Ask anyone in London to name their favourite vegetarian restaurant, and they’ll reel off these names: The Gate (almost always the first), and then in no particular order: Tibits, Manna and Mildreds. Someone will invariably chime in that Vanilla Black is the best posh veggie for special occasions.
Then their vegan and raw food-loving friends will enthuse about Nama, Wild Food Café, 222 Veggie Vegan and Raw at La Suite West. And those in the know will whisper about Itadaki Zen, Europe's first Japanese vegan.
But what about the lesser-known places? The local favourites that other Londoners may not know about; ones which haven't yet reached the critics' ears/taste buds? Where are the quirky places, the characterful family-run joints, and the old-school venues where you can indulge in nostalgia-fests of pasta bakes after evenings cooking too many Ottolenghi recipes in a row?
Redemption: proving that vegan, alcohol-free, sugar-free and wheat-free need not be boring or self-righteous, these stylish restaurants and bars in Notting Hill and Shoreditch serve attractively presented dishes and non-alcoholic cocktails. Choose from the likes of maki rolls with red and white quinoa and amaranth micro shoots, and heritage beetroot 'barlotto' (barley risotto) with pecan nut 'parmesan'.
Farmacy: Camilla Al-Fayed's Notting Hill vegetarian restaurant serves a large number of vegetarian and vegan breakfast dishes, soups, sandwiches, salads, 'bowl food', hot classics like pizza and curry, healthy meals in jars and puddings. It has an extensive list of hot and cold drinks, too, including cocktails.
Fed By Water: Located next to Dalston Cross shopping centre aims to promote the nutritional benefits of water, and serves a wide range of pizzas topped with vegetables, vegan cheeses and meat substitutes.
Veg Bar: Brixton's vegan restaurant, bar and speakeasy serves a US diner-style menu of mac and cheese, seitan wings and pulled barbecue jackfruit (a big veggie trend right now), alongside more eclectic offerings.
Norman's Coach and Horses: Not to be confused with another Coach and Horses in the area, this legendary Soho institution became London's first vegetarian pub a few years ago. It's renowned for its 'tofush' and chips (nori seaweed-wrapped battered tofu) – an idea copied by other many veggie restaurants – and piano sing-alongs on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. The venue is still under-the-radar of many vegetarians.
Riverside Vegetaria: Award-winning it might be, but not many Londoners know about this long-established restaurant, perhaps owing to its out-of-the-way location. Set amid Kingston's beautiful riverside setting, it serves a vast old-school menu of vegetarian and vegan dishes from around the world. From tofu teriyaki to 'Caribbean casserole', you'll find hearty, homely fare here. Go on a sunny day to enjoy the idyllic surroundings.
Gujarati Rasoi: Owned by mother and son Lalita Patel and Urvesh Parvais, this small Dalston restaurant originated as a market stall, and serves freshly cooked, home-style Gujarati food you won't find elsewhere. The regularly changing menu features the likes of fresh dill pancakes, blackeye bean curry and chai kulfi.
Persepolis Café: It might be a tiny café inside a shop — Sally Butcher's renowned Persian in Peckham — but Persepolis serves an ambitious menu of meze, indulgent desserts and unique hot and cold drinks. Its vegan knickerbocker glory is a knockout.
Chilli n Chocolate: This café in Temple Fortune serves a tasty mix of Indian street food, sandwiches, salads, Indian-Chinese dishes, South Indian snacks, spicy curries, and even a couple of pastas.
Andu Café: A small Ethiopian vegan café in Dalston, Andu serves a tasting platter of six colourful dishes served with a choice of injera bread or rice.
My Village Café: Offering a vast number of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes — including Kurdish breakfast — this rustic, characterful veggie café serves up vegetarian food with a big heart.
Something a little different
Just Fab: This converted red double decker bus on Hackney Road serves vegetarian Sicilian street food. There are soups, pastas, pizzas, burgers and salads on the menu – but try the panelles (chickpea flour fritters), polenta muffins and vegan tiramisu. There are a few tables inside and outside.
Cookdaily: A vegan café in a shipping container pop-up mall? Well, why not? Bright global (mostly Southeast Asian) flavours shine through in fabulous bowl dishes like fruit and veg tossed in tamari-sesame dressing with plantains, cauliflower 'rice' and dehydrated banana.
