Jini Reddy gets bowled over by the truffles at this ethical venue in Soho, London
Depending on your point of view, Vantra is either a temple to eco-cuisine or a hangout for hippy-health types. Offering meat, egg and dairy-free food, as well as a juice and vegan coffee bar, it opened two years ago and is still going strong.
The food is buffet-style and you pay up-front: £14.90 for an all-you-can-eat plate, £11.90 for a one-off fill-up, and a few pounds for small bowls. The ambiance is relaxed and Zen-like – busy Friday nights being the exception. You sit on benches at long tables and the spacious room is dominated by a silk, metal and bamboo sculpture created by artist and member of staff, 25-year-old Julius Augustinavicius. “It’s meant to represent the flow of nature, energy & movement,” he told me.
The menu is a smorgasbord of sauce-laden Asian-slanted dishes such as Thai green curry, vegan stroganoff with Shiitake mushrooms, dahl, tofu stew and chick-pea curry. To accompany, there are also soups, rice noodles, brown rice and lots of salads. Nothing is fried or microwaved, no harmful fats are used, and everything is heated to the lowest temperatures possible; so you can’t fault the preparation.
But how did it all taste? To my mind, a little indistinct, one dish blurring into another on the plate – unrepentant meat eaters are unlikely to be converted to the cause – but it’s good value, healthy and unhurried.
Where Vantra really shines is its desserts. Lower GI-index alternatives like coconut palm syrup are used in place of sugar, and worth a visit alone are its scrumptious raw chocolate truffles, gluten-free chocolate cake and wheat-free muffins. Its drinks also impress: energising cocktails and ‘mocktails’ made from freshly pressed juices and superfoods, organic wines, teas, nut-milk based smoothies, soya lassis and exotic coffees. Lucuma iced cremalatte, anyone?
On my first visit, one diner stood up, bowed and solemnly thanked me for “being present” (this before I knocked over a glass of water!). On my second, a friendly nutritionist leaned over, told me she was a regular, adored the food and was full of praise for the staff. I can’t imagine too many restaurants where these sorts of exchanges would take place, or feel entirely natural, but at Vantra, they do and are an intrinsic part of its charm.