A comprehensive guide to the best vegan restaurants in London

It’s January and veganism is back on the menu. Whether you’re plant-based or not, these London restaurants serve some of the best food in the biz, says Maya Oppenheim

Sunday 08 January 2023 06:30 GMT
With wontons like these, it’s no surprise Tofu Vegan is fully booked for weeks to come
With wontons like these, it’s no surprise Tofu Vegan is fully booked for weeks to come (Maya Oppenheim)

It would be fair to say my first encounters with veganism were not experiences I am in a rush to repeat. My first skirmish being a vegan teenage boyfriend insisting on frying me up bubble-gum-pink coloured “facon” (the unappetising name given to fake bacon). I squirmed inside but was too filled with teenage angst to do anything but nervously eat it.

Other encounters with veganism came in the form of unseasoned, flavourless stews cooked up by activist friends. I don’t think “slop in a pot” was ever the formal name given to this particular dish but it feels like the correct one.

A decade and a half later and I now have a wholly different attitude to vegan food. While the inexplicable phobia of “facon” continues to grip me, my snobbery and prejudices about veganism have retreated. Although, I doubt I will ever become a vegan – due to my gluttony being too stubborn – I now eat less meat and dairy than I used to and can honestly say I enjoy vegan food.

And the data shows that I am not alone, with increasing numbers of Britons now eating a totally or predominantly plant-based diet. After all, the scientific consensus is simple: eating a plant-based diet has benefits for your own personal health and that of the planet.

A recent poll by YouGov discovered some two per cent of Britons refer to themselves as vegan, while three per cent say they are likely to do Veganuary this January. For those that don’t know, Veganuary is what it sounds like on the tin and involves taking up a vegan lifestyle during January.

Surprise, surprise, the poll found younger people are more likely to do veganuary, with one in eight non-vegan Britons aged between 18 and 24 saying they are planning to do veganuary.

With that in mind, here are some of the best vegan restaurants I have tried in London – some of which have restaurants further afield in the UK.

Spice Box

Bar the fact the bench could do with a few more cushions, or that they had run out of the two yummiest looking dishes on the menu (the mushroom madras and carrot thoran), I was swept off my feet by Spice Box. I arrived at the Walthamstow plant-based Indian restaurant in “hangry” mode – the edgy anxiety-imbued kind – but left the place grinning like a Cheshire Cat dosed up on Prozac. All I drank was chai tea, so I only have the food and wonderful, warm waiters to thank for that ear-to-ear smile.

Spice Box: Expect generous portions of well-spiced, well-presented food overflowing with flavour (Maya Oppenheim)

The homemade pickles were arrestingly, superbly tangy, which meant we were off to a sterling start as pickles line the path to my heart, being the savoury counterpart to a Haribo Tangtastic (and this is coming from a Haribo enthusiast!). The sharing street bites selection was delicious – with a special mention to the onion bhajis. The individually battered strips of onion I will remember for the rest of my days and would be worth coming back for alone.

Other highlights included the tarka dal (FYI, it gained the mantle of best dal in Britain at the British Dal Festival) and the cashew and coconut cream korma – to which we added “chick’n”, which tasted double-takingly similar to the real stuff. We finished off with a paratha heaped with biscoff, cardamon sauce and vanilla ice cream. This is not the right dish for someone who doesn’t have a super sweet tooth – lucky for them I do. To sum up, Spice Box has generous portions of well-spiced, well-presented food overflowing with fervent flavour in pleasing metal dishes.


Japanese cuisine and veganism go hand in hand; with soya bean, rice, noodles, vegetable, fruit and seaweed being core components of the Japanese diet. For this reason, when you sit down for a meal in Itadakizen, the first Japanese vegan restaurant in Europe, you do not miss meat, fish or dairy one little bit. On the contrary, the dishes feel complete and satisfying.

First opening its doors 14 years ago, Itadakizen, which predominately uses organic ingredients, is slap bang on King’s Cross Road. But if you ignore the red double-decker buses flying past or the fact you are surrounded by eerie-looking hotels, homeless hostels and lost tourists, then you’d almost think you were sitting in a restaurant in Tokyo.

