Handily located in the heart of Soho, Aldo Zilli’s basic but good-quality veggie restaurant, which comes with the Italianate twist you might expect.
Avoiding too many meat products is certainly consistent with the most concise dietary advice of recent years. The American writer Michael Pollen read through all learned articles and distilled their key advice into seven words: ‘eat food, not too much, mainly plants’. (The first part of the advice, incidentally, is not redundant: Pollen suggests you should distinguish edible manufactured products from food. How to test? If your granny wouldn’t have recognised something as food, it probably isn’t.)
Less reliance on meat is also, of course, being widely hailed as much better for the planet. It may well be a sign of changing times that Soho-and-TV-chef Aldo Zilli – a man who always has a good eye to the PR possibilities of what he does – has decided to launch the first veggie restaurant we can recall bearing the name of a celebrity toque.
The premises he’s chosen for this exercise are in the heart of Soho too, albeit on one of his sites that’s made few ripples in recent years (not even being listed in Harden’s, for example). They’ve been given a rather cheap ‘n’ cheerful make-over of a type that doesn’t entirely banish ‘knit-your-own-muesli’ stereotype. Walls are white, and tables are bare and wooden, and quite tightly-packed too.
There was already a good crowd on our early-days lunch visit, and no wonder. The food was delicious. Bread (including a impressive focaccia) served with good olive oil hints that the chef might be Italian (as indeed he is). A deeply flavoured soup to start was superb, and deep-fried zucchini ditto. Aldo’s favourite curry – a coconut and vegetable affair – was also very good (if not, given the cheapness of the ingredients, especially generous in quantity).
And so, having successfully negotiated all the stages at which the absence of meat might have been an issue, we progressed in the highest state of expectation to pudding. Quelle déception! The menu choice was not particularly inspiring, and the dish we chose turned out to be simply vile. We can’t recall the precise description, but the words ‘pear’ and ‘crumble’ had certainly figured. What arrived was a fridge-cold, under-sweetened poached pear in a sea of insipid chocolate sauce, with – to add insult to injury – an apologetic sprinkling of ‘crumble’ on top.
Shame such such a dismal last impression colours our recollection of what was otherwise, of its type, an exceptional meal. If you go at lunchtime (the obvious time for non-veggies to visit), it’s probably no hardship to quite while you’re ahead, which is say: before the pud.
Or, if you’re determined to end on a sweet note, perhaps settle for an ice-cream. The chef does, after all, hail from the land of gelato.