Even with the wealth of restaurants we have in the capital, those wanting to avoid meat and fish can find themselves short of options. Here’s a selection of 12 restaurants where you’re guaranteed to find more than a measly mushroom risotto. And as many of them aren’t fully vegetarian, they should keep carnivorous chums and omnivorous other halves happy, too.
Gauthier Soho, Soho
French food can be something of a minefield for vegetarians, but here chef Alexis Gauthier seems determined to give vegetables a bit of love. What makes it particularly special is the inclusion of both all-vegetarian and all-vegan tasting menus, which have recently included the likes of cauliflower velouté with truffle parmesan, and candied beetroot carpaccio. The eight-dish tasting menu comes in at £75 for the vegetarian and £65 for the vegan, and by all accounts is a fairly stunning affair, though cheaper à la carte and lunch options are also available.
Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, W1D 5AF
The Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves continues to champion this tiny cafe, tucked away in Bethnal Green and run by community charity St Margaret's House. Exhibition house, event space and home to a cracking selection of vegan dishes, the thoughtful menu is not extensive but dishes such as jackfruit tacos and pancake breakfasts are full of flavour and good value. What's more, all profits go straight back into the charity, so your rumbling stomach isn't the only reason to give this wonderful spot your custom.
The Gallery Cafe, 21 Old Ford Road, E2 9PL
Manna, Primrose Hill
The menu at this half-a-century old restaurant is entirely vegetarian and largely vegan and organic, with a bit of raw food thrown in for good measure. For some this might be a bit much (maybe you’d rather have dairy cheese in your jalapeño croquettas instead of cashew ‘cheese’, for example) but for others it can offer one of the most accessible menus in London. Either way, the cooking is reliably sound and the potential blandness of no meat or dairy is carefully curtailed with herbs and spices.
Manna, 4 Erskine Road, NW3 3AJ
A Soho institution, Mildreds serves a dizzying array of vegetarian dishes ranging from burritos to burgers via pastas and curries, and has been doing so for over 20 years. Though such a diverse menu seems over ambitious, somehow this busy, buzzy spot pulls it off, managing to create dishes that although unfussy are reliably well-made and strongly-flavoured. That portions are on the large size and prices on the low is a bonus. Most of the options here are organic and you’ll find plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, so it’s also incredibly inclusive. There are also outlets in Camden, King's Cross and Dalston, although you should expect to queue — they only take bookings for large parties, while Soho has a total no-booking policy.
Mildreds Soho, 45 Lexington Street, W1F 9AN
NAMA, Notting Hill
Not content with simply being meat-free, NAMA also ticks the dairy-free, wheat-free and gluten-free boxes. In fact, it's cooking-free too. It may divide opinion — raw food doesn't appeal to everyone — but Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves is a stalwart supporter as when NAMA gets it right, the offerings are bold, beautiful and seriously clever. To be clear, the term 'raw food' means food that hasn't been treated above 42°C, so don't let the thought of cold dishes put you off. The salted caramel chocolate cake is divine.
NAMA, 110 Talbot Road, W11 1JR
The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Chef Anna Hansen MBE trained under Peter Gordon of The Providores (below), who’s known in the industry as the ‘king of fusion food’. She has certainly developed his knack for breathing vibrant life into salads, vegetable dishes and meaty options alike. It’s how good the vegetarian dishes here are, rather than the sheer number of them, which makes it stand out from the crowd for the veggie diner: try some deep-fried cornbread with black bean puree, golden beetroot cheese fritters and yuzu baba with strawberry sorbet, for example.
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St John's Square, EC1V 4JJ
The Providores, Marylebone
More fusion flavours abound at this slick but fun restaurant from Peter Gordon where you’re promised a rollercoaster of flavours whether you’re eating meat or not. Asian and Antipodean ingredients lead, though absolutely nothing is off limits. The ever-changing menu deserves points for creativity. While we miss their vegetarian take on a Sunday roast, we are somewhat placated by their miso-baked aubergine that arrives with dates, pine nuts, feta and is all kinds of sticky-sweet deliciousness.
The Providores, 109 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4RX
To many, Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe books have helped prove that vegetarian food need never be bland, whether at home or in a restaurant. Here, meat and fish options sit alongside fresh vegetable-led dishes of burrata with lavender honey, and courgette fritters with spiced yoghurt, as well as the likes of baked savoury cheesecakes and truffled polenta. Breakfasts are also a strong point.
Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, W1B 5NE
Ottolenghi, various locations
Also from Yotam, this eponymous mini-chain is an obvious inclusion in any veggie-friendly recommendation. These deli-come-restaurants in Islington, Notting Hill, Belgravia and Spitalfields offer feisty salads and creative bakes, enlivened with spice, nuts and fruits. Though meat options are available, they take a firm back seat.
Ottonlenghi, various locations
Vanilla Black, Chancery Lane
For many a vegetarian, all-veggie restaurants are a less attractive proposition than those all-rounders that also cater for non-meat eaters. Most will admit that Vanilla Black is an exception. Here, the likes of butternut squash risotto or goat cheese salads are a firm no-no, with creative dishes such as cep mushroom fudge, malted barley potato cake and homemade lemon ricotta replacing them on a menu of foams, pureés, towers and stacks galore. This is confident, clever cooking, if occasionally overblown, and though £41.50 for three courses feels somewhat steep given there’s no meat or fish involved, there’s no other vegetarian restaurant quite like it in London.
Vanilla Black, 17-18 Took's Court, EC4A 1LB
The Windsor Castle, Clapton
Locality, seasonality and sustainability are at the core of The Windsor Castle’s constantly changing menu, where veg is used as far more than an accompaniment to a bit of flesh. Proof that 'hearty pub food', as they themselves describe it, can be done meat-free. That said, there’s plenty of meat for those who want it.
The Windsor Castle, 135 Lower Clapton Road, E5 8EQ
The Gate, various locations
For quality and consistency that has lasted almost 20 years, Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves recommends The Gate. With locations in Marylebone, Islington and Hammersmith, The Gate serves gourmet vegetarian fare that hits the mark on nearly every front. Whichever menu you're ordering from, you can be assured of ingredient-packed international dishes that rove from aubergine schnitzel to miso-glazed aubergine, raw pad thai to tortillas filled-to-burst with black beans, sweet potato and guacamole. The service is good, the prices are reasonable and there is a refreshing lack of meat substitutes.
We're sure there are plenty more restaurants out there that do a sterling job of catering for vegetarians. Let us know about them in the comments and we'll add them to this feature, or compile a fuller one down the line.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.