While some Japanese restaurants in London feel heavily anglicised, Itadakizen doesn’t. As such, it is no surprise to learn Itadakizen also has a branch in Kyoto in Japan. Not to mention Shrewsbury in Shropshire and in Paris too.

If the gyozas and tofu at Itadakizen are anything to go by, the rest of the menu is probably excellent (Maya Oppenheim)

From the navy blue bamboo-adorned curtain half-covering the kitchen to the large jars of homemade pickles, the whiteboard, dried flowers, bamboo, beautiful crockery and sake bottles, this small, intimate restaurant oozes the effortless minimalist clean design the Japanese are deservedly famous for. And fortunately, the decor inside Itadakizen matches the food; both being simple, clean, understated and tasteful.

From the tofu steak smothered with the restaurant’s original teriyaki soy sauce to the plump gyozas accompanied with spicy sauce, to the intensely satisfying ramen and grounded tofu stir-fried with yangnyeom sauce atop donburi rice, to the passion fruit ice cream-filled mochi, not one mouthful disappointed. While of course, I did not try the whole menu, I am planning to, and until then I’d bet good money that everything served here is good. When you know, you know.

Sen Viet

Having grown up a stone’s throw from the so-called “Pho Mile”, the stretch of Vietnamese restaurants which runs from Hoxton to Shoreditch, I am relatively well-acquainted with the restaurants here. Despite this, I had never heard of Sen Viet until I started doing research for this article.

Battered deep-fried tofu at Sen Viet: exemplary (Maya Oppenheim)

Sen Viet bills itself as the first Vietnamese vegan restaurant to grace London. Delicious and reasonably priced, Sen Viet is a homely, relaxed neighbourhood spot replete with regulars. And it is not hard to see why people keep coming back for more. The food and the staff who work here pack a punch; both are full of life, warmth and oomph.

The crisp, springy deep-fried tofu was exemplary, as was their whole grilled aubergine dish which also featured betel leaf, mushroom, tofu, onion, and fried shallot, while the special pho noodle soup which hails from Northern Vietnam was rewardingly, energetically full-bodied. Adjectives like fresh and zingy may have been so overused they have lost their meaning, but they feel appropriate to use at Sen Viet. For all of the above and more, it makes sense that Sen Viet has recently opened a new spot in Edinburgh.

Tofu Vegan

If there is a cuisine in London I know better than all the rest, it is probably Sichuan. Around eight years ago, a time when Sichuan food was less well-known in London, I started making it my life’s work to go to as many spots as possible. That is why I was star-struck to learn the restauranteur behind Tofu Vegan, Zhang Chao, whom I met there, is also the man behind X’ian Impressions next to the Arsenal stadium in Highbury, Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles in Old Street, Sichuan PoPo, which has a branch in Earl’s Court and opposite the Chelsea stadium, among other Sichuan restaurants in London.

Tofu Vegan’s cold hand-shredded king oyster mushroom is ’something I could eat happily every week’ (Maya Oppenheim)

Being an avid fan of Chao’s restaurants, it is probably little surprise I also loved Tofu Vegan. Don’t be put off by the name; I genuinely think you could be non-plussed about veganism and tofu but still like the food in this place. And don’t be put off by the area either; Upper Street might be brimming with growing numbers of soulless sanitised chain restaurants but Tofu Vegan provides an antidote to the Islington road’s metamorphosis.

After tasting just a few mouthfuls, it immediately became clear meticulous planning had gone into these dishes. As I sat surrounded by glass jars of Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan chillis, dry shiitake mushrooms, and cloud ear mushrooms, I could not get my head around just how similar the dishes tasted to the meat and fish they were emulating. Although if you were in any danger of forgetting where you were, all the dishes were emblazoned with the words “Tofu Vegan”.

Stand-out dishes included the rich and spicy cold hand-shredded king oyster mushroom (something I could eat happily every week), the deep-fried chick’n with salt and Sichuan pepper, the twice-cooked fish and the “highly recommended” wontons in a house special sauce. As such, it did not surprise me to learn Tofu Vegan was fully booked for weeks to come and is so damn popular they have opened other branches of Tofu Vegan in Golders Green and Spitalfields.

