier need to be addressed before the chain starts expanding rapidly, as it is aiming to.
Foodilic, 260 Pentonville Road, King’s Cross N1 9JY. Tel: 020 7278 7887