For my first indoor dining treat post-lockdown, back to Mayfair but this time just off Bond Street. Department store Fenwick has launched a new “wellness” concept space in their basement – the buzzword of the day (or the past year or so it seems) – featuring a sustainable food market, beauty and of course activewear brands (plenty of overpriced leggings and CBD oils on offer!). The best part of the space, though, is undoubtedly the new vegan restaurant from talented French chef Alexis Gauthier.
Now known for plant-based food at his flagship spot Gauthier Soho, this top restaurant has transitioned to a completely plant-based menu. Its tasting menu offers the likes of tempeh and corn with kaffir lime and popcorn with bean shoot salad: think high-end vegan cooking. It’s fantastic that London’s vegan dining scene has such a leading, creative and passionate chef at its helms, developing delicious plant-based dishes and championing the idea that plants – not animals – are the future.
Whilst Gauthier Soho remains more of a high-end restaurant, 123V describes itself as a “vegan cafeteria”. A terrace on Brook Street and now an interior dining area inside Fenwick, the ethos is casual, colourful and healthy.
What’s more, 123V offers a more approachable and (generally!) affordable spot in Mayfair, whilst retaining a touch of luxury in its own way. For example, there’s now what is London’s first vegan sushi counter, as well as a regularly-changing fixed price menu featuring high-end creative plates. Amazingly, Gauthier himself is in the kitchen before the Soho spot reopens, likely in late June, and I felt star struck when I spotted him behind the sushi counter on my visit!
Although the restaurant (like the store) closes at 8pm, the menu is an all-day affair serving casual plant-based dishes with tempting options available at brekkie include buckwheat pancakes, avo on toast, vegan patisserie and cold-pressed juices.
My companion and I were here for dinner though and opted for a few dishes to share. Top of the list was the Quesadilla Verde (£14), a fresh toasted corn galette filled with leek, chard, olives, confit tomatoes, fresh vegan cheese and wild rocket. This was probably the highlight of the menu for me: full of flavour, oozy and suitably green, it felt healthy yet filling.
What’s more, the dish comes with a choice of potato or chickpea fries or chopped salad. Given we were already ordering two of the salads to share as main, I couldn’t resist the chickpeas fries. Made with just chickpea flour and water, these were a revelation: thick yet light, crisp edges and fluffy interiors, the result was moreish and ever so satisfying. Though served with a mustard dip, they had enough flavour to enjoy freestanding.
My companion was also intrigued by the “Little Tomatoes” (£5) so were ordered one of these. Billed as a “bowl of today’s best baby tomatoes” we were anticipating a seasonal heritage tomato salad but sadly this dish underwhelmed. It was quite literally a bowl of unseasoned and uncut cherry tomatoes. Not much cooking or assemblage involved and far more expensive than a punnett of cherry tomatoes from the supermarket!
Also to share we ordered two of the Salads (both £12.50), which both – by their names – seemed to emulate the spirit of LA luxury meets the Orient through some exotic ingredients. First up was the “Heart of Palm ‘Beverly Hills’”. The main showcase of this salad is the earthy heart of palm – the flesh of a coconut tree. Though above ground, the flavour is earthy and rooted, and accompanied the woody oyster mushrooms, the light watercress, the bitter chicory and the sweet apple, the assemblage went together surprisingly well. An unusual and interesting salad – a conversation starter for sure!
Next was the “Soleil Rivera” of green beans, golden potato, artichoke, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, mesclun, olives and a mustard vinaigrette. This number felt like more of a random assemblage of ingredients, united only by a very strong mustard dressing (which isn’t my favourite). The bowl to me felt like something I could have probably put together (with ease) at home, albeit I wouldn’t choose to juxtapose these flavours. Probably a dish to skip and definitely not worth the £12.50 price tag.
All in all, though, it’s great that the London food scene has such a top chef championing the vegan cause. Although his transition to vegan cuisine has met resistance, he is ultimately staying true to what is at the heart of Provencal cooking: celebrating local produce – vegetables and fruit – for what they are. Though the salads could be more exciting (and less mustardy!) and the calorie count needn’t be stated on the menu – this restaurant certainly has creative potential, especially given its setting and ultimately the chef behind the food.
123V, Fenwick, 63 New Bond St, Mayfair, London W1S 1RQ