The Canary: This hair salon/vegetarian café (yes, you read that right) serves a snack-y menu of salads, pastries, cakes, and vegan pizza.
Karamel Restaurant: There's a vegan restaurant inside Wood Green's live music, cabaret, comedy, theatre and arts venue. The daily-changing menu features soups, pastas, curries, stews, pasties, and more.
Green Note: This is primarily a cosy, vibrant live music bar in Camden. It serves vegetarian snacks and small plates from around the world, featuring the likes of tortilla, tarts and tabbouleh.
Cyclelab and Juice Bar: There's a small selection of vegan breakfast pots, soups, snacks and cakes in the juice bar/café of this cycle repair and accessories shop.
Oat Milk Industries: You can hire the studio in the basement of this music-centric vegetarian and vegan café in Camden. There’s a great selection of savoury and sweet crepes; plus a few breakfast items and sandwiches.
Drink Of Fulham: This is a beer boutique, not a restaurant – but it serves freshly-made Gujarati vegetarian snacks on Saturdays to nibble alongside its carefully curated tipples.
Breakfast, brunch and lunch
Bühler + Co: Owned by New Zealand sisters Meg and Rosie Bühler, this beautiful vegetarian cafe in Walthamstow serves imaginative hot dishes with global flavours. There’s a growing counter of sandwiches, toasties, muffins, buns and pastries too.
Thenga Café: This cool, friendly café specialises in spicy vegetarian flavours and indulgent vegan cakes. Past menus have included homely cauliflower and potato curry with plantain and tomato jollof rice, pecan pie, and cranberry cake.
The Waiting Room: Deptford's dynamic vegetarian café serves a great selection of breakfast and lunch dishes, bagels, burgers and hot dogs — many featuring meat substitutes.
Tide Tables Café and Hollyhock Café: Located in a beautiful setting near Richmond bridge, these two vegetarian siblings are ideal for a summer lunch. There's a hearty menu of dishes ranging from Moroccan harissa flatbread, to bean and vegetable chilli on brown rice. Go on a sunny day to make the most of the location.
The Hive Wellbeing: Bethnal Green's healthy eating vegetarian restaurant and wine bar is great for breakfast and lunch — but also serves a tapas menu after 5pm, to be eaten with their natural, organic Italian wines. Lunchtime options include rice flatbread with scrambled tofu, roasted squash, goats' cheese and cucumber.
Down To Earth: This stylish, spacious, friendly restaurant on Kensington High Street serves an ambitious menu of raw and cooked vegan and vegetarian dishes; plus breakfast, afternoon tea and Sunday lunch.
The Larder Café: This Bethnal Green veggie café serves a tapas-style menu of baked savouries, omelettes, pizzas and salads.
Café SoVegan: Housed in an old Hackney boozer, this café serves a good selection of vegan pancakes and toasties; plus straightforward mains like burrito, burger and quiche.
Bodega 50: Hardly anyone seems to know about this Stoke Newington cafe, and those who do, seem to have found it accidentally. It serves vegetarian and vegan breakfast dishes, toasties, sandwiches, meze and cakes.
Carnevale: Surprisingly few people know about this small, long-established vegetarian restaurant in the Whitecross Street Market. You'll find Mediterranean dishes like walnut-stuffed artichokes, and breaded aubergines with smoked mozzarella here; plus takeaway dishes in their Saladin street food stall outside.
LoveGift Vegan: This vegan café in Brockley serves grains, greens, wraps, salads, raw food platters, burgers, Caribbean classics, desserts and home-made soft drinks.
Mary Ward Café: Located in the Mary Ward Centre, a popular adult education institute in Euston, this vegetarian café serves a changing menu of Italian and global sweet and savoury snacks and hot meals.
The Calabash of Culture: Sydenham's gift shop and art gallery has a pop-up-turned vegan café at the back, with a simple menu of global-inspired dishes.
Whole Meal Café: Streatham's long-established vegetarian café serves old-school hearty fare such as Cajun vegetable casserole and French-style cheese and vegetable bake.
Natura Café: Who knew that Goldsmiths College Students Union housed a vegetarian café? There's a fairly basic menu of breakfast dishes, omelettes, a couple of hot main meals, and a small but good selection of sandwiches.
The Poetry Café: Covent Garden's Poetry Society's serene in-house café offers a small selection of vegetarian soups, stews, cakes and flapjacks.
