My darling school friend Alice met me last Wednesday for the most overdue catch-up in the history of mankind.The girl can be rather hard to pin down, so imagine my elation when I found myself sat beside the living, breathing version of her, in a restaurant that I have wanted to visit for a long, long time – The Wild Food Café. Double win.
The Wild Food Café is located in the picturesque Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden. It’s essentially a restaurant created for earthlings (/hippies… shh!), hence its focus on bold, bright colours.
Service: In keeping with the ultra-hip trend of today, The Wild Food Café doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait for a table at peak times. Despite rocking up at 8:30pm on a school night, Alice and I still had to wait 10 minutes for a table. It’s certainly a popular place!
The service we received was a bit hit & miss. One of our servers was super friendly & smiley, as I would personally expect from the staff at a venue whose USP is built on positive energy, yet another server we had was really rather grumpy and had a face that must be permanently stuck since our numerous attempts to get her to crack a smile failed miserably (and we are funny gals, promise). She was also kind enough to give us the bill before we’d asked for it, which I always find charming.
They had no ice for our wine, nor clean wine glasses, so we were given water glasses upon arrival that were upgraded half way through our meal once they’d had the chance to wash up the correct crockery. The restaurant had also run out of the main special of ‘raw cannelloni’ and their famous banana bread; the two things that I would have ordered had I got the chance. I can forgive the latter but not the former.
Ambience: The décor is exactly what you would imagine. Earthy paintings and an intriguing combination of twinkling fairy lights entwined with dried orange segments tied to pieces of string adorn the exposed white-brick walls.
The open kitchen takes up the vast majority of the restaurant space, which would be cool if it were a little prettier. Fresh flowers, Bhuddas of all materials and sizes, wicker baskets, and a collection of random stones and other odd mismatched bits & bobs litter the raised counter-top seating area.
If you don’t want to sit at the bar then you can take your pick from the communal benches by the windows. I must admit that Alice and I had to stifle a bit of a giggle when we observed our fellow diners, i.e., 100% women. Then again, I would have no hope in hell of bringing Michael to a place like this (“they don’t serve meat?!!!! so what do you eat?”), so I understood why entirely.
Food: The menu at The Wild Food Cafe is all vegan/vegetarian and is ‘raw-centric’. I have wanted to visit for some time since my classic New Year’s bid to eat healthier and eat less meat. Truth be told I actually really enjoy vegan and plant-based food, as you can see from many of my own Recipes, so I was supremely disappointed when we started tucking in to our food to realise that I have had much better versions of the same at other restaurants, and even made by my own fare hands.
The Wild Food Café has a staple menu, plus daily specials.
Since the ‘raw cannelloni’, courgette rolls filled with sunflower seed & spinach cheese served on a bed of wild garlic leaves, sun-dried tomato marinara, chill and basil dressing (£11.50), had sold out (the only original dish that I could see on the menu – I mean, veggie burgers, cauliflower pizzas, and mushrooms on toast are not exactly inventive, or worth eating out for, in my opinion), the only remaining option that I fancied was a cracking salad. On our server’s recommendation, both Alice and I ordered the ‘Mayan’ wild salad special (£10.50).
The salad consisted of Romanesco cauliflower, French figs, pomegranate, purple sprouting broccoli, avocado, cacao nibs, sprouted red quinoa, wild leaves, and maple & lime dressing. Sounds appetising enough, don’t you think? Well, for a reason I still can’t quite entirely fathom, all of the ingredients were raw, as in, raw cauliflower and raw broccoli. For those who have not yet sampled these vegetables in their raw state, count yourselves lucky. (At the VERY least, it would have been nice to have been warned!) In addition, since the quinoa had only been sprouted and not cooked, and cacao nibs and pomegranate seeds are naturally crunchy, the whole salad was incredibly chewy and therefore dry. Honestly, my mouth ached after just a few mouthfuls! And yes, I love sauce, but even if I wasn’t a sauce monster the meagre amount of (tasty but not special) dressing that they provided would not have been enough to salvage my parched mouth. Hence a couple more small pots of the stuff were requested, much to Miss Grumpy’s apparent dissatisfaction. The figs were therefore the saving grace of the dish; soft and juicy, but there was not nearly enough of them. The avocado should have served a similar purpose, yet it was under ripe with little flavour.
If I had ordered this salad at a ‘normal’ restaurant I would have been displeased, but to get a salad this badly wrong at a restaurant specialising in vegetables is simply shocking! To be perfectly honest though, I didn’t really mind as Alice and I were making solid progress in relation to our bottle of ‘Organic Sauvignon Blanc white wine’ (£19.00), and I had already had a few glasses of the good stuff pre-dinner, so we found our plate of raw veg more amusing than anything else.
The baked sweet potato wedges (£4.00) were a solid shout on our behalf, which we greedily used to scoop up large helpings of the guacamole with coriander, cacao & lime (£3.50). This was definitely the highlight of the meal.
But, still, not great. My sweet potato wedges, those served at Mildred’s, and the sweet potato fries served at Hotbox, are all a million times better than those at The Wild Food Café. I also thought that the portion was a little on the stingy side, it being a potato and all.
The guacamole, on the other hand, was pretty damn good. And unique. Finally, something that The Wild Food Café can be proud of serving (but, then again, it is just guac… just sayin’). Cacao nibs and avocado are not two ingredients that I would have thought to put together myself, but the crunch & bitterness of the cacao actually really complemented the freshness & softness of the mushed avo. I’ve decided that it’s a condiment I will be re-creating at home soon, so keep your eyes peeled for a recipe post and check out my (honestly) delicious Avocado Cream in the meantime!
Having both made and sampled many healthy versions of traditional desserts (check out my Dessert section), I know that they can be just as tasty as their naughtier companions. So it’s fair to say that I had reasonably high expectations of the ‘raw-centric’ café specialising in healthy, tasty food, to deliver.
I ordered the raw chocolate and berry tart (£5.00), described on the menu as, their “most popular dessert “, a creamy & smooth thick layer of chocolate superfood heaven on a firm crust of organic almonds, figs, dates and coconut chips finished off with seasonal berry sauce. OK, so firstly I was pretty unimpressed with the portion size for a fiver (what can I say, I’m greedy with sweet treats… /all food). But the taste didn’t even make up for its lack of size. The chocolate component was grainy and the overwhelming flavour of banana was both unmistakable and unenjoyable. The base was tasty but I practically live off dates & nuts so naturally I was going to like it. If nothing else, I would recommend that they increase their ratio of base to chocolate to improve both the texture and flavour of this dessert.
Alice chose the raw lemon and lime cheesecake (£5.00), a zingy & happy combination of fresh lemons and light coconut and raw cashew mousse on a soft crust of organic almonds, dates & coconut. This was a much fairer portion for the price, and initially tasted way better to me than my own dessert; it actually tasted like proper cheesecake and not a healthy replacement version. But after a few bites, the original freshness of the lemon & lime became sickly, and the denseness of the coconut and raw cashew mousse became cement-like and ridiculously filling. I have a stomach as expandable as a hot air balloon, and there is no stopping me when it comes to dessert, but this had me defeated and feeling a little on the queasy side…
Price: The total bill was £64.69 including 12.5% service for 2 salads, 2 sides, 2 desserts and 1 bottle of wine. In fairness, I don’t think that this is outrageous for the quantity and variety of food that we had, and I would have paid this with a big smile on my face had the food been better. I definitely wouldn’t go back, but I am glad that I have been as I would have ended up going at some point, and at least this time I had great company (and wine) to pull me through.