Restaurant review

Tendril, Soho: A lesson in how to execute a near-perfect vegan menu

Hannah Twiggs visited Rishim Sachdeva’s central London pop-up to discover great vegan food, and that’s exactly what she got

<p>Never sticking to one cuisine, Rishim’s Middle Eastern-slash-East Asian take on Mexican tostada is the definition of that fusion done well</p>

Never sticking to one cuisine, Rishim’s Middle Eastern-slash-East Asian take on Mexican tostada is the definition of that fusion done well

I’ve never been intimidated by a pile of vegetables before,” says Boyfriend quietly, almost to himself, as his fork hovers indecisively over, yes, what is essentially a big pile of vegetables. It is, in fact, deliciously rich ras el hanout-tinged ratatouille on a bed of refreshing basil puree, the main course on Tendril, Soho’s vegan discovery menu.

When I heard that Rishim Sachdeva, whose best hits include The Fat Duck, Almeida and Chiltern Firehouse, was offering a seven-course tasting menu at Tendril’s current residency at the Sun & 13 Cantons pub behind Carnaby Street, I thought: this is perfect. I am here during Veganuary, on a mission to convince said fussy-eating other half that vegan food isn’t all kale, lentils and tofu. A couple of years ago, Rishim, a self-proclaimed “hardcore carnivore”, set out on a mission to “satisfy my cravings as a meat-eater while giving me satisfaction as a chef”, and he never looked back.

The boxy back room of a Fuller’s boozer might seem like a strange location for an eclectic menu where the vegetable is the main event, but Rishim isn’t the first young, bright star to grace this off-the-beaten-track spot. In 2015, Asma Khan was here right before she opened the iconic Darjeeling Express; the same goes for Budgie Montoya and Sarap. It’s also attracted the attention of some high-profile celebrity foodies, such as Maisie Williams and Lily Collins. I have high hopes.

The appetisers – artichoke on the left, smoked aubergine on the right – set the tone for the rest of the menu

The ratatouille, in my opinion, is the least offensive course on the menu from a carnivore’s perspective. When the opening dish arrives, I hesitate: have I made a mistake? Strands of chilled Jerusalem artichoke served on a cracker and topped with chives and chewy pieces of wakame. To me, a mouthful of flavour and texture heaven. To my dining partner? I instruct him to get a bit of everything on his fork and to just trust me. “It’s actually pretty good!” Crisis averted. He’s right, it is actually pretty good – one of those unexpectedly successful flavour combinations. It could be read, however, as somewhat of a warning for what’s to come: there will be no f***ing around with this menu. You have come to discover vegan food and that is exactly what you will be discovering.

I’m happy to be on that expedition, but the next dish causes raised eyebrows even for me: a thin slab of puffy pastry topped with tahini, smoked aubergine and a chilli cucumber relish. On paper, I expected to adore this dish, but in practice the smokiness of the aubergine is overpowering, forcing you to again carefully construct each forkful to ensure an equal amount of all the components, a recurring theme of our meal. Perhaps this is the desired approach, rather than my default inhaling of whatever is in front of me. Boyfriend, for whom aubergine is always a red flag (I have taken to lying about the ingredients of a dish until the end: “What’s this grey stuff?” “Oh, I think it’s just onion…”), is not swayed this round.

We have more success with the final appetiser, a charcoal tostada topped with creamy muhammara (Syrian walnut and roasted red pepper paste) and tiny cubes of winter squash and chard kimchi. Never sticking to one cuisine, Rishim’s Middle Eastern-slash-East Asian take on Mexican tostada is the definition of that fusion done well. The salty-crispy kimchi goes down a treat with the meat lover, who also gives a thumbs up to the muhammara. In a flash, it’s all gone, and I’m left wishing it would be turned into a main dish, perhaps with each tortilla hosting a different array of toppings.

