Vanilla Black, 17-18 Took's Court, London EC4

It's hardly surprising that the churn rate among newspaper restaurant reviewers is slower than the industry average. Why would anyone voluntarily give up a job that allows them to travel the country, eating and drinking? You'd have to prise this gig out of my cold, dead hand.

There are exceptions, though. Take my friend Andy, who accepted the position of restaurant critic with a Sunday newspaper, but omitted to tell them that for ethical reasons he didn't eat meat. After a couple of anguished months of subterfuge, of florid overwriting about fish dishes and wine lists, he threw in the scented hand-towel and resigned.

If only he'd hung on. Because at last, a restaurant has arrived that Andy could have written about with authority. Somewhere that doesn't assume that just because a person doesn't eat flesh, they don't really care about food.

Before I start getting hate mail, I completely accept that there are loads of great places for veggies to eat, such as South Indian restaurants, and ... oh, there must be some others. But where do non-meat-eaters go when they want to dress up and eat posh? Either they have to settle for the token "and finally" vegetable dish on a regular menu, or go to a specifically vegetarian restaurant and risk being served seven shades of slop.

Can you sense an "until now" approaching round the bend? And here it comes ... because Vanilla Black is without doubt the best vegetarian restaurant I've been to in this country. It's certainly the poshest. Tucked away in London's law quarter, off Chancery Lane, it's an elegant townhouse restaurant, whose chandeliers and double-napped tables give no hint that you're entering a flesh-free zone.

And here's the amazing thing: not only does the stylish interior offer no hint of scrubbed pine, but the chef really knows what he's doing. The cooking is refined, adventurous and presented with an artist's eye for shape and colour. Heritage vegetables and artisan British cheeses are lovingly incorporated into dishes which – oh happy day – are hardly brown at all, and completely sludge free.

Of my two guests, it was Alexei Sayle who approached the occasion with the most enthusiasm: being a carnivorous Marxist in a vegetarian restaurant in the City probably appealed to his sense of the absurd. My other guest, veggie Helen, was more reluctant. But she perked up when she saw the menu, which reads so temptingly it provoked bickering. Alexei won round one, with a superior take on the cheese toastie, featuring Fosseway Fleece sheep's cheese, and home-made piccalilli. You have to love a menu that offers piccalilli on the same page as "watercress and truffle oil purée"; the latter came with a terrine that combined sweet sweated leek with chunky potato, showcasing what can be achieved with the simplest of ingredients.

From the dustier end of the seed catalogue, candy-striped beetroot looked amazing on the plate – vividly whorled in red and cream, served raw and sliced thin, to underpin a starter salad. The rare-breed vegetables are supplied by Secretts, we were told, which as Alexei said, sounds like a certain sort of gentlemen's club.

Two of our three main courses were knock-out, particularly a weird-sounding but brilliant combination of Caerphilly cheese pudding, smoked-potato croquette and pineapple chutney. Beetroot and red onion tatin had been carefully cooked, with real depth of flavour coaxed out of the beetroot; an accompanying mousse delivered a gentle horseradish afterburn.

A sweet potato "vindaloo" worked less well: it wasn't a curry, but roasted sweet potato on saffron rice, with an onion-sweet pakora supplying some needed bite.

Given that most of what had gone before looked like dessert – Alexei described it as looking like food from a movie set in the near-future – the desserts were predictably easy on the eye. Unctuous almond cake came with slightly sour yoghurt ice cream, while the kitchen indulged its propensity for little jokes with a "fig roll" – caramelised figs sandwiched between shortbread – on a tracery of tea-flavoured syrup.

There's a humility about Vanilla Black that bears out the theory that vegetarians are nicer people than the rest of us. Nowhere on the menu or website does the chef's name appear. He's actually chef/ patron Andrew Dargue, whose partner Donna takes care of front of house. The couple moved to London earlier this year from York, where Vanilla Black was a hugely popular local phenomenon. Their new – and much larger – premises aren't yet generating the same kind of buzz, though there is clearly a potential constituency of legal and City people with restricted diets for whom this kind of menu would be a godsend.

It's certainly somewhere I'll be recommending in the future, and not just to vegetarians. I might even take Andy. Poor guy could do with a decent meal.

Vanilla Black, 17-18 Took's Court, London EC4 (020-7242 2622)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 starsDDDDD
Service 4 starsDDDDD

Set menu, three courses £30 a head.

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, and 100 per cent of it goes to staff; all tips go to the staff"

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions