Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Vegan-options available: Yes, almost everything is vegan; Value for money: 4.5/5, Quality of cooking : 4/5; Ambience : 3.5/5; Service: 4/5 ;Atmosphere: 4.5/5
Nestled rather jauntily on the edge of Regent's Canal right opposite Camden Lock market, Inspiral Lounge is a (predominantly) vegan eatery and internet lounge.
This is the second time that FussyVeggie has reviewed Inspiral. The first-time we reviewed this place, FussyVeggie liked everything except the food.
Second-time around, we quickly noticed that Inspiral had lost none of the charm that made it so attractive first time around - friendly waiting staff, a very earthly and laid-back feel, chill-out music and a fantastically healthy-looking menu of drinks and eats. The place was just buzzing and really busy for a Friday afternoon. The music was fantastic and we found our feet tapping away unselfconsciously to the rhythm.
I was a little intimidated by the very healthy-looking vegan food on display in the glass shelves. I wondered if it would all taste really strange and over-healthy.. (sorry folks - i was being really narrow-minded) but finally decided that it must be far more intimidating for a meat-eater to go veggie than it is for me to go vegan especially when I clearly recognise and respect the ethical choice being made by vegans every day. So, by the time we're gotten past the friendly jostling queue and paid for our meal before seating ourselves by a nice window overlooking Camden Lock, we were all definitely in a faux-Glastonbury mood. The only things missing were the wellies.
We tried the cream cheese and tomato bagel and a small salad bowl, as well as a Banana Karma smoothie with a pudding order of vegan tiramisu. Now it was time to check if the food had improved at all and to be honest, I was dreading it, given how poor it had been first time around.
Fortunately we were in for a really pleasant surprise. The bagel had been toasted and the filling tasted of chunkily sliced tomatoes and avocado - really fresh and flavoursome with fresh basil leaves giving the dish a nice edge. The rough texture of the seeded bagel worked really well with the softer filling.
In our small salad pot, we had been given a very generous helping of roasted potatoes (smoked through with paprika), a helping of mixed beans (fantastically flavoursome and the highlight of our meal), roasted parsnips (perfectly yummy) and freshly steamed broccoli. It was the first time in years that I have had a "small" salad that is so rustic and thrown together yet so much more filling and delicious than even a main course.
(Readers - I haven't described the menu in much detail because it changes ever day. If the rest of the food is as good as what we ate, you're in for a wholesome treat)
The banana drink was laced with date puree and was incredibly glug-able. And last but not least, the dessert was a real winner. The tiramisu base was a tiny bit too textured for my liking but the flavours were sweet, coffee-ish and spot-on.
I was so glad we had bothered to re-review this place. In a very short space of time Inspiral has achieved a 180 degree turn in terms of food quality and best of all , all the other stuff they do so well is still around. The place still has a kinda hippy, chaotic yet chic feel. It certainly doesn't feel like some of the more commercial chain joints nearby that serve re-hashed, oily junk. Plus, Inspiral has got oodles of personality and celebrates veggie-ness.
Inspiral is a real testament to London's veggie-friendliness. The food is very reasonably-priced. It isn't so cheap that it makes you wonder what rubbish the ingredients are made of, but it isn't expensive in a way that would make you think twice about visiting it. It's spot on.
So FussyVeggie now strongly recommends Inspiral on all counts - flavour, ambience and service. Do hurry up and visit before it gets even more crowded !!
250, Camden High St,
London NW1 8QS
ORIGINAL REVIEW 2009
Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Vegan-options available: Yes, plenty; Value for money: 2.5/5, Quality of cooking : 2/5; Ambience : 3.5/5; Service: 4/5 ;Atmosphere: 3.5/5
Set alongside Regent's Canal on the edge of Camden Lock, Inspiral Lounge is a cafe-style restaurant and internet lounge.
First up, the good bits (and there are quite a few) - Inspiral mainly serves vegan food, including a very attractive-looking, vegan ice-cream range and vegan cakes and truffles. A couple of non-vegan but vegetarian options are also on the menu (such as a bagel with mozzarella). The lounge is dotted with straight-back chairs and comfy sofas including a couple of window seats that overlook the canal and a patio-terrace-y space. At Inspiral, there is also a counter selling tickets for Regent's Canal cruises. The place has a very organic, eco-friendly feel to it with hemp smoothies, washable stainless steel ice-cream tasting spoons (rather than throwaway plastic dippers) and a very healthy-list of menu options. All the food is wholesome and tastes fresh, the place feels really sunny and relaxed and the staff are friendly and extremely pleasant.
On the day we visited, we tried the large plate at £7.45. We thought it would be a good way to sample a large chunk of the menu on offer, as this large plate consisted of all the mains and sides on the buffet counter and salad too. The very helpful member of staff who served us, piled our plate full. Very generous, indeed !!
Now the areas for improvement. Or should I say area - because all I really want improved is the taste of the food. And given the rave reviews I've heard about this place, this certainly could just be my personal opinion and that of my dining companion's. First, we tried the pasta in white sauce - the pasta pieces were well-cooked, but the sauce they were coated in, tasted pretty sour and unpalatable. Also on the plate was plain rice, cooked with barley - this was simple and nice, but by its very nature exceedingly plain. Next up was something I would describe as a smokey black-eyed bean mock-chilli; the beans were perfectly cooked-through but the sauce was "all smoke and no fire" - absolutely un-spectacular and boring. Alongside these we had roasted butternut squash/ sweet potato cubes, which I disliked, possibly because I don't like sweet flavours in a main meal; tender roast potatoes which could have done with a bit of browning and crispiness on the outside and some more seasoning rather than just the overpowering taste of rosemary; and lastly humous, which was ok but a bit on the sour side. We also got a serving of nice, fresh cucumber and tomato salad, which was the nicest item on the plate along with the humous. The cooking was akin to the quality of cooking one gets the first time a bunch of university students, who haven't really cooked much before, try to prepare a vegetarian or vegan meal. Inspiral's chefs' hearts seem to be in the right place and the place certainly has good intentions but the food is just about edible (and better in some cases, as a consequence of them not interfering with good produce, rather than because of their cooking). Unfortunately, even between the two of us, we didn't manage to get through even half the plate of food. My dining companion felt a bit let down, because she was on a budget and she felt she could cook a better-quality meal at home.
There's no doubting that Inspiral Lounge serves fresh, wholesome food in a pleasant and friendly environment. All they now need to do, is get the flavours up to scratch. Vegetarian and vegan food can be flavoursome as well as healthy . Inspiral has certainly got the healthy part of that equation right; the ingredients are great and already there; all Inspiral needs now, in my humble opinion (and that of my guest) is better execution and slightly less amateur cooking. If that's sorted, this could be a great place to visit again. One to watch !!
250, Camden High St,
London NW1 8QS