Georgette McCready says enough with the stereotyping and discovers vegetarian delights at Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
In the same way that people don’t always want to be defined by gender or sexual orientation, how about we stop defining ourselves as vegetarian, vegan or carnivore and simply call ourselves food lovers? “Yes, I really enjoy good food,” should be sufficient, without having to go into your exact preferences.
That aside, one of the many pleasures of dining at Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen is that the vegetarian, vegan, nut allergic or gluten-free diner can eat in the safe and sure knowledge that everything has been carefully prepared with a plant-centric menu as well as meat-free dishes that are fine for those last three food types, being all clearly labelled.
Which allows us to settle in this relaxed Georgian dining room, admire a glimpse of the flamboyant facade of Ralph Allen’s Townhouse (if you bag the table in the window you’ll see one of Bath’s secret architectural gems) and choose from a sensibly small set menu. Two courses are £26.95, three for £33.95. Add a three course wine match for £18.
Our overture was an amuse bouche of a refreshingly vibrant green pickled cucumber served with fine slithers of fresh ginger, fennel and dill. A delightful wake-up call to the appetite and this dish, as with everything we ate, was a treat to the eyes as well as the palate. The menu changes dish by dish every few weeks as produce comes into season. My pal Susie – who doesn’t eat meat and tries to avoid processed food for health reasons – is wild about garlic, so picks parsnip and hazelnut soup, which is poured hot at the table over a bundle of wild garlic pesto, and which she pronounces deliciously velvety, rich and smooth.
My starter is altogether a more hearty affair. Even if you’re a keen home cook, I’d put money on you not taking the time and effort that the Acorn kitchen puts into its dishes – let alone the skills. A couple of nobbly Jerusalem artichokes are unlikely to inspire most of us to roast them to caramelised perfection and then add some lightly chargrilled pink grapefruit segments – each vein beautifully delineated in black by this process – with some creamy rich butter, made from sunflower seeds. It is a combination of flavours that works perfectly.
Bertinet bread is served, with a deep rich olive oil and dukkah to dip into. I’m familiar with this Eygptian mix of spices, nuts and sesame seeds, but there are other items on the menu that we have to look up.
The vegetables in each dish are the main stars of the show, not merely backing singers. And a dazzling display they put on too. It’s almost as though the concept of eating meat or fish had never been dreamt up. The secret of the creation lies in taking an almost painterly eye to building up layers of texture, colour and ultimately different flavours.
We, like other diners around us, spent a lot of our meal tasting and then exclaiming: “Wow! What’s that?” Who could believe, for instance that humble parsley could be transformed into a pure emerald green puree that tastes gently divine. The staff are very knowledgable and happy to explain what various ingredients and methods are.
Susie’s main course was a generous bowl of agnoletti pasta, topped with a smoked king oyster mushroom and sitting in an extremely umami mushroom emulsion. I tasted it and shared her enthusiasm for its complexity and smoky savouriness.
Pretty as a painting came for me a plate full of roast onion shells, like boats, filled with pale orange cashew and carrot pate, each topped with a thin ribbon of raw carrot. Setting off the orange was the emerald parsley puree and a risotto made from seven seeds and grains in pumpkin seed milk, paired with a glass of fresh Chenin Blanc from California.
Although deeply satisfied we were still curious to finish our culinary adventure. Who could resist the novelty of beetroot ice cream? A quenelle of rich pink earthy yet sweet loveliness was accompanied by shards of honeycomb, like the inside of a Crunchie bar, and a pale white chocolate panna cotta. And the dish of compressed fresh pineapple was perfectly matched with amaretto cream, crisp ginger biscuit pieces, fresh basil and an olive oil sorbet. The latter was weird and delicious at the same time. The cool, sweet sorbet undercut by the Mediterranean grassy warmth of olive oil.
So, don’t be defined by boring culinary stereotyping and instead venture on a fascinating exploration of flavour at Acorn. I’ll wager you’ll find exciting tastes you’ve never tried before and will want to try again.