London has always had a wide range of vegetarian restaurants. Even before vegetarian and vegan food grew in popularity vegetarian restaurants were already popular with certain ethnic groups whose beliefs did not allow them to eat meat. In the late 19th century there were a number of vegetarian restaurants as a large group of intellectuals took to vegetarianism. There was a total of 34 vegetarian restaurants in 1888 located in Soho and the West End as the virtues of being meat free were already being discussed.
The recent growth in popularity of both vegan and vegetarian food is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, people are concerned about the environment and the damage that the farming of large numbers of animal stocks is doing. Secondly, people are concerned about their own health and the eating of different meats has had bad press in recent times. Finally, some people are concerned about animal welfare and no longer feel morally comfortable eating meat.
Vegan restaurants are relatively recent, and as well as being meat free no dairy related products are consumed. London at first didn’t have many vegan eateries but recently their popularity has gathered momentum. One of the most popular vegan restaurants is Fed by Water which is based in Hackney. The restaurant specialises in Mediterranean dishes with all of the Italian classics, such as risotto, lasagna and spaghetti being produced with no meat or dairy products. The only water that is used in the cooking is purified water. This means that the dishes are free from the chemicals that are found in every day water, such as chlorine.
There are many more vegetarian restaurants to be found as there are many more vegetarian customers. The oldest establishment is Manna located in Primrose Hill which has been operating since 1966. The menu includes many dishes, with their Thai green curry and coconut, nectar and lime tofu steak being popular favourites. The restaurant is also famed for its chic appearance. It is very white and simply decorated. The evening service is accompanied by many white candles and gives the restaurant a special and unique atmosphere.
In 1989 Adrian and Michael Daniel opened their first restaurant in Hammersmith. They have now expanded into a second restaurant, The Gate, which is located in Angel. They describe their food as “Indo-Iraqi Jewish” so simplified there is a Middle Eastern flavour to many of their dishes. There is a fine mezedes menu where diners can choose from either one, three or five plates. These plates include halloumi skewers, artichoke tempura and crunchy balls of couscous. There are fantastic desserts prepared, such as lavender crème brulee and apple tarte tatin with cinnamon ice cream.
Tibits is located in Mayfair and it is essentially a posh salad bar. The buffet style menu means that customers can fill their plated with a variety of dishes. Customers pay for their food by weight and have the option of taking the food home or eating on the premises. There are some classic dishes on offer, such as the aubergine quiche and the Lebanese wild rice.
As Londoners tastes have evolved in time there has been a change in the type of offerings in London restaurants. Many of the top meat eating restaurants include vegetarian and vegan options on their menus. However, the biggest change is that vegetarian eateries are now a major part of the London restaurant scene.