Over the past decade we’ve seen an unprecedented shift towards plant-based diets.
According to data seen by M&S, 3.5 million people now identify as vegan, 20 per cent of under-35s have tried veganism, and 25 per cent of our evening meals are now meat-free. The main reasons for this can be summed up into three categories: environmental concerns, health benefits, and an increasing awareness of animal welfare.
This shift in attitudes has had a knock-on effect on the culinary world. It started with a surge in vegan street food and junk food, led by places like cult US brand ByChloe and meat-free fast food joint Temple of Seitan. But in recent years, vegan food has started to make its way into the Michelin-starred world, heralding the beginning of a new trend: vegan fine dining.
Everywhere from The Ritz to Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social are jumping aboard the vegan train, adding plant-based menus to their once meat-heavy repertoire. Some are taking it to a new level entirely, such as famed chef Alexis Gauthier who recently announced his restaurant Gauthier Soho will soon become 100 per cent vegan – having previously served 20kg of foie gras per week.
Here we chat to plant-based chef Bettina Campolucci Bordi from Bettina’s Kitchen about the rise in what she likes to call VINE dining, and the best places to experience it in London…
How has the vegan food scene changed in the past few years?
When I first started my journey into plant-based cooking around seven years ago, the choice and calibre of vegan fine dining options was almost incomparable to that of today. It’s no longer just the people who eat a fully vegan diet or avid followers of the movement who are enjoying this new offering of plant-based alternatives – veganism has gone mainstream.
This unstoppable momentum of vegan dining has spilt over from previously temporary and almost make-shift dishes for that tricky customer and month-long social challenges (Veganuary) into instigating a genuine shift in diner’s tastes and preferences. People are starting to become increasingly aware of wanting to eat better for their own personal health and wellbeing, as well as finally waking up to the reality of our environmental crisis. Many notable restaurants, chefs and companies are altering their menus to go beyond mock-meat and tofu to offer unique, delicious and memorable plant-based food.
What are the benefits of vegan fine dining?
The benefits surrounding eating seasonal and local plant-based foods are no secret in today’s day and age, with emotional, physical and environmental benefits coming in by the plate-load. But what about the finer dishes? The scope and creativity that becomes available with the removal of animal products allows fine dining dishes to truly transcend their predecessors through a combination of modern innovation with traditional techniques, textures and contrasting colours creating and reviving one’s love for food for both the consumer and the creator.
It’s a way of working alongside nature instead of against it, and showcasing how delicious plant-based eating can be. My secret is constantly inventing new flavours and adding lots of healthy fats like nuts, coconut and avocado to keep bellies full and satisfied – salads and beans no longer cut it.
What about the challenges?
Chantelle Nicholson from Marcus Wareing’s Tredwells – who has seen an increasing demand for plant-based dishes – notes that ‘there is more labour cost involved in [my] plant-based dishes. Consumers are not yet willing to pay the same amount for plant-based, thinking they will still be hungry after the meal if they miss out on meat or fish, and in a lot of cases this does create a challenge.’
From my own experience in the catering industry, it can be tricky to get people to try full vegan dishes in the first place. Once they have got over that hurdle, they more than often come back for more, declaring they barely even noticed the absence of their normal inclusions of meat and dairy.
What are the best spots for vegan fine dining in London?
There are some incredible places in London making vegetables a worthy star of the show, going out of their way to ensure the pleasure of vegan diners is as high as the rest of the table. From up-and-coming chefs to big names, it really is encouraging – not only as a plant-based chef but also an avid food lover – to see how many are keen to showcase just how delicious vegan food can be. Here are some of my favourites…
The Best Spots for Vegan Fine Dining in London
London born and bred Alyn Williams is at the helm of this classic Michelin-starred vegan menu. His culinary journey started at home where his father grew vegetables and cooked them with passion – which was passed down to Alyn and never left. He takes this passion and serves a fully vegan, super exciting menu which is beautifully paired with tasty and unusual wines.
Chef Patron Chantelle Nicholson, the mastermind behind their ‘Vegwells’ menu, goes above and beyond to offer exceptional vegan dishes that showcase the best British seasonal produce available, which is then paired perfectly with a range of harmonious wines.
Both the vegan and vegetarian options available and developed by traditional Japanese chefs on-site are out of this world. The Matcha Soba dish is a personal favourite, closely followed by the Tofu with Truffles. Dinings is a true example of how uncomplicated vegan dining can be, with no dish compromising on texture or flavour.
The classic vegan eatery, offering exquisite dishes which don’t rely on heavy spices or obvious meat replacements. The food completely thwarts all plant-based stereotypes in the most delicious ways possible.
Not only does Lyan Cub have a tasting menu of dreams, they’re also a locally sourced, low waste restaurant. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and have a uniquely clever way with food. Each visit here is unlike another – but always with a simple premise of bringing people together through good food.
Jason Atherton’s flagship store which proudly holds a Michelin Star is a modern urban meeting point that brings a range of unique and flavoursome vegan dishes to the table. Make sure to order their superb green bean, truffle and hazelnut salad, woodland mushroom rice and braised white kombu and scallions.
Scott Perkins is definitely on the one to watch list. Utilising his extensive and Michelin-trained expertise, his pop-ups across London bring plant-based dining experiences to your plates and palates.
Bettina’s new book, 7 Day Vegan Challenge: The Easy Guide To Going Vegan is out now (Hardie Grant, £15)