Having a vegetarian-only menu can suggest one of two things – either you’re trying too hard to follow trends, or you’re really aware of the need to offer vegetarians – and anyone who doesn’t want meat – more than just a goat’s cheese tart and roasted peppers. Thankfully, in OXO’s case, I’m sure it’s an earnest bid to provide better options.
Inside, the restaurant is fresh, modern, clean and crisp with views over St Pauls and the river below. And as somewhere that offers one of the best views in town – form the eighth floor of the OXO Tower – you’ll always have people wanting to visit, no matter what’s on the menu. Even if there’s no meat.
This spring vegetarian menu changes every three months in turn with the season. And I was surprised that the restaurant was full with people so eager to eat solely vegetarian food. Until I realised there was an a la carte menu too. Both have been created by head chef Jeremy Bloor, where the vegetarian menu was designed in the hope of creating something innovative and as enticing as the a la carte experience. It focuses on using ingredients such as parsnips, beans, wild garlic, radishes and sweet potatoes – nothing too out of this world. But when used to their full advantage, it brings a whole new meaning – and most importantly taste – to vegetables.
The menu is short, something that’s welcomed. There’s nothing worse (bar the ridiculousness of pictures) than a huge menu that takes half an hour to read. The only slight confusion is where the starters end and the mains begin on the “starters/main” section that has seven dishes. All meat-free, of course.
But beneath every dish are other items in the dish you might find offensive– milk, gluten, eggs, celery and even sulphites. As if someone who didn’t want to eat meat might also be gluten free, vegan and allergic to everything – I didn’t even know you could be allergic to celery. It is pigeon holing at its best – assuming if you’re one, you might be another. I can understand dairy or nuts – at a push. But sulphites? I’m not sure it’s needed.
As it turns out, the first four are starters (and range from £9 to a whopping £16) and the final three cover the mains and range between £20-22. I chose what sounds like the least innovative starter – parsnip soup. Soup is not normally something I’d go for, especially outside of winter. But thanks to its mini shallot bajis with mango chutney, it’s lightly spiced with an added interest that is basically like an Indian crouton accompaniment to the creamy soup.
The other starters include a sweet potato pancake, served with Cornish brie and kumquat marmalade and a herb risotto ball with wild garlic, peas and almond cream. I rocked the boat by getting it wrong and ordering the Wye Valley asparagus as a main and was told they would make a main-dish size up. What I got, far exceeded any expectation – with edible courgette flowers and the tops of baby carrots radishes with their green foliage still attached, which looked like there were eagerly poking their tiny head out of the ground. The ground being the goat’s cheese which was more like a thin crème friache in texture, slathered across the right hand section of the plate with small long-stemmed mushrooms. But it was not only in appearance, the asparagus is chunky – but not woody, thanks to the slightly shaved stems – were thick with large spear heads and drizzled in oil and seasoned well to bring out their freshness.
Over to the real mains, the cheese crumble, made with walnut and tofu served in a mini cast iron pot is very rich, and topped with a Spenwood cheese crumble – a hard goat’s cheese that’s slightly sweet. It almost seems a little odd to order a side of vegetables with your, well vegetables – but they’re worth it, and hefty. The sprouting broccoli with toasted almonds and brown butter is the standout dish and is more than enough for two. There’s also the Chantenay carrots that are cooked well with a decent crunch as well as other dishes of new potatoes, kale, wild rocket and slightly unfittingly, chips.
The desserts – sorbets, rhubarb and custard with Hendrick’s gin sorbet and a blood orange and poppy seed cake lack chocolate for me. So I order the chocolate plate. Considering desserts don’t have meat in them anyway, I think it’s fair.
As only a handful of restaurants to offer a dedicated vegetarian menu – and probably no other with such a view – it’s beautifully executed to the point you could quite easily forget there’s no meat. Unless you’re a real meat lover, that is.
A three meal course for two and two cocktails is about £110.
Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, South Bank, London SE1 9PHReuse content