The Ragged Canteen: Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall has a vegetarian café, which serves a small, simple menu of sandwiches, toasties, hot dishes and cakes.
Lighthouse Café: Catford’s veggie café serves vegan sausages, salads, pancakes, muffins and hot meals.
For peace and tranquillity
Café at Jamyang: Owned by the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in Elephant and Castle, this pretty venue is housed inside an old Victorian courthouse, courtyard and walled garden. The vegetarian venue (with vegan-only Mondays) serves delicious dishes such as spelt with purple sprouting broccoli, wild garlic and harissa, and strawberry and rosewater sponge cake.
The Retreat Café (Soho), Nectar Café (Camden) and Organic Café at Triyoga (Chelsea): Part of the popular Triyoga yoga centres, these health-conscious cafés serve vegetarian soups, salads, curries, stews, sushi, cakes and smoothies. Everything is gluten-, sugar- and dairy-free, and there are a number of raw options.
Community enterprises, social enterprises and similar
The Gallery Café: Owned by St Margaret’s House, an arts and cultural hub for the local Bethnal Green community, this veggie café serves a lovely menu of eclectic dishes. These range from vegan 'pulled pork' wrap, to Ethiopian stew.
Skip Garden Kitchen: Part of the unique Skip Garden, a moveable urban edible garden in the middle of the King's Cross development site, this charming vegetarian café serves lavish salads made from ingredients grown in the garden, sourdough sandwiches, snacks, cakes and vegetable juices.
Café Van Gogh: Brixton's community enterprise vegetarian café serves a changing menu of dishes such as chilled pea, mint and fennel soup, penne with foraged wild garlic and walnut pesto, and vegan buckwheat risotto.
Hornbeam Café: Walthamstow's Hornbeam community and environment centre houses a budget-friendly vegetarian café. It serves an appealing menu committed to reducing food waste. Dishes may include roast spiced parsnip mash with Kashmiri-style red bean curry, and leek and turnip quiche with beetroot, sesame and chilli salad.
Bonnington Café: This tiny, co-operatively run cash-only vegetarian restaurant is part of the Bonnington Centre — a community resource for the local Vauxhall residents. Volunteers cook on a rota basis, so the menu changes daily but you can expect hearty dishes like pies, tagines and lasagne.
For the ultra-health conscious
Tanya’s Café: Part of Myhotel Chelsea, this cosy restaurant serves a highly nutritious menu of raw, vegan, organic, ethically sourced dishes and drinks that are free from added sugar, dairy or gluten. The menu is huge – and hugely ambitious – and includes brunch items, salads, snacks, mains, cakes and ‘superfood cocktails’.
The Feel Good Café: As you can tell by the name, Chingford’s vegetarian café is very much focused on healthy eating. Dishes include the likes of cauliflower, cabbage, chickpea and quinoa soup, and pick-and-mix salads.
For the sweet-toothed
Jaz and Jul’s Chocolate House: Artisan hot chocolate enthusiasts Jaz and Jul’s Chapel Market café serves not only hot chocs – as you'd expect – but also a choc-centric veggie menu. There's a good selection of toasts with toppings, cakes and desserts; plus savoury mains like black bean chocolate chilli. Waffles and smoothies are available for weekend brunches.
Cookies and Scream: Located in the Camden Lock Market, this family-run vegan bakery sells a wide choice of freshly baked, 'free from' cookies, brownies, pies, doughnuts and shakes. You can sit down to eat the award-winning treats in their Cookie Bar.
Yorica: London’s first vegan and 'free from' ice cream parlour. It has a great selection of rice milk-based ice creams, frozen yoghurts, and shakes with colourful toppings.
Juicebaby: Chelsea's vegan and raw juice bar sells a wide selection of smoothies and other drinks, breakfast bowls, salads, sandwiches and sweet snacks.
LabOrganic: Covent Garden's organic cold-pressed juice bar has an 'experimental plant-based kitchen' that’s almost vegan (honey is used in some items). Their snacks, salads and drinks are dense in vegetables, pulses and nutrients.
Raw Press: Although primarily focused on cold-pressed juices, Dover Street’s stylish juice bar serves vegetarian breakfast and lunch dishes such as porridges and salads.
Do you have a favourite vegetarian or vegan restaurant that others may not have heard of? Tell us in the comments below.