Pre-conceived perceptions of vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based dining are changing very quickly. Again this year we will be celebrating the popular VegFest London in November. The ground-breaking festival presents plant-based and vegan food and products, health and wellness vendors, special guest speakers, cooking demos, and a children’s activity at the Progress Building at the Western Fair.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, or cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products.
In the quest for a more healthful lifestyle more people are adopting vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic and other plant-based products. Good examples of the rise in plant-based food culture are specialty food artisans and vendors like Margaret Coon’s Nuts for Cheese on the second floor of the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market Western Fair. Coon produces a line of of artisanal, handcrafted, and vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews. These healthy and delicious cheeses are billed as being “shreddable, spreadable and meltable” plant-based products that are both dairy- and gluten-free.
Another interesting vegan business is The Boombox Bakeshop at the corner of Adelaide and Lorne Avenue. Alexandra Connon creates delicious (and beautiful) pies, cupcakes, popovers, mini pies and other mouth-watering seasonal treats. The bakeshop is a popular veg-friendly bakery and café specializing in vegan and gluten-free vegan goods.
Speaking of plant-based bakeries, be sure to stop in at the new Boho Bake Shop next door to Nuts for Cheese at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. The bakery is entirely gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The baking is naturally sweetened with pure local honey or maple syrup. Each product is prepared from scratch in small batches using high quality, whole organic ingredients. On offer are brownies, squares, cookies, doughnuts and granola bars.
Two new restaurants in London, Glassroots and Plant Matter Kitchen, are featuring upscale vegetable-centred cuisine and breaking new ground for innovative, healthful and quality offerings.
Plant Matter Kitchen
Home to artisans and artists, unique independently owned shops, services and restaurants, Wortley Village in London’s Old South has evolved organically to its present charming revitalized streetscape. The Village boasts a diverse group of interesting buildings with unique boutiques, restaurants, cafés and small-scale from-scratch bakeries, and two of London’s newest and most innovative restaurants, Wolfe of Wortley and Plant Matter Kitchen.
Located in the heart of Wortley Village Plant Matter Kitchen (PMK) is owned by Glenn Whitehead and partner Melanie Wendt. (Wendt is the daughter of restaurateur extraordinaire Dagmar Wendt who has been operating the landmark Mexican-inspired Under the Volcano since 1988.) This wholly vegan, plant-based, organic restaurant has a distinctly back-to-the-earth vibe with an open kitchen and a modern urban sensibility. PMK has adopted a whole food, plant-based focus, crafting vegan fusion meals by mixing global flavours with an ethical ethos.
The restaurant kitchen serves organic plant-based meals, smoothies and a delicious proprietary coffee roast from Patrick’s Beans. There are also beverage pairings that include craft beers by the new Old East Village artisanal brewer, Anderson Ales, and handcrafted effervescent kombucha from Booch Organic Kombucha. The farm-to-table approach is expanded to all menu offerings. Try a power smoothie made with banana, cacao, cashews, chia and hemps seeds and coconut milk. The kitchen incorporates many whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, tofu and seed for a healthy plant-based diet. The kitchen also uses gluten-free vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews and other natural ingredients crafted by the artisans at Nuts for Cheese. Try the delectable baked mac and cheese prepared with gluten-free noodles. Both the signature Caesar and Cobb salads are enjoyable and innovative iterations of classics.
“PMK is as committed to the foundation of local organic and plant-based as possible,” Whitehead says. “We are working with a number of local, smaller and independent farmers to secure that sort of farm-to-table, as close to fresh and as close to its natural state food experience as we can for the restaurant goer.” There is an appealing street side patio for relaxing and people watching.
Plant Matter Kitchen
162 Wortley Road, London
Monday to Wednesday 8:00 AM–8:00 PM
Thursday to Saturday 8:00 AM–10:00 PM
Sunday 10:30 AM–2PM
Glassroots – A Food and Wine Revolution
After seven years in London, Veg Out chef/owner Florine Morrison announced that she would be closing Veg Out in April. Culinary stalwarts Yoda Olinyk and Mike Fish — associates of Morrison — announced in January they would be opening their new restaurant, Glassroots, in the premises at 646 Richmond Street after Veg Out closed.
Olinyk and Fish recently opened Glassroots and have quickly taken the concept of “local” to a new level, sourcing everything from as close to home as possible. They are savvy and know how to build an expanded clientele by casting veganism as healthful lifestyle rather than a moral crusade. Olinyk and Fish also know how to build community and have done so very effectively, partially through their crowdfunding initiative and social media channels.
With a newly renovated and intimate dining room (tables are quite close), Glassroots is already becoming a high-energy hub for a dedicated healthful food culture. The dining room has lots of natural light with stained glass and heritage accents..
Olinyk and her culinary team mix local and seasonal made-from-scratch food, with a warm and inviting ambiance and a friendly and authentic dining experience. Olinyk redefines the diverse repertoire of modern plant-based cuisine with a wholly inventive and idiosyncratic approach. Innovation and seasonality are paramount and some menu items change weekly.
Rotating dishes that have been on offer include falafels, hearts of palm calamari, tofu scallops with spicy soba noodle salad, mac and cheese, corn dogs, wild mushroom risotto, Buffalo cauliflower (not the city, the sauce) and waffles. The vegetable charcuterie board features red pepper pepperoni, “Field Roast” sausage, eggplant and tomato pâté, mustard, pickled vegetables and toasts. Another excellent choice is the “Nuts for Cheese” plate, featuring cashew cheese, homemade jams and pickles.
Olinyk is a certified Red Seal chef and is also skilled in plant-based nutrition. She was the brains behind the very successful vegetarian catering company called Yoda’s Kitchen of St. Thomas. She brings to Glassroots her reputation, expertise and repertoire as “the healthy chef” and creates innovative, sometimes surprising, flavoursome creations.
Fish, her partner in life and work, is a certified sommelier, Canadian wine scholar and cocktail guru who bring years of professional experience and training in the wine industry to the table, with a goal of offering one of London’s best wine, craft beer and cocktail lists. The cocktails are fresh, seasonal and a spin on the classics. Try the refreshing Horse’s Neck. This is the only restaurant in town whereyou can get Muscedere Vineyards pinot grigio from Lake Erie’s North Shore.
Glassroots is open for full service dinners Wednesday to Sunday, and features a Sunday brunch and a healthy, vegan, take-away lunch throughout the week. The restaurant is available for wine workshops, tasting events, fundraisers and more. There is a charming 14-seat elevated patio facing Richmond Street.
646 Richmond St, London
Mon and Tuesday Closed
Wednesday–Sunday 4:30 PM–11:00PM
Kitchen closes nightly at 10 PM
Bryan Lavery is eatdrink magazine’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.