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.
Vegetarian London: The Shed
It would be easy to walk past The Shed — but that would be a shame. Tucked away in a quiet street next to the more flamboyant Kensington Church Street, the popular former Ark restaurant looks a bit like an ordinary pub; its small, pretty courtyard at the front resembling a beer garden. This is where we dined on a blissfully warm, sunny evening, enjoying the most intensely autumnal meal of the season so far.
Despite its unassuming exterior, inside is a different story. Two interconnecting rooms, one featuring a bar and another a large communal table at the back, are filled with a cheerfully quirky mix of farm equipment, reclaimed rustic furniture, and agricultural scenes on exposed brick walls. Cramped together in the narrow space are wooden benches, brightly coloured barrels that double up as tables, a wagon wheel and even an eight-foot tractor hanging from the ceiling.
This is no countryside-themed restaurant, however. Opened two years ago, it reflects the roots of its owners, brothers Richard and Oliver Gladwin. They were brought up on the Nutbourne vineyard and farm in West Sussex, and both their parents were professional chefs. Restaurateur and manager Richard was involved in setting up Brawn and Bunga Bunga; and head chef Oliver has worked at the Oxo Tower, Launceston Place, Just St James, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. Their youngest brother Gregory, a farmer on their family farm, supplies much of the freshly picked, wild and foraged produce; and other items are provided by local suppliers mostly from London and Sussex.
The ingredient-led, daily-updated menu of ‘British tapas’ is somewhat confusingly divided into ‘slow cooking’ and ‘fast cooking’ (we couldn’t really detect a difference in cooking techniques between the two). It’s strewn with fiercely seasonal ingredients such as damsons, cobnuts, quince, truffles, wild mushrooms, celeriac, spaghetti squash, plums and blackberries (and for omnivores, plenty of game). We kick off a highly enjoyable evening with a refreshing plum-coloured aperitif of gin, damson, lemon and soda. A pretty ‘mouthful’ (canapé) of crisp beetroot disc topped with mellow goats’ cheese and tangy damson jam is the perfect accompaniment.
The must-try veggie dish is Nutbourne feta, ‘dropped pasta’, tomato, preserved lemon and salad leaves. A colourful, vibrant mix of freshly made spätzle scattered with smooth, creamy feta, baby pak choi and other mild-tasting leaves has its flavour lifted with the sharp, salty tang of generous quantities of chopped preserved lemon. (The restaurant confirmed that the cheeses used in the meat-free dishes are suitable for vegetarians.) The heartier Wiltshire truffle (yes, truffles grown in Wiltshire) with wild mushroom ragu, celeriac and sage oil is almost akin to eating an entire forest: the bosky, earthy flavours heightened by mineral undertones of spinach and the crunch of deep-fried sage leaves. Perhaps the dish lacks structure — a focal ingredient, mellow enough to help tone down the highly concentrated umami flavours — but it is delicious.
The signature pudding of ‘magnum vienetta parfait’ also appears on the menu of their newly-opened restaurant, The Rabbit in Chelsea. Sea-salted caramel and dark chocolate wafers, sandwiched between ice cream sliced vienetta-style, is a retro delight; but more impressive is plum, honey, linseed and almond tart with crème fraiche. Neat squares of almond sponge, scattered amid fresh black and red berries looking like little glistening jewels, is a beautiful-looking plate that heightens the autumnal feel.
We’re less impressed by Sussex Reserve, a wine made in the family’s own vineyard: it’s too acidic and perhaps not quite ready for drinking. However, there are other wines from small independent producers around the world, and also Sussex-brewed beer. Staff are charming and gregarious, though looked understandably stressed when a large group turned up unannounced towards the end of the evening. We paid around £55 each — a little steep for a neighbourhood joint — but then again, it is a destination restaurant, and the cost includes cocktails and a few different wines by the glass and carafe that we experimented with. Too many restaurants pay lip service to local produce, but The Shed, with its origins in a family farm in Sussex, brings authenticity to that over-used term — and it’s a masterclass in seasonal eating to boot.
The Shed, 122 Palace Gardens Terrace, W8 4RT. Tel: 020 7229 4024. Photos kindly supplied by The Shed. Disclaimer: We review strictly anonymously and pay for all our meals, drinks and service.
Previously in this series
Last Updated 11 October 2014