Having had a very agreeable experience at Aloka's lunch buffet last year; I had high hopes for the restaurant. The fully raw menu looked stunning - what could possibly go wrong?
We booked a few days in advance for a Saturday night sitting. I was pleased to see that decor from downstairs continues up: same lighting, tulip tables and Vernor Panton S chairs (don't be put off by the plastic seating, as one reviewer said!)
It'd been a hot day, so we were pleased with our table by an open sash window. From my seat I could see along East Street towards Terre-a-Terre; which I tried to avoid looking at whilst we ate (I'll post about that meal shortly).
Having personally thoroughly enjoyed Saf, @cherrivalentine was in for a treat - she'd not had a fully raw meal in a restaurant before (other than the plain salads that confused omni places give you).
The dinner started with an amuse-bouche; a(n IKEA) shot glass filled with overly vinegary gazpacho. It was more an endurance than a pleasurable start to the evening, which didn't set a good tone:
We ordered a mezze platter for starter (£15.75), which promised a selection of items from the menu:
OK, so, the entire meal wasn't raw: we got a small cup of the day's soup, some bread and lentil pancake things.
The carrot humus I thought was rather good. The guacamole a bit bland (needed garlic) and olives over salty (I couldn't eat more than a couple). The crackers weren't good at all (no-where near as good as those from Saf, or those in overpriced boxes from Waitrose), neither was the lentil pancake (bland). The bread was bread and the soup again, a little over vinegary.
The main thing that baffled the hell out of us was just what the brown stuff in the white pot was meant to be. It looked like caramelized onions but tasted like, well, nothing. It was like eating gelatinous water. Apparently they were jasmine tea pearls - I wouldn't have guessed.
The whole dish was a bit pants, but nothing could prepare us for the main.
Stupidly, drawn in by the description, we broke the golden rule of shared dining and ordered the same thing: Botanical Living Special (£13.75):
First impressions good, but if I had to sum this dish up in one word? Bad. Really, really bad.
There were four things on the plate which didn't seem to have a purpose for existing together. A little ball of horseradish on a slice of courgette (wtf?), some chopped beetroot with a couple of olives, a mound of mushrooms in some kind of sauce and la piece de la resistance: a stuffed tomato on a stuck-together-seed-thing, ontop of sliced courgette.
The whole thing just didn't work. Half way through we got giggling fits because it was so bad - it's a good job too, otherwise we may have cried.
I don't know where to start, so I'll start with the seed thing. At first it seemed like something you'd give to the birds, but then it reminded me of those chew things you give to hamsters. It was impossible to elegantly cut with a knife and just didn't seem to have a reason for being on the plate.
The courgette seemed unseasoned - that which I had in Saf had been salted to tenderize, but this just seemed to be sliced. A forkful of tomato stuff with a slice of courgette and a bit of birdseed did taste alright, but it was awkward to eat and only just alright - not £13.75 alright.
The similarly priced raw food from Saf seemed to actually be recognisable dishes (pasta, lasagne etc), so you knew how to eat them. This just seemed to be a collection of mediocre stuff on a plate.
As one of the worst things I've eaten in a v*gan restaurant this decade, it was a poor attempt and a really bad advert for raw food.
Our experience at Aloka was partially resuscitated by dessert, which was actually very good.
Confusingly they don't have a printed dessert menu - the waiter/waitress reads it out (minus prices). We ordered a raw chocolate cheesecake and a raw chocolate banana & macadamia torte:
Other than that the smaller one cost a pound more and tasted slightly of banana; it's difficult to tell them appart.
They were however very good indeed - both the best raw desserts I've eaten and for that matter, amongst the best I've had in any restaurant (either raw or unraw). According to the bill they were 5.50 and 6.50, which is most reasonable.
On balance; I wouldn't go back for an evening meal at Aloka. I thought their lunchtime buffet was excellent when I visited last year and I'd certainly return for that side of things. Their savoury raw food however is .... crap
What I would do though, is eat starter & main at Terre-a-Terre, then nip across the road for dessert.
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