Interestingly, Chao, who bills himself as the biggest Sichuan restauranteur in London, explained that around 70 per cent of visitors to Tofu Vegan are non-vegans. He notes some customers don’t even realise the food there is vegan until they are told at the end of the meal. This might be because Sichuan food lends itself exceedingly well to veganism; as is often the case with cuisines with bold audacious flavours.

Love Shack

To be honest, Love Shack is not the type of place I would ordinarily wander into. This is because I am generally suspicious of restaurants that don’t clearly align themselves to a cuisine or a style and whack a bit of everything on the menu. It always feels haphazard, lazy and non-committal.

But Love Shack can be accused of neither slur. Well, apart from the first, which would certainly be one way to describe the eclectic interiors. Inside is filled with typewriters, musical instruments, chunky old television sets, and other miscellaneous trinkets. Think squat chic.

A favourite at Love Shack: the exquisitely presented coconut laksa (Maya Oppenheim)

But don’t be so put off by cutesy unmemorable memorabilia that you forget to try the food. The chefs clearly take a lot of pride in their cooking and the fare on offer here is top-notch. My favourites included the oyster mushroom buffalo wings, the exquisitely presented coconut laksa, and the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. Rather fittingly, upon leaving I noticed the bus stop outside is graffitied with the words “love wins” in the same shade of blue as the outside sign on Love Shack.

Facing Heaven

If I owned a restaurant, there is a strong probability I would decorate it like this place. Something about the pink glittery table cloths, plastic red roses, black and white chessboard floor, brightly coloured hanging lights and Betty Boop figurine struck a chord with me. But decor aside, the main reason I have included Facing Heaven in this round-up is because it rips up the prevailing misconception that vegan food is characterised by restraint and puritanism yet devoid of indulgence or joy.

Big on flavours and creative licence, the dishes will blow your narrow little mind. Out of all the restaurants on the list, this Hackney spot would be the best place for a vegan naysayer to dip their toes into. Although be prepared for them to grow numb and tingly from the Sichuan peppercorns.

For the unenlightened, Facing Heaven is the reincarnation of Mao Chow, a much-loved smaller spot that was just metres away on Mare Street. I went to Mao Chao twice and loved it both times – the dan dan noodles remaining firmly lodged in my mind. While I have only been to Facing Heaven, which is hidden away on a side street just off Mare Street, once, I will be back there as soon as I can manage it.

Facing Heaven’s chicken fried shrooms are addictively good (Maya Oppenheim)

When I stepped inside, this article was not at the forefront of my mind. Instead, I simply tucked into a meal with my family. But after loving everything I ate – the dependence-formingly more-ish chicken fried shrooms and juicy fennel and sausage rice cakes being firm favourites – I realised it would be rude not to include it in the list. So here you have it.

When you are there, make sure you have a chat with LA chef Julian Denis. He explains his cooking is both a nod to his LA roots and “an ode and love letter to regional Chinese flavours”. Denis, whose mother is Portuguese and father Puerto Rican, trained as a chef in New York at Fung Tu, learning how to cook in a Chinese kitchen. Denis’ razor-sharp humour, vivacious cheer and signature earring are the jewel in the crown of Facing Heaven.


You do not feel guilty for stuffing your face with food at Naifs. This is because the food on offer at this family-run Peckham restaurant feels like it is home-cooked. I know, I know, it is an overdone, misused platitude, but in this case, it is accurate. And it is relatively healthy home-cooked food at that. Although, don’t you worry, not the dull quinoa atop kale LA Duracell yoga bunny brand of healthy.

The home-cooked feel of the place is buoyed by the fact Naifs, which offers a seasonal set meal, is run by a couple: Anne Stokes and Tom Heale. Anne is on front-of-house duties, while Tom is the head chef. What’s more, unusually enough for this type of small plates restaurant, Tom’s two brothers also work at Naifs; his brother Finn in the kitchen alongside him, while his other brother Max is on the drinks, which, for the record, are gorgeous (cocktails, mocktails, low alcohol beers, natural and biodynamic wines and ciders). On top of this, Anne explains her dad helped build the restaurant, while her partner’s father has his artwork hanging. When she explains they strive to make the restaurant feel like a dinner party in someone’s house, I can see what she means.

