The first signs of Alter don’t point to culinary nirvana. This small-plate vegan restaurant is on the first floor of an unattractive glass tower, with views of other very similar glass towers from its floor-to-ceiling windows. Take a wrong turn on the way back from the restroom and you’ll find yourself in the eerie hallways of the four-star hotel he lives in. But somehow Alter has a way of making his unpromising surroundings disappear, like clouds on a suddenly sunny day. Chef Andy Goodwin (a former actor who worked at trendy restaurants Som Saa and A. Wong) presides over a warm yet fun menu not usually associated with such virtuous vegan cuisine.
Take “pizza” (which Off Menu podcast host James Acaster called his favorite bread dish). Seasoned vegans might expect it to be coated in highly processed, searing approximations of mozzarella. But there was no sheese in sight here. This pizza wasn’t even round. Instead, we had playful triangular bread pillows covered in a deliciously tangy pizza-flavored dust, ready to be dipped in a puddle of ajo blanco garlic. If you love Pizza Express dough balls, this dish will make you feel a level of joy that’s physically impossible to experience while surrounded by the chain’s simple little flower vases and date-mumbling teenagers.
The rest of the menu is Asian-inspired, scouring earth’s largest continent for shareable, vegan bites of joy. Thai-inspired miang laos were small packets of peanut salad that were wrapped in deliciously peppery and sour mustard greens, instead of the more typical cabbage or lettuce. The shitake and yellow bean meatballs delivered a punchy, persuasive mushroom kick and came swimming in a flavor-rich kelp broth. And the thick, swampy laksa was buzzing with flavor, thanks to the oyster mushrooms lurking in its depths.
It’s the kind of menu where you want to sample everything – filling the table with a messy assortment of small earthenware dishes – and quick, friendly service makes it an even more appealing prospect (even if the cost adds up quickly).
London is filling up with vegan junk food joints that will leave you dangerously waddling full of ingredients of mysterious provenance. Antler is a welcome contrast. Its light and fresh dishes creatively take inspiration from the classics, instead of just putting in bland fake meat. Opt for an offbeat but utterly delicious celebration of the wonders of plant power, contrasted with the gray barrenness of the buildings around it.
The atmosphere Chic and lively vegan dinner in a tower block in Aldgate.
The food Asian-inspired dishes with bold flavors.
The beverage Sake from Kanpai in Peckham, craft beer, natural wine and light and fruity house cocktails.
time out advice Save room for dessert: the mango rice pudding is divine.