October 1st marks World Vegetarian Day – the ideal opportunity to embrace going meat-free and experimenting with a herbivore lifestyle, if only for 24 hours. Established by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977, the day aims to promote the benefits of vegetarianism – from health and environmental advantages, to humanitarian and ethical points of consideration.
These days more and more of us are choosing an increasingly vegetable-rich lifestyle. Even if you’re not strictly a vegetarian, chances are you’re considerate of what goes into your body. Research shows that those following a vegetarian diet are less likely to suffer heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, various cancers, bowel disorders, kidney stones, and osteoporosis, while dark leafy greens are known to be a fabulous source of nutrients and antitoxins. Even if you’re a die-hard steak fan, you can’t deny the benefits of upping the veg content in your meals.
While countries like India and cities such as Barcelona, Berlin and San Francisco are considered havens for those that enjoy eating vegetarian meals, the UK has been relatively slow on the uptake of this cuisine (perhaps because of the old ‘meat-and-two-veg’ mantra loved by previous generations). But now more and more dedicated cafes and restaurants are popping up, offering a chance to indulge in delicious meat-free options – whether you’re a staunch veggie or a curious diner.
So, since October has been adopted as Vegetarian Awareness Month, why not make your way to one of these dining hot-spots?
This airy, relaxed and bright restaurant in Soho has been serving vegetarian food since 1988, and draws on inspiration from international dishes. Sri Lankan Sweet Potato Curry shares menu space with a Black Bean Burrito, or treat yourself to a hearty meal like the Portobello, Wild Mushroom and Ale Pie. The decor uses cool, natural tones and there’s a breezy friendliness that makes you feel immediately welcome. Guests can grab a cocktail at the bar (we recommend the Rosemary Martini) and there’s even a sleek wood-panelled dining room if you want to book a party.
RAW, part of the La Suite West hotel near Kensington Park, is perfect for those wanting to really throw themselves into a clean-eating lifestyle. It’s also a great place to take someone that assumes vegetarian dining is all about little ‘rustic’ cafes, or that the cuisine can’t have a fine-dining edge. The menu at RAW has been created by chef Nik Heartland, who is passionate about offering dishes that change people’s preconceptions about ‘health food’ (i.e., that it’s boring). As a result, many of the items aim to make the best of nature’s bounty. The new menu sounds divine, with items such as BBQ Korean Fried Tempeh Burger with Kimchi Coleslaw, and we loved the Aubergine Sweet Miso when we visited – see the review here.
Situated just off the main drag of Tottenham Court Road on Soho St, Govinda’s serves simple, delicious Indian vegetarian food that is nonetheless some of the tastiest in the city. Run by Hare Krishna people (there’s a temple upstairs), it is a no-frills cafe with a counter and rickety seating options. The variety is wonderful though, with about ten different salads each day. The real thing to do is go for the Thali and heap up your metal plate with a selection of veggie curry, dahl, rice and chapatti. Plus don’t leave without trying their Mango Lassi. Govinda’s also promotes a ‘Karma Free Diet’ – meaning all their dishes are offered to Lord Krishna before being served and are therefore called prasadam, which means the Mercy of God!
Mira Manek is a firm believer that Indian food can be healthy, tasty and light – and this passion for nutrition is reflected in the vibrant and inventive dishes she posts on her blog. From Kale & Bean Burgers to Date & Coconut Macaroons, you can browse a host of innovative recipes that are crying out to be tried. And, as well as supplying delicious snacks like her Spice Bites and Coco Fudge to health emporiums such as Raw Press in Mayfair, she also organises wellness events like yoga, brunches and supper-clubs. Keep an eye on miramanek.com or follow her @miramanek for upcoming chances to try her dishes, or browse her recipes and give them a go yourself, such as this fabulous healthy version of ‘vagharela bhaat’, made with cauliflower, coconut and spices.
1 cauliflower, shredded/ very finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ginger, garlic, chilli paste or just freshly chopped ginger
10 curry leaves
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon coriander powder, optional
½ teaspoon cumin powder, optional
2-3 tablespoons coconut flakes
Start by finely grating the cauliflower or using a food processor to evenly and finely chop. Place the oil and cumin seeds in a pan on low heat and wait until the cumin is brown. Now add the ginger, garlic and chilli paste. You can alternatively grate some fresh ginger – without garlic and chilli – if you prefer. Add the curry leaves and then the chopped cauliflower. Stir for a minute before adding the turmeric, coriander and cumin powders as well as the coconut flakes. Add the coriander leaves, mix thoroughly for another minute and serve with a sprinkle of coconut flakes.
Coming soon: Look out for our piece on the best veggie Instagrams to follow!