I have to admit that I don't really 'get' raw food and have a tendency to roll my eyes in a really unconstructive way when anyone starts telling me about it; so I was not that excited about visiting Essence Cuisine in Shoreditch which is predominantly raw and health conscious - unlike our editor Stef who was my eating partner for the evening and is a self confessed health food nut.
This bijou restaurant is minimalist yet welcoming with a Japanese industrial look - a nice change from the standard restaurant decor of Shoreditch/Old Street, where the ubiquitous exposed copper pipes and furniture made out of pallets reached saturation point some time ago. I did feel that I was lowering the aesthetic tone when I walked in wearing my motorcycle gear but the staff were so welcoming and lovely I soon felt right at home.
Essence is the result of a transatlantic culinary collaboration between plant-based restaurateur extraordinaire Matthew Kenney, Bart Roman and Andreas Bozarth Fornell. Kenney has a number of hugely successful eateries dotted around the globe as well as a raw food academy, so when Essence Cuisine opened in September, expectations were understandably high. I think editor Stef had been dreaming about our impending meal for about a month...
My first glance at the menu resulted in some trepidation but I stowed by cynicism and we dove into an excellent bottle of vegan red wine recommended to us by our very accommodating and helpful waiter. This was enjoyed with the vegan cheese platter which in one mouthful totally won me over; I had some of the herb rolled soft cheese on a chia seed cracker and literally a massive wave of relief swept over me because I knew that the whole meal was going to be a total culinary joy.
The nut cheese platter is £15 and perfect to share as a starter. It comes with a wonderful pear chutney and little bits of dehydrated sun blushed tomatoes that pair amazingly well with the cheeses, especially the mushroom flavoured one.
For the main Stef and I tried the Essence Bowl and the Raw Pad Thai (both £9.50 each).
Both were fabulously flavourful, rich and creamy which I absolutely didn't expect (because I was still wrestling with my raw food bigotry at this point in the meal). I really liked both but preferred the Pad Thai with its seaweed noodles (more delicious than the name suggests), which was really punchy in flavour, whilst Stef loved the super creamy essence bowl with quinoa and Jerusalem artichoke with its subtle flavours and warming spices.
After oooing and ahhing over the meal thus far we moved on to the dessert platter which proceeded to blow my mind (and Stef's, who rarely eats pudding). The lime cheesecake! Oh, the lime cheescake! Where have you been my whole life? And the chocolate caramel brownie which clearly defied science because how is that even possibly raw?! There were rose petals that, when eaten with the brownie, made me come over all funny feeling inside filling me with love for the world and all who sailed in her. So good the dessert was, we even ordered the raw pancakes - and scoffed the lot.
After years of being fed salad as a vegan option in a variety of restaurants I had developed an ignorant bias against raw food and have found that the two recent food experiences that really surprised and inspired my taste buds were both found at raw food establishments. Essence Cuisine delivers high end dining with a mid range price tag that will leave you feeling satisfied, nourished and special. If you have had a bad day at work don't buy a pizza and tub of ice cream go to Essence instead (they do takeaway) and take the best medicine you'll have tasted in a long time.
Essence Cuisine is located at 94 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4RH.