With the only other contender, Nama, being situated in Notting Hill, it's about time that East London got a raw vegan restaurant to call their own. This branch is Essence’s first European venture, having started out stateside.
Matthew Kenney, world-leading raw chef, has created Essence’s inspired menu. It is not only vegan and predominantly raw, but also gluten and refined sugar-free. Essence’s ethos aims to help you “focus to get the essence of life.”
”¨”¨Upon entering the Leonard Street shop, you’re immediately struck by the bold, architectural design, which rings more of an elite Danish office than a raw vegan restaurant; needless to say, there is not a patch of hessian or bamboo in sight! Designed by Andreas Bozarth Fornell, a former employee of the Scandinavian fashion powerhouse, Acne and Sandro, the fitted tables along each wall create a catwalk-like feel.
The attention to detail is admirable. From black paint-splashed stairs to gentle birdsong in the loos, and a beautiful array of unique pottery for each course, no element has been omitted a special touch. Except from a large oval black table (perfect for meetings or group dining) all the tables are exceptionally space efficient metallic desks–just as edgy as the neighborhood Essence is situated within. The atmosphere is relaxed and encourages productivity. Throughout my visit, handfuls of people came through for business meetings or a matcha latte fix. ”¨”¨
The restaurant has an incredible all-day breakfast and brunch menu. The Garbanzo Scramble is definitely the dish to drop in and taste any time of the day. The soft vegan scramble, loaded with kale, is savory and garlicky with a really rich flavor from the portobello mushroom and anchovies. The heat from the green harissa provides a perfect kick start to your metabolism in the morning! It’s a light, yet filling, dish that holds a good balance of fresh and cooked ingredients–perfect for raw-eating newbies. Wash it down with an immune-boosting pine pollen latte; it’s honey for vegans!”¨”¨
Essence boasts a vast array of mains with specials rotating on a fortnightly basis. The Green Curry has a creamy Japanese-style sauce balanced with the bitterness of Napa cabbage. It’s topped with a selection of sprouts and sweet, activated curry cashews. Their Caesar Salad perfectly encapsulates all the traditional components: fresh romaine, portobello, anchovies, parmesan shavings, and flavorsome croutons–highly recommended!”¨”¨
The kelp noodles in their all-raw Pad Thai are the perfect addition to the classic dish, which amazingly captures the flavor balance of peanut, chili, and lime. Their raw Heirloom Lasagne is a veritable work of art with slices of the most succulent beef tomato, complete with edible flowers. Layering sun-dried tomato and green pesto between courgette sheets, the macadamia ricotta is the star of the show: creamy, grainy, and quite uncanny.”¨”¨
To complete the experience all their desserts, including the homemade cheeseboard, are totally raw. The Lime Cheesecake is citrusy, thick, and smooth as can be. Don’t leave without trying the Chocolate Caramel Brownie, an incredible combination of ganache and medjool caramel, made all the more addictive with a hint of Himalayan salt.”¨”¨
The Essence staff are friendly and attentive and always ready to describe in detail all the components of each dish. They also have a takeaway menu and, of course, you can bag-up any leftovers. I was particularly impressed to note that all of their seemingly plastic packaging is 100% plant-based and compostable. Check them out for a truly unique and modern vegan dining experience.”¨”¨*Note: ESSENCE is available to fuel up at your desk via UberEats and Deliver.