Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Vegan-options available: Yes; Value for money: 3.5/5, Quality of cooking : 3/5; Ambience : 2.5/5; Service: 3/5 ;Atmosphere: 3/5
I've been away from London for a good six months now. So when I recently returned to London and heard that TV-chef Aldo Zilli has opened a vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Soho, I was very intrigued (and rather pleased). Its good for veggies when mainstream chefs, realise the power of the green pound and I was keen to see what Zilli Green's head chef Enzo (a vegan himself) had in store for us.
We arrived at the restaurant, absolutely ravenous because I had convinced R, my partner, that we needed to work up an appetite by doing a brisk 3 mile walk beforehand. We were received by friendly waiting staff and were promptly seated at our table. For a Saturday at lunch time in the heart of the tourist district on a sunny day, the restaurant was not hugely busy. The bland decor consisted of pine-ish tables and some excruciatingly dull furnishings -- not particularly inviting for the average tourist I suspect. The (few) tables placed strategically in the sun on the porch were full up though. Our menus looked a bit greasy ; I could see a thumbprint . And I was beginning to wonder if I'd made the wrong choice in making the journey to Zilli Green, but I decided to stop being a snob and to judge this restaurant on the quality of the food, in the main !
So back to the food !! The items on the menu were much more exciting than the decor. The menu seemed like a whistlestop tour of veggie food from different continents and across different genres. Burgers, quesadillas, curries, spaghetti, orechiette, fusion food - you name it, it was there.
We ordered a starter of Mixed Vegetable Tempura. It arrived a good fifteen minutes later and had obviously been freshly cooked. The only problem was that the oil on the fritters had not been drained or dabbed off - a pretty basic problem in terms of cooking tempura and one that could have easily been avoided if a little care had been paid to the dish before setting it before the customer. Our waiter asked us whether we liked the dish and when we pointed out the oil to him, he even gently suggested to us that it should have been drained ! He didn't suggest replacing the dish though.
Our mains consisted of a
1)Mexican Platter with Black Bean Chilli, Cheese Quesadillas, Guacamole, Mixed Peppers, Crème Fraiche & Corn Tortillas and 2)a Cous Cous & Soya Burger with Lebanese Pickled Cucumber, Avocado, Mustard Dressed Mixed Leaves Homemade Mayo & Ketchup, Fat Chips ( Jalapeno Chilli and extra Mozzarella can be added at your request)
Both dishes were generously proportioned and of a fairly high standard. R loved the black bean chilli. To me, the combination on the Mexican platter as a whole was reasonably good except for the quesadillas which should certainly have been seasoned better and should have been filled with something that was less bland. Also the corn tortillas turned out to be corn crisps that were a good copy of fairly flavourless shop-bought nachos - certainly a "chef - please go back to the kitchen and try to make this again" variety. (Ok, I'm being a bit harsh -sorry)
I enjoyed the burger and was impressed by how the chef had put the couscous and soya combination together. The burger was filling, but would have had more oomph if it had a bit more texture - better quality burger buns perhaps and the inclusion of some salad / fresh tomatoes or sliced onions and mustard might have helped. The chips that accompanied the burger were fresh, properly cooked but again lacking in seasoning and depth of flavour (easily improved by changing the chipping potato to a better quality potato). The ketchup that accompanied the burger should, in my estimation be replaced by something a bit more ketchup-py. It was a weird shade of orange (personally I prefer Mrs Wilkins'). Same goes for the home-made mayo which tasted of nothing. Despite all the critical comments above, by the time we had finished our mains, I was very full up. To be perfectly honest the food is very reasonable; it just needs more oomph and sparkle.
We looked at the pudding list and didn't really find anything that seemed to appeal to our now-desperate desire for something sweet and toothsome. However I must again admit that it did have a reasonably good selection on offer for those of you who prefer ice-cream or less sweet, lemony puds.
Our bill was under 50 pounds for two people including one cocktail and a bottle of still water. The two mains were under a tenner each and the starter was about 7 quid..So to me it seemed like they'd come up with perfectly reasonable prices for perfectly adequate food. When I had checked the prices on the bill I remembered thinking while ordering off the menu that the dishes were reasonably priced. So how did it all add up to 50 quid? The unexpected whopper was the service charge , which was included un-asked within the bill itself. I hate it when restaurants do that, don't you? When will restaurants just price their dishes properly and not expect me to top up their staff's' earnings with a supposedly optional tip? I'll put down a tip unasked if I like the service, but I hate it when they assume its their right to demand it.
I didn't complain though (its a veggie restaurant and I'm keen we should have more) and the meal came to a rather uneventful conclusion (as bland as some of the food).
As we were paying up, the chef very kindly came by to ask us what we thought about the food. That was a nice touch and the highlight of the meal (for me at least). It was obviously a genuine gesture since he had no clue I was about to review the place and he just popped by because he'd probably heard from his waiter that we didn't like the starter. As we spoke to Chef Enzo, I was impressed by his obvious passion for vegetarian and vegan food. Its fantastic to see someone so sincere about what he's doing and why he's vegan. He seemed very genuine and when he talked about local produce, it was obvious that he cares tremendously about the provenance of what he puts on the plate.
Its early days yet at Zilli Green and they can do a few things to quickly ramp up this place to a high standard. To my (perhaps over-critical) mind, what Zilli Green needs is an imaginative interior designer and more effort into translating the chef's passion for food into excellence on the plate. So to me, this restaurant is one to keep on the list and certainly one to visit for simple, honest ( if improve-able) food when you visit Soho. Readers, do let me know if you try this place and especially if you find its getting better over time. This would be a good little gem in a great location if it begins to hit the mark.
41 Dean Street, Soho
London W1D 4PY
Tel: 020 7734 3924