Tucked away in London's legal enclave, not far from the Royal Courts of Justice, it had a slight hush of the courtroom about it, although it may have been that it was early in the evening.
We had an amuse-bouche of green apple jelly with fir pine cream, a brave move given that the aroma of pine is mostly associated with cleaning products. Home-made bread was decent – the seeded wholemeal was a lot more interesting than the buttermilk muffin, I thought.
|Yorkshire Gouda with Crisp Black Sheep Ale Bread, Salted Caramel Powder and Ale Soaked Raisins|
I have a passion for all kinds of brie – from a buttery Cornish St Endellion to a Brie de Meaux that you can smell at 50 paces. But I’ve never had brie ice-cream, so when I spotted it on the starter menu it seemed like it was meant to be. It came, amusingly, in a mini cone, with plum sauce. The creamy texture of brie lends itself well to ice-cream. Ultimately, though, it was more of a clever conceit than anything else. Cheese straight from the fridge is never at its best, because the cold dulls the flavour, so near-frozen cheese felt like it was missing some of its spirit.
The other half had “Whipped Jacket Potato and Crispy Shallots, Tomato Syrup and Wensleydale Cheese”. It was a big bowl of creamy potato, somewhere between mash and soup, garnished with shallots like mini onion rings. At first I thought it was bland, but then I realised it was incredibly well done – a celebration of a single, simple ingredient, the essence of a buttery baked potato in every mouthful.
I had difficulty choosing a main course, not least because I had difficulty imagining what some of the dishes would be like. Unless you have a hatred of eggs or celeriac, how do you choose between “Poached Organic Hen Egg and Ribblesdale Pudding, Hickory Smoke Potato Croquette and Pineapple Pickle” and “Salted and Ash Baked Celeriac and Foraged Garlic Leaf, Whey Poached Celeriac, Purple Broccoli, Curd and Elderflower Cream”?
In the end I had fried mushroom mousse with pea-filled tarragon pancakes and grapefruit foam. It was like an artwork on the plate, though not exactly substantial (It’s funny how making food look beautiful seems to demand a lot of white space on the plate). It was very good – sweet peas and pea shoots setting off the earthiness of the mushroom mousse. There was rather a lot of grapefruit foam, though, which had a sledgehammer flavour that belied its ethereal texture.
|Not the world's greatest picture of Walnut Panna Cotta and Blue Stilton Dumplings|
The unusual sweet-savoury combinations continued into the dessert menu, which felt oddly uncompelling. Am I the only one that doesn't much fancy "Liquid Doughnut and Warm Espresso Gel"? Or a "White Chocolate and Cep tart with Corn Flake Cake, Picpoul Sorbet (it's a variety of grape, by the way) and Crispy Tarragon"? The most appealing sounding was the cheese - "Yorkshire Gouda with Crisp Black Sheep Ale Bread, Salted Caramel Powder and Ale Soaked Raisins". In effect it was cheese, bread and raisins - nothing wrong with that, though I am not sure that making the bread crisp was worthwhile.
Our other dessert turned out to be the tour de force. Not being a huge peanut butter fan, I was unconvinced by the sound of Peanut Butter Cheesecake and Cracked Cocoa Beans, Banana and Thyme Bread and Toffee Sauce. But it was a joy to eat. Another piece of modern art on the plate, it was not a cheesecake as we know it. Rather there were dainty cylinders of peanut-butter-flavoured, some crumbs (presumably to represent the cheesecake base) and the cocoa beans, crushed into a coarse grit that delivered a visceral punch of chocolate. Together they danced on the tongue, a dance that became a ballet with the addition of the chocolate sauce. You couldn't help but marvel at the effort involved in making each of the components, even the banana and thyme cake, which would have made a perfectly fine dessert on its own.
|Peanut butter cheesecake - but not as we know it|
So I won't be going there every week, but I hope we might see more restaurants like Vanilla Black. It's vegetarian food without being holier-than-thou or even a hint of self-denial. It's food that glories in being (mostly) good, exciting. food, rather than in being meatless. Which is how it should be.
17- 18 Tooks Court, London, EC4A 1LBinfo@vanillablack.co.uk
020 7242 2622
020 7242 2622