You’ll be made to feel right at home at Naifs (Maya Oppenheim)

While the menu is a little inaccessible, Anne kindly explains this is a deliberate attempt to spark conversation with diners. Other than the onion dip, which I found a little too flatly onion-y for my liking and lacking in depth, I enjoyed it all. The sauerkraut and onion fritters were especially good. So good, in fact, that I feel hungry writing about them. While they didn’t taste overwhelmingly like sauerkraut to me, this didn’t matter one bit and perhaps was a good thing given how acrid it can be. Anyway, they were wonderfully crisp on the outside, giving way to a gracefully soft texture inside.

Now for the BBQ red pepper kebab skewer with suede skordalia and harrissa. Well, it is not the type of thing I would usually go for as it screams Fisher Price gastro pub afterthought veggie option to me (if you ignore the dish’s long fancy name), but my goodness gracious me: they were nothing like I expected. Instead, they were perfectly flavoured and textured. Again, the smoked lentil pâté wouldn’t be my first choice on a menu but it was luxurious and full-flavoured – like a less rich, albeit still delicious, meat pâté. Which I guess is the point, but they actually managed it.


I often find Christmas dinner a little disappointing. Don’t worry, I always wait a couple of days until I say this, knowing full well this is not the comment my family, who have slaved away cooking dinner, while I sluggishly make one dish, want to hear. And to be fair, their Christmas dinner is always damn good (thank you, if you are reading this). But no matter how good the execution of Christmas dinner is, its very premise can start to feel repetitive, formulaic and uninspiring.

However, when I sat down to eat my early Christmas dinner at Plates, that dreary deja vu I just described was all but a distant memory. While everything on the menu was 10/10, the “ballotine of winter vegetables with sage stuffing, roast potatoes cooked in coconut fat, sticky parsnips, smoky sprouts, caramelised-onion gravy and redcurrants” was unreal. A special shout-out to the ballotine of winter vegetables with sage stuffing which was rich, earthy and meaty with soft buttery pastry. Excuse all the non-vegan descriptions but don’t worry, they make the food no less vegan!

Christmas dinner is far from boring at Plates (Maya Oppenheim)

Plates, located in Dalston in East London, was the first vegan fine-dining experience to arrive in London. The restaurant, which takes sustainability and seasonality seriously, is an exploratory and daring place. Like every restaurant included in this round-up, it is most definitely somewhere to try – irrespective of whether you are vegan or not.

Kirk Haworth, the head chef, has spent over a decade and a half working at Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide and clearly knows his stuff. Don’t be put off by the decidedly hip, but undeniably beautiful interior; the waiters in Plates were warm and approachable. As is the food.

Gauthier Soho

Sitting down to eat dinner in Gauthier Soho, I felt like a cartoon character. This is because it was the first time I encountered a cloche in real life, the dome dish covers you see in posh restaurants (but also in cartoons).

Tucked away in a red-carpeted Georgian Soho townhouse, the heady chaos of the streets that surround you are out of sight and mind. Gauthier Soho, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2011, became totally vegan in 2021. While you still get the consummate French fine-dining experience here, two bastions of French cooking – meat and dairy – have long been extradited. Nevertheless, the nine-course tasting menu is outstanding. As such, it is no surprise to learn it is popular among vegans and non-vegans alike.

The truffle tortellini at Gauthier Soho was ‘celestial’ (Maya Oppenheim)

The truffle tortellini had a celestial quality; the melt in your mouth interior uplifted by the velvety sauce in which it was enveloped. While the praline, almond, hazelnut, chocolate dessert is the culinary equivalent of the one who got away – returning to me in pre-sleep food craving daydreams. Hats off to Alexis Gauthier, the chef famed for his work on MasterChef, but also to the waiter with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the menu. Gauthier, who held Michelin stars for well over a decade, is vegan himself and his restaurant has a very low carbon footprint thanks to the ingredients they use.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in