The UK's first vegan tapas restaurant is surprising and inspiring
This place is definitely worth a shot if you're just into food and want to try something a bit different.
What connotations has the word 'vegan' for you? The people behind Rootcandi, an intimate, cosy restaurant above Iydea on Western Road, prefer to not use it at all. Nowhere on their menu or website does the V-word appear, yet their 'plant-based tapas' are - along with all their wines, drinks, and bread - 100% vegan.
Why not just say so, I asked manager Reeshi. He explained that he felt some people make inaccurate assumptions about veganism, linking it with certain lifestyles and politics. At Rootcandi, they're not interested in being part of any particular movement. They simply abstain from using animal-derived products in their food, and seem to be enjoying this culinary challenge.
I'd also wager that a certain local 'celebrity' vegan, with a penchant for imitation meat products with ridiculous names, is largely to blame for a wariness by some of vegan food.
I am a meat lover. Anyone who reads this column regularly knows I often enjoy meals involving sinful amounts of flesh. I cook vegetarian food a lot at home, often using eggs or cheese, but rarely go entirely vegan. I will never order a vegan main course when eating out, apart from at Indian restaurants.
And so, a meal at Rootcandi was, for me, something of an education - and from the start, it was surprisingly great. Sourdough toast with a pÃ¢tÃ© of broad beans, cashews and mint was a delicious nibble with a summery cucumber and rose Collins.
The tapas themselves are divided into three set menus, based on two people sharing '“ one Modern European and one South American. We went for the pan-Asian set (Â£16.50 per person) which arrived on a layered stand that didn't look dissimilar to a mug tree perched on top of a Lazy Susan '“ the presentation will definitely split opinion.
Starting with the warm dishes, steamed carrot dumplings were absolutely delicious, with a carrot hoisin sauce that was savoury and moreish. We also quickly demolished beetroot and butternut tempura, crisp and light in a gluten-free maize batter, and pepped up nicely with a wasabi soy dip.
Marinated tofu '“ it had to appear somewhere '“ was soft and melting, served with a crisp, sharp mooli and beetroot salad and wasabi cream. Again, another lovely dish. My head was definitely being turned. I wasn't even craving a steak.
Griddled pak choi with Chinese mustard was sharpened nicely by discs of zingy pickled ginger. Soft summer rolls, crusted with black sesame seeds, were light and delicate, stuffed with water chestnuts and radish.
Everything we ate was fresh and well-cooked, with a lot of thought put into contrast and texture, and - being entirely plant-based - it all looked vivid, bright and inviting. Most impressively, everything was packed with flavour.
A warm chocolate and beetroot pot came with really good gluten-free fennel biscotti for dipping, and my friend raved about her fruit tart tatin with sticky roasted walnuts and lychee jelly. Both puds were served with a soya vanilla ice cream which, trust me, tasted a lot better than it sounds.
With so many new meat-heavy places opening at the moment, it's refreshing to have Rootcandi on the scene, too. They're planning to make the entire menu gluten-free, which will appeal to a lot of people. But dietary requirements aside, this place is definitely worth a shot if you're just into food and want to try something a bit different. It was packed on a Wednesday night, and I have a feeling this is a concept that'll go down a storm in Brighton.
105 Western Road, Brighton, BN1 2AA 01273 965904