Well-renowned on the healthy hangout scene of West London, Farmacy is an oasis of plant-based, vegan food and artisanal cocktails in what they like to describe as “clean indulgence”. Heavily critiqued by Marina O’Loughlin in her review of what she describes as a clean eating temple of worship, I chose Farmacy for a catch-up supper with a couple of old school friends to test out whether she was right. Although I love their everything free-from foods – free from diary, refined sugars, additives and chemicals – their self-branding can be distancing. It’s all emphatically geared towards the clean-eating Notting Hill brigade and even praises itself as enabling “clean indulgence”. Yet, the term “clean” is very binary. As it has been hugely misinterpreted in social media, even use of the term has become controversial.
There’s no doubt that the eatery is a beautiful space. Fashion entrepreneur Camilla Al Fayed is behind the restaurant and the decor features various shades of green, plenty of wood and, of course, lots of plants including the cactus. The central Alchemy Bar serves up cocktails made from market-fresh ingredients – such as flaxseed oil, cayenne pepper and even cannabis oil – that are known to have medicinal benefits. Wine is also allowed, with biodynamic, organic, sulphur-free and “minimum interference” options on the list.
Although the menu is all geared towards “clean indulgence”, serving the more gimmicky “syringe shots” and protein boosters, they also serve up a range of (healthy) comfort foods, from (born corn) nachos with guac to spelt sourdough pizzas with “macadamia” cheese. Despite being vegan-friendly, there’s a reassuring lack of hemp, though plenty of spirulina (e.g. my hummus).
Keen to test out their take on the Italian classic, one of my companions enjoyed her House Classic Pizzetta (£11) with tomato sauce, roasted vegetables, cashew “cheese” and fresh herbs, served on homemade sourdough. My other companion, meanwhile, loved her Farmacy Burger (£15) made from millet, black bean and mushrooms, and served with all the necessary accompaniments: garlic aioli, the most delicious goji ketchup (of which I had to have a taste), avocado, pickles and sweet potato chips.
I found Farmacy’s world “Earth Bowls” particularly inspired. After much debate over whether to go for the Middle Eastern or the Mexican bowl (both £15), I opted for the former as I do love a bit of Friday falafel action. Bright, vibrant and flavoursome, the bowl demanded to be Instagrammed before I tucked in. Made up of steamed buckwheat with baba ganoush, spirulina hummus, sprouted tabbouleh, sweet potato falafels and pickled beetroot topped with sprouts and za’atar crackers, it was a range of textures and creamily indulgent with all the dips. The portion, however, was rather small and lacked the heartiness of both Shot’s baked falafel or the classic Pilpel. It could also have done with a touch more seasoning – I liberally sprinkled the garlic, chilli salt provided on each table.
With most dishes priced at £15, their high costs reflects how so many people are willing to buy into this goodness “lifestyle” trend. It’s undoubtedly a privileged lifestyle; just a stroll through the adjacent Planet Organic is a reminder of the middle-class nature of this phenomenon. Farmacy’s prescription would never be on the NHS. My other gripe with this place is their branding. Why they feel the need to brand cashew nuts as “cheese”, blended bananas as “nice cream”, and invert commas around “yoghurt” baffles me. The food should standalone in its own right and doesn’t need to replace or act as meat substitute.
Despite my small niggles about this place, I do agree with their citation of Hippocrates – that food should be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. And this place would certainly change your view on plant-based food. Their house buckwheat pancakes have been voted one of the best gluten-free options to enjoy this coming Shrove Tuesday. I’m very tempted to return for a spot of sinless “indulgence” so watch this space…
Farmacy, 74 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 5SH