Tess Ward is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and host of West London’s exclusive tailor-made cookery programmes. She is also a twenty-something singleton, on the hunt for the best date-night eateries in our new weekly column. We will follow her from her awkward first date icebreakers to the third date clinchers, with a lot of tartare, steak, linguini and cocktails between. Check here every Thursday for a nibble of the action…
What do you do when your friend announces that she has arranged a double date and she is going to introduce you to a vegan? Do you run for the hills, pack a beautifully seared steak to sneak on your salad halfway though mains, or take up the challenge to find a vegan-friendly joint so spectacular that you will completely forget you ever ate meat?! Well, on this occasion it was the latter. Perhaps it is not everyday you’d find yourself on a double date like this, but if you do or you are looking for something a bit different (a break from the meat-fuelled norm perhaps), I have just the restaurant for you.
The restaurant I am referring to is Nama, a vegan, raw food heaven in Notting Hill, tucked away just off the Ledbury Road. It is a cute, quirky little place that has been open just a few months and already made quite a stir amongst healthy folk. It was a restaurant booked with trepidation. Having never committed to a full raw meal before, I was unsure what to expect and hesitant the say the least, but the place came highly recommended (by healthy foodie Natasha Corrett) so I took the plunge and went raw for the night.
This weeks date occurred much by chance than intention. Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome and Mr Curls failed to make the cut for a second round of dinner. Un-engaged conversationalists and monotonous small talk doesn't do it for me. If I am going to enjoy the scared moments of food enjoyment with another being, it undoubted has to be one who can engage beyond the niceties. I want philosophy, depth and a little soul scratching thrown in with my side of creamed spinach. At a loss of worthy new prospects, (bar the offer of a date to Nandos from the charming Adam in Surrey) I opted for a safer bet for this week’s dinner, the double-date. Having the presence of a friend is like a buffer. The help smooth out the kinks in conversation, ensure no first date foul play, any awkward first kiss attempts and the dreaded hover of hands when the cheque hits the table. Angelica Malin (friend and founder of About Time Magazine) was my wing woman for the night.
Almost completely unnoticeable from the street, Nama is best described as humble, clean and totally inoffensive both inside and out. Stark, simple, and undecorated the interiors are as naked as the food. With only six tables in the entire place, the number of warm bodies was decidedly low. If I’d come looking for a buzz, energy or even a pulse, I wasn’t going to find it here. The lack of chatter and background music was certainly apparent. The only sound of the meal aside from our table was the scratch of forks scrabbling over the last morsels of raw lasagna on the black slate.
It is a place for the healthy to congregate and meat eaters to go cold turkey, not exactly the place for a party one might say. Luckily we weren’t here for a party (just so you know, alcohol is a no go here). We rectified our initial disappointment at the lack of booze by acquiring some of the neighbouring corner shop’s finest swag. Within no time all our fresh-pressed finest juices were laced with enough of Glens finest vodka that our efforts to detox soon became more about the retox.
Unsurprisingly it was limited. I imagine there are only a limited number of things one can do with a dehydrator and a grater, but all the choices were certainly appealing. We went the whole hog, yes I mean HOG and did starters, mains and pud. To begin we plumped for the fermented Miso Barley Broth, the Daikon Ravioli-filled with a creamy nut cheese, a falafel and a Mexican wrap - basically all the starters available, bar the nut cheese. I thought we could do without that. The miso was full flavoured and wonderfully aromatic, not dissimilar to any good hot miso you’d find. Both wraps were well seasoned, spiced and punchy in flavour.
The highlight was certainly the Daikon Ravioli. I would happily have fought a dreadlocked hippy for the last piece. Mains were a mixture of Herby Tomato Lasagna, Sushi Platter, Thai Curry and Chilli. The prettiest was certainly the thai curry, served with a mountain of kohlrabi rice and pickled fennel. Beautifully presented and golden on the plate it was darn tasty too, I couldn’t help but think how much nicer it might have been if served warm. Cold curry reminds me too much of university day hangovers. The sushi was pleasing, crunchy and served with a superb dipping sauce, a little lacking on quantity, but delicious all the same. The chilli, hedgehopped with raw crackers and towering pile of lasagna were both superb. Richly flavoured, and colourful and completely moreish, bizarrely my fork kept unexplainably wondering over to my date’s plate for more. I’m not sure this was great etiquette on my part, but I was less concerned with that.
At pudding time we got greedy and went for all four options - the Pudding Platter, Fermented Blueberry Cheesecake, Mocha and the Raw Choc Ganache Cheesecakes. The pudding platter was the joint favourite. It came with little tahini truffles, desiccated coconut nibbles enrobed in dark chocolate and a sample of all the cheesecakes in miniature. I am rather a fan of things in miniature, each mouthful is different and you can pretend you are a giant as you eat it. The three cheesecakes were all indulgent, supremely rich and a hell of a lot tastier then any sugar-laden cheesecake, but a little too similar for my liking. Ashamedly we only managed to polish of a third of each.
Although a lovely spot for raw food nosh, it is a place I would reserve for lunches and friend dates. At no point did I feel the urge to click the heels of my magic new Russell and Bromley cocktail slippers and wish for an Honest Burger. I was content, pleasantly satiated and happy to be without a dreaded food baby bulge at the end of the meal, but it’s not really the spot for intimate one on ones, or private frissons. The evening was a hoot. Would I go back? Undoubtedly. Most likely tomorrow for a midday bite, a raw chocolate brownie or a cleaning juice to nurse away the hangover. If only they did delivery…
Nama Foods, 110 Talbot Road, Notting Hill, W11 1JR, 0207 313 4638
London Foodies, if you have any suggestions for date hotspots you love in london, please do tweet me @tesswardchef