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London’s venerable Michelin-starred restaurant offers comfort and innovation in equal measure.
DISCOVERING A LONDON restaurant with a credible vegan menu is not the onerous task it once was. Thankfully, the days of reluctantly going for the uninspired falafel dish or pitiful salad are well and truly over. In 2022, vegan offerings are everywhere — from kebab pop-ups and poke bowl cafes to plant-based ramen haunts. Even Burger King recently relaunched its Leicester Square flagship restaurant as a 100% vegan concept for a one-month trial.
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For those wanting a more refined and substantial dining experience, Pied à Terre is one of London’s longest-standing independent Michelin-starred restaurants, now celebrating 31 years in business. Situated in the Fitzrovia district of Central London, this trailblazing award-winning French restaurant has not only stood the test of time but continues to be an innovator in the vegan food space. The restaurant’s inviting interior is a boho take on art deco in a welcoming candlelit setting. And while it’s a busy restaurant, the tranquil ambiance makes it easy to forget. Although not strictly a vegan restaurant, Pied à Terre offers an impressively versatile and imaginative coupling of plant-based tasting menus for lunch and dinner, which I was eager to try.
Restaurateur and entrepreneur David Moore, who owns and runs Pied à Terre, takes great pleasure in recognizing the importance of veganism both at work and at home and sees the meat-free movement as more than just a trend or sideshow. While Moore isn’t vegan, his family is flexitarian (a kind of casual vegetarianism), and his children often talk about wanting to eat less meat. “I’m glad that I’m at the forefront of the movement,” he says. “It is only going to get bigger. You’re going to see a lot of restaurants jumping on the bandwagon — charging the horses across the prairie!” This attitude shift is evident in many of London’s fine-dining establishments, like the nearby Gauthier Soho. This modern French restaurant now serves a menu free from all animal products after Chef Alexis Gauthier personally ditched meat and dairy.
For restaurants looking to win over a skeptical vegan audience, versatility is key. For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pied à Terre introduced a home delivery service that offered the Vegan Feast, a three-course meal for two people. Influencers like the Fat Gay Vegan took notice. And while this home-delivered box (which varies week to week) is different from what the restaurant offers, it’s nice to see a vegan meal promoting a diet of abundance rather than a diet that is inadequate: a misconception that cynics often claim. As a passionate vegan of six years, I sensed that I was in safe hands at Pied à Terre, and the menu truly demonstrates a chef using many interesting vegetables and taste profiles.
“It’s all about getting the clever cooks to embrace it and make it more interesting,” says Moore. “As veganism becomes more commercially viable, there are more products out there. You only get the best flavors when you buy the best products.” The “clever cook” spearheading the gourmet food at Pied à Terre is head chef Asimakis Chaniotis, who uses ingredients sourced directly from small, independent suppliers. During lockdown, when the team was experimenting and expanding on their plant-based recipes, many brands would send out products such as meat alternatives, sauces, and emulsifiers, which often made their way into the newly expanding menu.
One of those brands is Haringey-based Honestly Tasty, whose ethically sourced dairy alternative Veganzola features in the restaurant’s Waldorf Grumolo salad. It’s the standout cheese here, particularly when compared to the slightly underwhelming bitterness of the Shamembert, which is served on a light pastry case with celery and Greek apricot jam.
Combining delicate but punchy flavors is a true skill, and Chef Asimakis particularly nails it with the canapés: beetroot meringue and pistachio, and a waffle with wild mushrooms. I sensed a devoted tenderness applied to these captivating creations and enjoyed the quirky touch of being presented with a pot of olive “soil” before digging in and plucking out a hidden breakfast radish. Elsewhere, the flavors and textures in these dishes were also incredibly authentic when compared with the meals that their veganized versions are inspired by. The baked soybean terrine with its sesame and poppy seed crust was meaty, rich, and substantial. The Scialatielli Carbonara combined a soy and pea protein–based bacon substitute with the umami hybrid of miso, soy, and nutritional yeast. This dish is further enhanced with macadamia nuts and lemon balm and rounded off with a rich and creamy sauce that truly took me by surprise. It’s a dish that incorporates tastes and textures that have already alarmed some vegan diners for its likeness to meat, with guests sending back the portions, proclaiming them as “too bacon-y,” which could be considered its own kind of compliment.
Dining at Pied à Terre was a joyful, remarkably unhurried experience, and since we were experiencing the tasting menu, there was a palpable sense of fun when anticipating the next course. The servers were friendly and knowledgeable, and the staff wasn’t afraid to engage in relaxed conversation, happily answering any questions I had about the provenance of the various dishes. I also appreciated the artistry that went into constructing and plating each dish. The Delica pumpkin, with its aromatic infusion of bergamot kombu tea, was charming and inspired. The warmth of shitake mushrooms contrasted with the acidity of Minus 8 “caviar” (a first for me — vegan caviar made from balls of aged vinegar) were joined by smooth pumpkin and an ice-cold multivitamin sorbet that punched right through. It was so good I let out an audible gasp after taking the first bite.
I was happy to find that the dessert courses certainly met the standard of the savory dishes. With its conflicting taste and texture, the Jerusalem artichoke multivitamin sorbet was a confusing experience but still a surefire winner — the wake-up call, even before coffee. The Millionaire, a chocolate and caramel shortbread, was both earthy and intense and didn’t overload on sugar.
It is encouraging that Pied à Terre embraces veganism in such a confident and approving way, with Moore confirming that he will continue to champion plant-based cuisine. Since I visited, a new addition has been added to the menu: the Celebration of Spring — a pea and mint panna cotta with white and green French asparagus and fresh peas served from the pod. It’s a dish whose description makes me eager to return, not that I wasn’t considering it anyway. Considering that Pied à Terre is one of London’s most venerable vegan restaurants, I asked Moore if he was heartened to see cultural tastes beginning to catch up to what they’ve already been doing. “I am grateful for it all,” beams Moore. “I am thrilled that veganism is shining a light on us to a new audience. A much younger, funkier audience.”
Phil Marriott is a London-based broadcaster, DJ, writer, audio & video editor, and digital content creator, specializing in vegan awareness and LGBTQ+ entertainment.
Emma Hardy is a self-taught portrait and documentary photographer based in London. She works in close collaboration with her subjects, offering a tender and honest gaze. Neither intruder nor witness, she is more like a participant with a camera, endeavoring to capture subtlety and the sweet humanness of the indecisive moment.
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