London’s only fine dining veggie restaurant, Vanilla Black, quietly opened a daytime-only café-resto at the end of February. It’s located in a pretty, somewhat secluded courtyard off Southampton Row, lined with shops and restaurants. Unlike its older sibling, the food here doesn’t come with foams, gels, airs or graces: it’s a pretty straightforward mix of breakfast dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches and daily specials. But like its older sibling, imaginative touches abound: breakfast of roasted oat porridge with lemon thyme pesto, anyone?
Forget the studenty fare of many of London’s veggie cafes; here you may find a daily special of hickory-smoked beans on soda bread with cheese and herbs (£7.95). Beans on toast it ain’t. A popular option on the a la carte menu is Yorkshire cheddar and savoy cabbage pudding served with heritage potatoes, creamed celeriac and red wine jus (£8.50). The sharp, tangy taste of top-notch Ribblesdale lifts what could have been a humble, stodgy dish of cabbage, bread and potatoes into something special.
Don’t miss the daily changing selection of cakes, pastries, cookies, scones, buns and tarts, such as the light and delicious early season-strawberry and rhubarb tart (£3.95), or lush, moreish spiced Williams pear and walnut cake with butterscotch (£3.50). Wash it down with a small selection of soft drinks, hot beverages, wines and beers.
Despite the uninspired décor of cream walls, pebble stone floors and clunky dark wood furniture that’s unintentional homage to Cranks circa 1970s, what sets this cosy eaterie apart is the attention to detail. It underpins everything from own-made bread cooked in the basement kitchen (next to a large communal table), to welcoming and knowledgeable staff who don’t miss a thing.
At the entrance to the long, narrow ground floor dining room, there’s a small takeaway counter and grocery, which sells foraged ingredients like currently fashionable wild garlic, and alexanders, an old, forgotten vegetable you may not have heard of. The forager delivers on Thursdays. You’ll have to hurry – word is spreading fast and tables here are not easy to come by, though for fine weather there’s ample shaded seating area outside.
Orchard is located at 11 Sicilian Avenue, WC1A 2QH.
By Sejal Sukhadwala