Wulf & Lamb: Review
You gotta laugh at the irony of naming a vegan restaurant after two animals. But according to Wulf & Lamb’s website, ‘wulf’ is an ancient, softer spelling of ‘wolf’; and the idea is to bring together the enemy and the innocent, the predator and the prey, and not see them in black and white terms. They see strengths and vulnerabilities in everyone, they say, and their aim is to find harmony and destroy misconceptions. So far, so hippy-dippy… but the restaurant is anything but.
First, let us tell you about the shiny new location. Wulf & Lamb opened in September 2017 on Pavilion Road, a beautiful little side street just off Sloane Square. The road is being developed by the Cadogan Estates into an enclave of artisan shops and boutiques, many of them food and drink-related. There’s a wine shop, coffee roasters, cheesemonger, Bread Ahead bakery, butcher, Natoora greengrocer, and a couple of cafés and restaurants – with more set to open in the next few weeks.
We visited every shop before our lunch, and the friendly staff in each gushed – without being asked – about the community spirit in the area. Ensconced behind a couple of cafés, there’s also a secluded, pretty little courtyard lush with palm trees and climbing plants. It’s a hidden, self-contained world, a little secret on the verge of being discovered. If you’re visiting Chelsea, it’s worth popping along to Pavilion Road to take a look.
Natoora – or more accurately, its headquarters – supplies fruit and veg to Wulf & Lamb next door. Like its neighbouring retail units, the restaurant is a small, two-storey affair. There’s a tiny, diner-like space by the entrance for a quick meal, behind which is a service counter. You place your order and pay, then go up the stairs to the more spacious dining area where staff bring over the food. A skylight and large picture windows on either side ensure plenty of natural light; and there’s a mix of banquettes and conventional seating, wooden- and marble-topped tables and a textured wall. It’s airport lounge-chic but in a nice way.
The short, fast-casual menu gives a nod to American comfort food, with burgers, chilli, Tex-Mex salad, burrito, and mac ‘n’ cheese all making an appearance. There’s also a soup, noodle salad, green curry, and sandwiches and wraps to take away; plus a breakfast menu. A short but comprehensive drinks list includes wines, beers and dairy-free coffees.
Chilli ‘non’ carne, made from lentils, kidney beans and, we were told, seitan, was hearty and substantial. Imbued with a satisfyingly smoky flavour, it had a good spicy kick only slightly overwhelmed by the taste of dried herbs and caraway seeds. We liked it a lot though, and the accompanying sour ‘cream’ was a revelation. Mellow with a welcome tang to offset the earthiness of the chilli, it was made from cashew nuts and perhaps a little lemon juice and tasted just like its dairy equivalent.
The fact that the chilli came with white rice instead of brown – and no superfluous garnishes like, say, kale and quinoa salad – shows that the restaurant isn’t trying to be worthy. This was also reflected in the spiced veg burger – a flavoursome patty in an amazingly soft, fluffy white brioche. No need for a wholesome wholemeal bread roll here. The bun was mercifully not sweet or pappy, and didn’t fall apart.
Cashew nut ‘aioli’ and the optional ‘cheese’ were pretty much as good as the real thing; and the accompanying soft, floury potato and sweet potato wedges were fine. We loved the little pot of own-made sauerkraut, which had a bright, fresh flavour not overly funky with fermentation. Mac n’ cheese, again slightly overpowered by dried herbs but otherwise tasty, was properly cheese-y – and we were impressed that the surface was evenly browned, leading to a ‘how do they do that with vegan cheese?’ moment.
Desserts in vegan restaurants can often be a disappointment: the amount of nuts and oils used, and the level of processing involved to simulate dairy, can render them stodgy. But here, the carrot cake was exquisite. We couldn’t tell that the generous wedge was eggless: it had a soft, light crumb, and a great balance of dried fruits, nuts, spices and frosting.
The only let-down was the tiramisu. Made from raw almond cream, it tasted like gritty, wobbly clotted cream that’s been set like a jelly – its texture was all wrong. We couldn’t stop nibbling on the accompanying bowl of coffee-flavoured mini-meringues though. Very likely made from aquafaba (chickpea cooking water – currently very fashionable as vegan egg-white replacer), they were no different from high-quality egg meringues. And no, they didn’t taste of chickpeas.
You can tell there’s a skilled chef at work here. Indeed head chef Franco Casolin was previously at London’s most ground-breaking vegetarian restaurant, Vanilla Black. We were overall impressed by the flavourful dishes and the skills and thought involved in creating credible, superb-quality vegan substitutes of dairy products. Perhaps there’s no need for a baffling name or an esoteric mission statement – the message comes across loud and clear through the food.
Wulf & Lamb, 243 Pavilion Road, SW1X 0BP