Sal’s Kitchen reviews… Plants Taste Better and Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen

Acorn Vegetarian

Looking for the review of Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen? Keep scrolling, it starts three paragraphs down.

Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen is a bit legendary in Bath. If anyone’s looking for vegetarian or even vegan food, Acorn is always top of the list for recommendations – and with damn good reason. Forget every cliché, misconception or silent, sneaking prejudice you’ve ever held about vegetarian restaurants – this is a place that packs its food with flavour, creativity and flair, that presents beautiful dishes in a stylish, sophisticated setting, and yet still manages to fill you right up and provide puddings to tempt the most die-hard dessert fanatic. And now, to top it all off, chef Richard Buckley has brought out a book that lets you take some of those delectable dishes home: Plants Taste Better, a vegan recipe compendium that’s going to blow your mind.

Plants Taste BetterPlants Taste Better
They certainly do in this book

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had some dispiriting experiences with veggie and vegan food. I’ve struggled through platefuls where the only flavour is ‘healthy’, I’ve gotten chips on the way home to stave off hunger when the portions were miserable and the ingredients unfulfilling. But Richard’s food is on a whole other level. Plants Taste Better begins with a snack section that immediately got my stomach rumbling; golden polenta chips, crispy rosti and tempura kale, with dips and dressings to tempt the tastebuds alongside. Moving onwards, there’s a rainbow of soups and salads all with their own fabulously inventive garnishes, pastas with all sorts of twists and tweaks, main dishes with a constantly changing cast of vegetables as the star – lemon-braised fennel, carrot, pea & cardamom tagine, sweet potato & aubergine with spiced peanut sauce & kimchi. Throughout, the pages are dotted with intriguing extra bits and bobs – toasted seed and nut garnishes, porcini powder, vegetable stocks and purees – that will add a huge wallop of flavour to any dish. And of course, the book ends with a selection of desserts that are quite literally mouth-watering.

Acorn Vegetarian
This incredible chocolate ganache is a favourite at the restaurant, and can be found in the book

To be fair, none of these dishes are particularly quick or simple – you need to put the effort in to create this kind of food. But whether you take the time to make a whole recipe, or you just borrow a few of those fabulous elements to upgrade another dish, Plants Taste Better will definitely bring a little Acorn magic to your kitchen. Whether you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking for something completely different and wonderful, or you’re just an ordinary omnivore like me wanting to seriously upgrade your skills, this is a fabulous book.

Love the sound of this gorgeous food but can’t be bothered to cook it yourself? I know how it is, you’re busy – so read on for my review of Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen itself, and pop in to try these dishes without doing any of the hard work…

As I’ve already said, Acorn is a beautiful restaurant. Neatly tucked into a narrow old house on a narrow old Bath street, it has just a handful of tables, and a cool, tranquil colour palette of inky blue and charcoal grey, with golden, polished wood and simple white walls. We were ushered to my absolute favourite table, in a little nook of its own, with benches around three walls piled with cushions, bookshelves above laden with well-thumbed vegetarian recipe books, and a big old sash window looking out at the Abbey tower looming above the surrounding streets. Acorn bills itself as a vegetarian restaurant, but vegans will rejoice to find a great many completely meat and dairy free dishes on offer.

 Acorn Vegetarian
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

We started with some gorgeous herby olives, and fresh sourdough bread served with olive oil and crunchy, spicy dukkah for dipping – I could have scoffed the lot but wisely restrained myself for the main event. For my starter, I ordered a parsnip & hazelnut velouté with hazelnut tortellini, with a large glass of Yealands Black Label Sauvignon Blanc (one of my favourites) to wash it down. It was beautifully light, fresh and sweet, flavoured with lovage, and went very well with the wine too. My dining companion chose roasted Jerusalem artichokes with sunflower seed butter and pink grapefruit, which she pronounced to be beautifully balanced – the sweet earthiness of the artichoke nicely contrasted with the tangy grapefruit. It looked absolutely stunning on the plate too.

Acorn Vegetarian
Garlic Dhal with Fried Rice Fritters

For the main course, I couldn’t resist the garlic dhal with fried rice fritters – I love a good dhal, and this was certainly a good one, especially paired with the crispy rice fritters and sweet, tangy onions. I wasn’t quite so sure about the lime gel that came with it – a little bit much – and would perhaps have liked a tiny pinch more salt, but it was a lovely dish. My dining companion made the better choice though, I think: a whole cauliflower broken down into different elements – roasted florets, truffled puree, pickled and sautéed, served with creamy spelt grain and the most incredible almond milk croquettas, rich and smoky in a golden crispy shell (top image – those croquettas are in the book, and I cannot wait to try recreating them). To accompany it, the menu (which has wine pairings for all the dishes, nice touch) recommended a glass of Man Vintners Pinotage, which made for an excellent combination – I’m usually tempted to pick white wine for veggie dishes, but this one was so big and bold with its flavours that red was much the better choice.

Acorn Vegetarian
Compressed Rhubarb with Almond Milk Sorbet

Finally, for dessert, I was immediately drawn to the espresso parfait with a bar of chocolate ganache and pink peppercorn crumb, which managed to be both richly satisfying for a chocoholic like me, and simultaneously rather surprising – pink peppercorn is one of those ingredients sometimes included just to look pretty, but there was enough of it to taste in this dish and it provided the perfect counter-note to the deep chocolate and coffee flavours. My dining companion ordered compressed rhubarb with an almond milk sorbet, which was incredibly pretty on the plate and tasted fabulous too – the rhubarb fresh, zingy and complex, with a gorgeous texture, miles away from the mush you might usually find in a winter crumble.

To sum up – the flavours were stunning, and all the dishes incredibly tempting so that it was really hard to choose (always a good sign). There were some lovely surprises and creative touches, and we both mentioned at the end how filling and satisfying the meal was – there’s an enduring cliché that vegetarian food isn’t satisfying, but Acorn stomps all over that preconception. The set menu comes to £37.95 for three courses, with an additional £22 for the wine flight, so it’s not terribly cheap but it is totally, totally worth it (and at lunchtime you can also get a lighter set menu starting from £17.90 for two courses, so that’s definitely worth a look). Highly recommended, for vegans, omnivores and everyone in between.

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