Before even writing this I know the response it will meet. They’ll be grunts and gasps and bickering amongst friends. Couples will split. Children will be ignored. They’ll be a gourmet divide.
You see, I’ve turned. It happened in a restaurant in leafy Holland Park. It was gentle, loving even. A soft introduction to a herbivorous menu; a green, flighty and thoroughly organic table d’hôte that was 100% plant-based. And I know that if I say anything negative or anti-vegan or attack the lacto-ovo-vegetarian brigade, then those who stalk the readers’ comments section and make protest signs and chain themselves to the railings of chicken farms will harangue me, so I’ll be rational in my judgement.
The Japanese super-fruit adds a sharp, citrus sting, countered by the salt and the softness from the beetroot
The invitation to try such food sent shivers down my spine. I studied the plant-based listing at Flat Three and my testicles shriveled. Cabbage, carrot, barley, flax seeds… I want sustenance from my meals; meaty-fulfillment, flesh-on-flesh. This was a catalogue of allotment produce. There was no meat at all, not even a fishy tale. This was a hardcore collection of legume and silage. It’s a gardener’s inventory.
The restaurant rose out of a supper club, the idea of Juliana Kim Moustakas and chef Pavel Kanja. It is located in a basement space on Holland Park Avenue and is a Japanese-Korean-Scandinavian-inspired place, a global mash-up which brings together some of the most precise, explicit and aesthetically-led cuisines on the planet, but in a subterranean Kensington and Chelsea setting. The introduction of the 100% plant-based menu is a celebration of the pulled and the up-rooted and runs alongside their usual Scandi-Asian offerings, so if you’re looking for Ikejime turbot, smoked Norwegian salmon or a slab of bleeding cow then you’re not being snubbed.
The onions, celeriac, carrots, artichokes and cabbage are all familiar, but these seemingly uninteresting ingredients are paired with strange new adventitious ones, like gochujang, yuzu and chia. Vegetables are stretched beyond the peel-and-boil application and the results are inventive and unexpected. A cipollini clear onion soup with celeriac is hot and sweet, pungent in aroma, and there’s a delicious plate of salt baked beets served with preserved yuzu and shichimi. The Japanese super-fruit adds a sharp, citrus sting, countered by the salt and the softness from the beetroot. For once I’m able to find excitement in the florid, finger-colouring, useless red root-veg, which is lifted by the tingle-sensation of shichimi; this particular in-house mix including sansho Japanese pepper, chili powder, ginger, salt and stone-dried nori (known as dolkim) which is specially sourced from Juliana’s cousin in Korea.
Jerusalem artichoke is paired with crosnes (Chinese artichoke or knotroot), barely, dew plant and more yuzu, followed by a colourful dish of pumpkin, carrot jus and crunchy Cornish seaweed. It’s all proper allotment stuff; food picked, plucked, pulled and foraged, then applied with a caring touch by Pavel and his kitchen team. The restaurant works with a team of wild plant specialists, led by professional forager anorak Miles Irving – author of The Forager Handbook: A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain – in the forests of Kent.
There’s a dish of king cabbage, gochujang and flax seed noodles which, like its predecessors, has an emphasis on spice. The gochujang – the backbone of Korean cooking – brings heat and depth to what is essentially just boiled cabbage and high-in-fibre noodles. An insipid carrot sorbet with rhubarb, olive oil and bergamot is a timely cooling aid, but there’s rarely ever much to be enjoyed from a carrot. Perhaps more could have been done with the bergamot, a fruit with expansive usage, characteristic for its fragrance and citrus flavour. A dessert of chocolate, almond, chia and cherry bark maple is a little rich and heavy to finish but remains dainty and delicious.
While some of the methods and textures of the menu are challenging, nothing overpowers or bores. The width of the menu and the clever handling of seemingly basic vegetable-patch produce, with the addition of Japanese and Korean spicing, is well-placed and elevates what is usually just ordinary and unmemorable vegetables.
I can’t help but think that with the likes of cabbages, rhubarbs, carrots, cherries and seaweed widely available throughout the UK, perhaps it’s time we all should explore our doorstep more vigorously? If we can engage more with our gardens, woodlands and beaches then the result could and should be more vivid and sustainable. With the application of global spicing, foreign seasoning and well-researched use of herbs and flowers, the flavour of everyday ingredients can be enhanced.
As for a vegan diet being healthier and more beneficial, we should stop giving airtime to self-appointed health experts and lifestyle bloggers. I hear the argument about meat and fish and our over-consumption as a nation, but the answer should not involve replacements or going cold turkey, but instead, eating better. We are still a country tussling over flesh. We should be eating less meat and fish but also better quality – organic, sustainable, working with a good fishmonger and butcher. Flat Three is successfully demonstrating that the experimentation and promotion of an agrarian philosophy using well-sourced British plants and vegetables can be just as compelling, just as satisfying and to my surprise, just as appetising. C
Flat Three, 120-122 Holland Park Ave, London W11 4UA
020-7792 8987; flatthree.london