Vanilla sits on an unassuming stretch of Great Titchfield Street – so unassuming in fact, that you could easily walk right past it, which we, erm….did. Once we realised the error of our ways (is there not a human sat nav plug-in available yet?), we backtracked and found the entrance. After the descent into Vanilla we found the bar too, and were promptly settled into a booth by an attentive waitress. This place is big on contrasts with the bar being decked out in space-pod white, and the restaurant a far more undercover affair with its black tones.
Whilst we sat surrounded by the whiteness of the bar, the cocktail list was of course, placed in front of us. It’s worth a look most definitely, and we chose our cocktails of passion fruit and honey after umming and ahhing with the waitress about our choices. They arrived crushed, shaken and stirred and accompanied by a platter of startlingly presented nibbles. Little glass jars of dips were interspersed with beetroot crisps and sculpted bread sticks. It quite a work of art but we were hungry by that point, so we wrecked the creative presentation and got stuck in.
With a new chef on board, Vanilla has taken quite a unique stand in that it only offers tasting menus as opposed to your ordinary a la carte scenario. Chef Izu Ani, previously of two Michelin starred The Square, has created a series of tasting menus that push your taste buds off the beaten track. There are three menus, which vary in length and price, starting with the four-course ‘Just a taste’ option and ending with the ten-course ‘Journey of taste’ for the extra curious, extra minted types. We tried the four-course menu, which actually ends up as a six-course dinner, when you count the pre-starter and pre-dessert, both of which were a decent size. If you’re worried about eyes-bigger-than-belly syndrome, don’t fret too much as the tasting menus have been suitably portioned, to enable you to get up from the table afterwards.
It’s not as restrictive as a tasting menu might sound either – diners don’t have to follow the menus to the letter, so if you fancy trying something that you’ve spied from another tasting menu, it is possible to chop and change within reason. We had two menus to choose from within the ‘Just a Taste’ menu and made a few requests from the other tasting menus we’d glanced at too.
It’s worth noting that the food here is weird at times, but for the most part wonderful. Highlights included the oddity that is clay-covered potatoes – edible clay, though thankfully not the stuff you get at the Early Learning Centre. The clay wasn’t unpleasant and didn’t taste like a facemask, which is what I had feared. It’s not the kind of thing you would hanker for at four in the morning when your stomach is grumbling, but combined with the spiced seeds and aioli, it made for a good combination. We started with this clay number, according to the waiter because it is refuted to aid digestion. The other courses went down easily with the artichoke, salsify and almond salad tasting beautifully autumnal, and the venison with pear puree melting properly in the mouth as it should. The only thing that didn’t work was the 64°C smoked egg - cooked at 64°C for 45 minutes, to ensure that the yolk and white are both the same consistency. It’s one thing if you’re trying to prove a scientific point, but unfortunately not such a highlight if you have to eat it.
The puddings were a final treat though. Our pre-dessert (which would have been enough, if you’re able to say no to seconds), was brilliant. A tiny indulgent bite of doughnut was accompanied by a huge glass of elderflower and winterberry bubbles. The doughnut was a mouthful of intense sweetness, and the bubbles of fruit foam set it off with their tartness quite perfectly. You know when you gloat quietly over your guest, because your dessert choice was out of this world? This would have been that moment, if either of us had actually chosen it, and we weren’t both eating the same dessert.
Our chosen puddings arrived soon enough, and the butternut squash dessert medley came on a platter in its various guises, including a sorbet, which was subtle but superb. The date cake and vanilla milkshake arrived, with wow factor written all over it. How can a date cake manage that, you might wonder? With it’s frothy, dry-ice milkshake partner, that’s how. The date cake was very good, and the crushed honeycomb was addictively good, but the frothy, dry-ice vanilla milkshake upstaged everything that had been set down on our table that night. It was slightly sci-fi with its volcanic-like eruptions, but once all that had settled down the bubbles turned into a delicious vanilla milk, that my spoon scooped up until the plate threatened to come with it.
It is performance food at Vanilla, so potentially a little frustrating if you haven’t eaten for nine hours and want to sink your teeth into a hamburger. But if you want to be wowed by your food, before and after you devour it – Vanilla definitely delivers.
Tasting menus at Vanilla range from £40 - £75 per head.
Vanilla: 131 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 5BB. Tel: 020 3008 7763.
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar