La Suite West – The Health-Conscious Hotel
Vegan dining in London: Whenever a holiday comes around, it almost seems like a ready-made excuse to throw all caution to the wind and indulge in every way possible. But there are also many health-conscious travellers who wish to stick to their chosen diet while away from home and eat good quality food that will make them feel their best. The luxury hotel market is beginning to respond to these desires and, with this in mind we headed down to RAW restaurant at La Suite West hotel to experience the most exquisite vegan dining in London.
The Changing Face of Veganism
RAW takes in a number of different concepts when it comes to vegan dining in London: it is 100% vegan, meaning it offers a plant-based cuisine with absolutely no products derived from animals. It’s also totally alcohol-free and mostly dairy- and gluten-free. The majority of dishes are made using organic ingredients while many are kept as close to their natural state as possible and not heated above 42°C/118°F – hence the restaurant’s name.
Let’s face it; this concept is one that many of the more carnivorous/picky among us may be slightly wary about. Yet La Suite West shows that vegan is no longer for Birkenstock-wearing hippies who like to eat bowls of lentils in grungy cafes (excuse the many stereotypes). RAW shows that vegan dining can be chic, sophisticated and – most importantly – delicious.
The restaurant’s décor is fitting with the hotel’s overall theme – Japanese-inspired detail, black and white minimalist with clean, sharp lines. This is the location where we meet RAW’s Head Chef Nik Heartland, who is (naturally) no stranger to the delights of veganism and all too familiar with the trials of running a vegan restaurant.
“Having the word ‘vegan’ and the word ‘raw’ as so prominent is quite a challenge,” he explains. “There is also the challenge of fusing the two personalities – of the hotel and of the restaurant. But I am trying to appeal to everybody and get everyone in.”
So Fresh, so Clean
It seems he is succeeding as RAW is a natural and fluid extension of La Suite West with complementary décor and a stylish appearance. When we are handed our menus, I notice right away just how accessible it all is – there are no strange, undecipherable terms that make the concept of veganism too distant and this sense of familiarity will surely prove welcome, especially to those for whom veganism is a new concept.
The extensive and very tempting smoothie and mocktail menu seems to include every fruit and vegetable there is. I choose the Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri while my friend goes for a Lychee and Lemon-based long drink. Their fresh, fresh ingredients and strong yet subtle flavour is what I later find out is the signature style at RAW.
From the food menu, we go with Nik’s recommendation, “to try a little bit of everything,” and choose four of the tasting plates: Courgette with rocket & mint pesto, semi dried tomato and red pepper sauce; Caesar Salad with gem leaves, aubergine crisp and vegan parmesan; Cauliflower Cheese with kimchi cream and herb breadcrumbs and Sunflower Seed Flatbread with lemon-thyme tahini dip.
The first thing that strikes us when our dishes are served is the remarkably lavish and intricate presentation, which pays tribute to the passion with which the chef hones his talent. “I like to take my time with the food,” explains Nik. “I want to make the dishes look like a work of art and for them to be something you can just look at for a while.”
He uses a variety of tools to perfect his presentation, from spice and coffee grinders to tweezers, with most dishes presented on a simple slate board that complements the overall restaurant aesthetic. Every single ingredient is exceptionally fresh with strong flavours balanced with bold and vibrant colours, from the bright roasted red pepper paste to the deep green of the courgette ribbons. Each dish has its distinct taste, and there is no shortage of spices, which goes against my initial concept of vegan food as bland.
“My style is to have really strong flavour,” Nik explains. “It even surprises me, as a vegan, how tasty dishes can be. With meat and fish dishes, the flavour normally comes from the sauces, the herbs and spices that you put with it.”
He recommends spicy food as a way to ease into the vegan lifestyle, to gradually replace meat with vegetables in such dishes so that the shift is more subtle. I am curious as to why Nik himself chose to go vegan.
“It initially just began because I loved cooking,” he says. “I focused on using a lot of lentils and spices, then I started focusing on the nutritional side of it and what is really good for me, then because it’s good for the environment and the animals, the pollution aspect… Then going vegan just became a no-brainer.”
A Balanced Diet
Indeed, there are many benefits of choosing a vegan diet. It’s environmentally friendly, as the land and crops needed for a plant-based diet require just a third of that for a diet containing animal produce. Meat production puts tremendous pressure on the environment so going vegan is a way to contribute to a better world in the long-term. “Vegan is a more sustainable way and style of living,” says Nik. “With veganism, you know what is in your food.” Sustainability is particularly crucial in our modern world where global hunger is such a prominent issue.
Veganism also has some great health benefits as it doesn’t contain additives, chemicals and contaminations. Vegans have a lower risk of contracting diabetes, obesity and many cancers, while the decreased amount of cholesterol and fat also means that vegans are typically more energetic with better hair and skin.
“It’s very easy to veganise and to really get the flavour of things,” says Nik. “It’s all about the balance of the meal.” He discusses how veganism can often involve experimenting with food right down to the main staple ingredients, such as using different flours, lots of grains, different breads. I mention that one of my favourite dishes is the sunflower seed flatbread with its exotic Middle Eastern flavour. “It’s surprising how much flavour you can get out of breads,” Nik says. “And it’s the balance between spice and citrus.”
For dessert, we tried the tasting plate, which consisted of cranberry and orange “cheesecake”, tiramisu and chocolate fudge cake. Each dish was delicious and fragrant, and much lighter than desserts that I am used to.
All in all, I can say that my first experience of vegan dining was extremely interesting. The location was glamorous and the service impeccable, and the food was presented beautifully with some mouth-watering, extremely memorable flavours. While I cannot say I will be choosing a full-time plant-based diet any time soon, I truly believe that RAW restaurant is the place to go for both staunch vegans and those curious about trying some of the best health food around. The freshness, the colours, the intense flavours and the relaxed ambience all combine for a unique eating experience.