For the country with the most livestock in Africa, Ethiopia boasts curiously vegan-friendly cuisine. But it’s long been customary for Orthodox Tewahedo Christians to omit meat from their diet on Wednesdays and Fridays – something that the West cottoned onto in recent decades, with campaigns such as Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney’s Meat Free Monday. London has just been voted the world’s most vegan-friendly city by online vegan restaurant guide HappyCow, with 152 meat- and dairy-free eateries, including a family-run Ethiopian canteen. Here’s five of the best.
The Ethiopian bargain: Andu Cafe
Any Londoner will point you in the direction of Dalston for plant-based grub. The east London district’s main thoroughfare, Kingsland Road, is packed with veg-centric diners from a deep-fried jackfruit joint to the new outpost of Soho spot Mildreds. But there’s one unassuming, cash-only canteen that set up shop here long before vegan eating became a hipster trend.
“I came to London from Addis Ababa in 1970, and the city was missing Ethiopian food,” says Andu Cafe’s owner, Andu Alam. “We opened the UK’s first vegan Ethiopian restaurant. At first it wasn’t that busy, but since vegan food has taken off it’s gained popularity. Now people come from all over the UK and beyond.”
It’s easy to see why. Sitting at a wicker chair, surrounded by carved wooden figurines and faded photos on the lime-green walls, feels like being in a friend’s living room. And the food couldn’t get any homelier: brought out quickly on platters bearing six dishes each, it’s a warming antidote to the harsh winter outside. Alam’s yemisir wot (lentil stew) is his crowning glory. Smoky, oily and rich in tomato, it’s got just enough of a kick to ward off a cold, and its smooth texture complements the crunch of the accompanying cabbage and beans. It’s all mopped up with a tangy injera flatbread and followed by jebena-served coffee to keep you warm for the rest of the night. anducafe.co.uk
The veggie pioneer: The Gate
Red buses trundle past the ceiling-high windows of the bright dining room, where a shiny, glazed aubergine waits on a polished wooden table. Sliced in half, it drips with a sticky sauce of miso paste, sugar and soy. The knife slides smoothly through its roasted flesh and each bite crunches with a garnish of toasted cashew nuts and sesame seeds.
At vegetarian fine-dining spot The Gate – which launched in Hammersmith in 1989 and was followed by three more London openings – aubergine replaces meat. “Another of our classic Gate dishes is aubergine ‘schnitzel’,” says owner Michael Daniel. “But although we live in a world where everything gets compared to meat, vegetarian ‘meatballs’ are not meatballs – they’re lentil balls, or something different.”
Daniel’s mainly vegan menu pre-dates and avoids the current craze for meat replacements, letting seasonal, local vegetables shine on their own merits. Artfully plated South- and East-Asian inflections spice up foraged mushrooms, baby artichokes and raw beetroot.
“Plant-based has gone mainstream, and it’s very exciting,” says Daniel. “Nowadays, we see people in the restaurant we wouldn’t expect – groups of guys, and people who are open to just trying vegan once in a while.” thegaterestaurants.com
The insta paradise: Kalifornia Kitchen
“Healthy is sexy!” proclaims Tottenham Court Road’s latest plant-based eatery on Instagram. The Barbie-pink eatery seems tailored for the social media generation. The youthful clientele is equally photo-ready, sipping on quinoa, strawberry and coconut milk smoothies and nibbling on CBD granola on banana pancakes, in between photoshoots on the fuchsia spiral staircase.
But there’s substance behind the fashionable facade. Many diners head to Kalifornia Kitchen for a Moving Mountains burger, one of the most convincing mock-meat products on the market. Made from oyster mushrooms, vitamin B12, wheat proteins and coconut oil, the patty also contains beetroot juice which makes it “bleed” in the middle.
“The environmental impact of animal agriculture is becoming catastrophic,” says Moving Mountains’ Simeon Van der Molen. “Plant-based meat requires less land, less water and produces less greenhouse emissions than animal meat.” kaliforniakitchen.co.uk
The one for dessert: by CHLOE
Vegan cakes get a bad rap: traditional bakers have long complained that replacing eggs and butter with coconut oil and soy milk leads to heavy, dry results. Those prejudices can be left at the door of by CHLOE, which arrived from New York City in Covent Garden in 2017, with its menu of fast-casual burgers, sandwiches and salads, and the most un-vegan-tasting vegan cakes on the market. Think sweet sponge topped with rich vanilla icing, dotted with cocoa nibs and raspberries; air-light blueberry muffins tinged green with matcha; silky, red velvet cupcakes smeared with shocking-pink icing.
The interior is Instagrammable and millennial-friendly, with wicker chairs swinging from the ceiling and recyclable plates and cutlery. The sweet stuff here should be good: Californian founder Chloe Coscarelli made her name as the first vegan chef to win the USA’s Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in 2010. eatbychloe.com
The Michelin-starred treat: Pied à Terre
In Fitzrovia, the restaurant-packed pocket just north of Oxford Street, the roster of food businesses is in near-constant flux. But Pied à Terre is not only one of the area’s longest-standing restaurants, it also boasts one of London’s longest-held Michelin stars, awarded in 1993, two years after opening. Thanks to founder David Moore’s determination to be ahead of the curve, you can forget the starched tablecloths and haughty service usually associated with Michelin-starred dining rooms. Here, pendant lamps cast dappled light over leather booths and teal velvet chairs.
But it’s the restaurant’s 10-course vegan tasting menu, launched almost three years ago with the appointment of head chef Asimakis Chaniotis, that’s kept it modern. The delicate tasters of spelt risotto, coconut cream “cheese” and zesty lime sorbet are a far cry from the meat-focused kitchen of the 90s, where the chefs would scrabble to find a plant-based alternative on the fly.
“Nowadays, out of 45 covers, 20 of them could be on the vegan menu,” says Moore. “Over the next five or 10 years we are all going to eat much less meat. It’ll be like when we stopped smoking on buses or planes. Your kids will say to you, ‘Did you really eat meat twice a day?’” pied-a-terre.co.uk