I read various blogs however where authors have amazing experiences every where they go and everything they taste is simply amazing. It just becomes a bit sickly and unbelievable after a while - either they're lying, mental or have incredibly low expectations as to what constitutes good food and good service.
On the whole though the majority of places do get it right - I've had some very positive experiences recently and discovered many new places that I'll certainly return.
42Raw is the latest (mostly) raw vegan cafe to open in central London. Its existing sister cafe in Denmark gives it an obvious advantage over start-ups, bringing an established brand, well tested menu and a slicker than average execution. Its decor looks almost identical to the Copenhagen branch - even the food looks as if it was made by the same person.
It definitely shows - combined with good service 42 have done a good job of hitting the ground running.
Its location in Mayfair (close to Tibits / Regents Street) is both impressive and a hindrance - time will tell as to how well it does in its current building. Despite knowing its address I walked up and down Burlington Gardens a couple of times before I eventually found it. At first I assumed that it must be hidden in Burlington Arcade or above a shop - it was only when I'd given up looking that I saw a lone sandwich board pointing into The Royal Academy of Arts.
The building itself is beautiful, with extremely high ceilings and extensive architectural detailing. You have to pass the Academy's security however to enter and they've obviously imposed strict restrictions on the amount of signage/advertising that can be seen from the outside. Success will depend heavily on word of mouth and other media.
The set up is takeaway, with a few small tables outside the main room in the reception area of The Academy. The food itself however is restaurant standard - both in terms of quality or ingredients and presentation. Everything's vegan (except dairy milk in drinks), but there's currently too much slant on (boring) salads rather than complex dishes (for my liking).
Like Urban Eats (which also opened recently & I visited last week); there's more on the menu than there is available - hopefully the selection will improve with time as they get more trade. Unlike Urban I found the staff at 42Raw much easier to interact with.
I could lie and claim that I did it for research purposes, but through gluttony alone I ordered the same things that I had at Urban Eats last week:
Lasagna £7Prices were a little higher but still very reasonable - I maintain my stance that Urban Eats are undercharging. In context, Wholefoods Market is a short walk away and charges over £1 more than 42 for raw cheesecake.
Squash, tomato sauce, walnuts, parsley pesto, cashews creme and baby spinach
Chocolate Cake £2.50
Cashews, dates, cacao butter and cacao powder
Mint Cake £3
Coconut, dates, cacao powder and a mint cream topping
The lasagne was very good indeed:
Though creamy it didn't really have a well developed cheese flavour, but the whole dish tasted fresh and well balanced. Visually it looked stunning, with well defined layers and variety of colour. I'll certainly order this again.
The cake was a mixed bag:
Good base, not so good top (the exact opposite of Urban's attempt). Just a bit too bitter for my liking and not quite smooth enough. The mint cake survived the 100 mile train journey home, which meant that we got to eat it with cream:
On first taste I didn't like it. Not because it didn't taste good but because it tasted like nothing I've had before. Usually minty things have a minty taste - either from mint oil or synthetic. This however actually tastes like fresh garden mint, captured in its entirety.
It definitely benefited from being eaten with cream (Soyatoo Rice Whip, which I realise isn't raw) and I'm not sure I'll order it again. It is good to experience new things like this though - vegan cooking certainly isn't dead! I look forward to having more surprises from 42Raw in the future.
It's difficult not to compare Urban to 42, but on the whole I like them both. Competition is good and the market's certainly big enough to support many more raw cafes/restaurants in London. If the joined forces it'd be awesome - Urban's 'cheese' on 42's lasagne, 42's base on Urban's cheesecake. If not then hopefully they'll visit each other at some point and perform some espionage :)