Ladies and gentlemen, lend me your ears (or should that be eyes?) and prepare yourselves for a tale of such amazement, such extraordinary strangeness, such exciting puddings, that your tongues will hit the floor in shock.
I give you: Vanilla Black.
From the outside, this tidy restaurant, tucked away in a small street near Chancery Lane, looks as conventional and plain as the rest of them. Nothing special, you might think as you peer through the dark green door.
You would be wrong.
Like the wonderful Terre a Terre (about which I have raved perhaps a tad too often), Vanilla Black is a haven for the gourmet vegetarian diner. And like Terre a Terre, it’s certainly not cheap, but the kind of place you can book for a special occasion. Last night, the occasion was ostensibly my birthday (still!), and we met with the Man’s lovely parents, for an exciting three-course meal.
This being the domain of the Pud-Hog, however, the first two of those courses will not get a mention. So let’s go straight to dessert.
And what an ensemble of wonders it was! The four of us ummed and aahed over the options – intriguing prospects, every one of them – and eventually settled on the following:
- For Man-Pa: Raw and Poached Pineapple and Passion Fruit Mayonnaise with Toasted Coconut Sorbet and Crumble
- For Man-Ma: Iced Malt and Burnt Orange Marshmallow with Muscovado Sugar Meringue and Parsnip Puree
- For the Man: Poached Apple and Cinnamon Gel with Yoghurt and Cheshire Cheese Ice Cream and Cinnamon Pastry
- For the Hog: White Chocolate and Cep Tart with Cornflake Cake, Picpoul [French Wine] Sorbet and Crispy Tarragon
It seems almost a shame to follow that list with my own writing; nothing I can say could be quite as thrilling, I’m sure. However, I’m guessing you want to know what everything tasted like. So continue I must…
The puddings. Were. AWESOME.
Generous portions, beautifully served, with plenty to tease every taste bud. The pineapple was thick and juicy, with a density that made me dribble. The yoghurt and Cheshire cheese ice cream cut through the sweetness of the apple gel perfectly, providing a much-needed tang that lifted the dish to ambrosial heights. My white chocolate and cep tart – Cep! That’s a mushroom, people! – grew better and better with every mouthful, until by the end, I was forking up portions no bigger than match-heads, in order to prolong it all the more. So rich and earthy! That texture… mmm… thicker than the thickest of ganaches, clinging to its cornflake cake base like a lover, soulmates ’til the very end.
And let us not forget the marshmallow – oh, the marshmallow! – so good that it gets its own paragraph. Gelatin-free (at last!), as soft as a cloud, and anointed with puddles of sweet orange sauce. They make it with agar agar, the maitre d’ told us. I felt as if I’d found the Holy Grail. All these years in search of vegetarian marshmallows, and finally I’d found one. Better yet, I’ve been told that the chef will send me his recipe. The keys to the golden kingdom will be mine! I might even share it with you lot, if you’re lucky…
I’ve just looked back at what I’ve written – it sounds a little excessive, I’ll admit. But justifiably so. In fact, it could be worse. Imagine how much more effusive this post would have been if I’d sampled the other two options as well: the Yorkshire Gouda and Crisp Black Sheep Ale Bread (with Salted Caramel Powder and Ale Soaked Raisins), or – better still – the Peanut Butter Cheesecake and Cracked Cocoa Beans (with Banana and Thyme Bread and Toffee Sauce).
Apparently, at this very moment, the chefs are also perfecting a liquid doughnut.
The mind boggles. And the mouth is watering still.