A cupboard-sized vegan café, Essence Cuisine resembles a stainless steel changing room on board an alien spacecraft. A catwalk-style seating arrangement requires diners to sit side by side on a bench, eating off fold-out tables and facing the stranger opposite them.
Essence describes itself as a “plant-based culinary concept”, and asks that we “live intensely, taste the elemental components of what sustains us, and understand in order to expand.” Convinced I was about to join some kind of cult, I was instead surprised to discover some of the most brilliantly inventive vegan food I’ve eaten.
WHERE? 94 Leonard St, EC2A 4RH. Just off Great Eastern Street, next to The Book Club, where all the Instagram influencers hang out.
WHO? Celebrity chef Matthew Kenney oversaw the menu. He’s big in America, looks a bit like a hypnotist, and is very much riding the health food wave with his recent slew of wellness-focused vegan and raw cookbooks.
ORDER THIS... The garbanzo scramble on the all-day brunch menu is as near to an actual magic trick as food gets. It’s made to look and taste like scrambled eggs by cooking the chickpeas with the protein-rich water they come tinned in, and then topped with marinated kale, asparagus, harissa and little portobello ‘anchovies’. The raw pad thai uses kelp noodles, and the heirloom tomato lasagna, with sliced courgette for pasta sheets, uses macadamias to form a convincing ricotta. That’s right, nut cheese. Even the desserts – the Achilles heel of many a vegan and gluten-free menu – are flavourful, using dates and maple syrup to form a naturally sweet caramel that’s free from refined sugar.
BUSINESS OR PLEASURE? As long as you don’t need much table space or privacy to do your business, sure.
NEED TO BOOK? Seating is limited, but reservations can be made past 6pm. Visit essence-cuisine.com to book.
VERDICT... Look past the pseudo-spiritual babbling on the website and you’ll find imaginative vegan dishes that will have you coming back for more.