The cauliflower and Chinatown potatoes on the left, led beautifully to the mains, ratatouille and basil puree, on the right

The service at Tendril is fast and personal, but not overbearingly so. An apron-clad Rishim can be seen whizzing in and out of the kitchen serving dishes direct to diners, all smiles. General manager Kate is on hand with a warm welcome and plenty of recommendations. The team seems to operate very much like a family, which is the right fit for such a cosy space. New dishes appear as quickly as empty bowls (let’s face it, both licked clean by me) are whisked away. We barely have time to contemplate our filling stomachs when the starters arrive. It is at this point Boyfriend realises that no, I have not tricked him. Vegan food can be good – really good. You have a choice of two dishes: my favourite is the roasted cauliflower, pickled lime, moilee and black rice. The ambiguous menu descriptions leave much to the imagination, but it’s better this way and we’re certainly not disappointed by what arrives: crispy morsels of cauliflower slathered in a thick, creamy sauce with hints of maple and almond on a bed of nutty, almost purple, black rice. The second option is a plate of “Chinatown” purple potatoes in a sticky soy glaze with a bit of a kick, served in a big sesame cracker and topped with slices of fresh radish and spring onion. The potatoes are so caramelised, they’re almost meaty, hinting at all kinds of possibilities for future dishes I’ll be trying at home. Not one drop of the sauce is left. We devour it all.

How do they make tiramisu vegan? No idea, but it’s great

The aforementioned main course is a delight, a lesson in how vegan menus don’t need to be overcomplicated: a few simple vegetables treated well can be transformed into a stunning, gourmet dish worthy of centre stage on a menu. The basil puree is an especially nice touch, adding a pinch of freshness to an otherwise rich plate, and another culinary hack I’ll be keeping up my sleeve. “This should be served with pasta,” opines Boyfriend. I suppose that’s one way I could get more vegetables into his diet. He adds that the ratatouille looks nothing like it does in the movie. Sigh. It’s served with a plate of beautifully colourful heritage carrots that are on the crunchy side, and a bowl of quinoa, tomato and cucumber. I can see they’ve been added for even more freshness, but they feel surplus to requirements here. The flavours of the ratatouille shine on their own. To finish, “dessert of the day”, which in this case was a delicious dollop of vegan tiramisu. How do you make heavily dairy tiramisu vegan, you might ask? I have no idea, but whatever Rishim has put in it has resulted in a simultaneously indulgent and light finale. Boyfriend, who so far has turned his nose up at any mention of vegan chocolate, is satisfied.

For £29 per person, the insanely delicious discovery menu is extremely good bang for your buck. Working with the seasons and the availability of quality produce, the menu has already changed since my visit – some of the dishes mentioned here make an appearance on the Valentine’s Discovery Menu, alongside some tempting additions such as lentil parfait with fennel, dill pickle and aubergine, and smoked salsify in XO sauce with lime beetroot, though I doubt I’d be able to tempt Boyfriend into it. If you’re already veggie or vegan, or you’ve dabbled in either, you’ll love this pop-up. It doesn’t fall into the trap of some other plant-based menus of being too ambitious or overly complex. Laid-back, imaginative food cooked with “flair, care and just the right level of technique” reads the front of the menu, and it’s spot on. If you’re completely new to plant-based dining, however, you might be overwhelmed, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

If I was going back, I would perhaps dine a la carte, where some of the signature dishes you’ll see doing the rounds on Instagram can be found. I drooled at the chipotle grilled mushrooms with peanut glaze and BBQ leeks as they whizzed by, and I’m gutted to have missed the crispy celeriac terrine with nigella seed remoulade and lime puree. It seems a shame these weren’t included on the discovery menu, though I suppose it gives you a reason to go back. Like so many places these days, it’s somewhere you should go in a group, so you can try a bit of everything. If it’s not already in the works, I beg the powers that be to make this a permanent spot.

Tendril @ The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, London, W1F 9NG | 07842 797 541 | hello@tendrilkitchen.co.uk

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