From the team behind Counter Culture (next to the Dairy) in Clapham, comes Alter, a pan-Asian vegan restaurant that’s taken residency in Aldgate’s stylish Leman Locke “aparthotel”. Housing self-contained studios and apartments in a boutique hotel-like setting, Leman Locke is from the same company as Bermonds Locke where The Dairy is – so it seems that someone there has good taste. And with a Shaman Coffee on the ground floor, they also seem to know good caffeine.
Most importantly, though, they know good food. At the front of Alter’s kitchen is Andy Hogben, an ex-actor who became a chef for restaurants including Dabbous, Andrew Wong, Som Saa and Kym’s. See a very enlightening interview with him, here. With an all-vegan menu, Andy created Alter in 2018 to challenge misconceptions around vegan food through a series of pop-ups and supper clubs, drawing inspiration from street-food cultures around the world.
Rather than banging any drum for veganism though, Andy’s aim is to steer people away from meat substitutes and meat nostalgia into a more culturally curious place – exploring what we can gain by sharing ideas with other cultures and, in doing so, appreciate that we’re all part of something bigger. That social consciousness will encourage people, it’s hoped, to reduce meat. What better way to bring people together than through food?
Set on the first floor of Lehman Locke, Alter has a kind of Manhattan vibe. The minimalist décor and moody lighting allow the food and drinks to do the talking. It all feels very smart, but with an easy kind of East London feel and a very attractive bar. You would never guess this was a vegan restaurant.
The menu – designed for sharing – is incredibly creative with influences across Asia – China, Thailand, Malaysian and Vietnam – celebrating the regional specialities of each country, with a bit of Italy thrown in for good measure. Think Vietnamese ‘Falling Water’ Salad of Pomelo & Shiso; Pizza, Ajo Blanco & Basil. Each dish is also designed through the prism of street food, evoking that feeling of travel which we’re all so craving post-lockdown. It’s incredibly exciting.
My companion and I shared the Charred Jordan cabbage and kolae coconut curry (£9). Super fragrant with a good balance of spice, the curry sauce of this dish was full-bodied and ideal for the crunchy cabbage.
Alongside the cabbage came the Chengdu street tofu in bamboo sauce (£10). A Chengdu mid-morning dish, the smooth, silky tofu was offset by some serious flavour punches thanks to oodles of garlic and chilli soy infusing the sauce. Given Asian food is all about the finishing touches, the sauce was complemeneted by a topping of fresh spring onions and crunchy peanuts. I kept returning for one spoon more.
Our hearty main – definitely one to share – was the Khao-soi noodle laksa, oyster mushrooms (£16). Combining the Malaysian Laksa with the Chinese-influenced Thai Khao Soi Noodles, at it’s core this bowl is a red curry soup. Not much beats a laksa. With plenty of coconut cream and spices, the rich, curried broth melts in the mouth, noodles soaking it all in and each layer of flavour revealing itself stage by stage. That’s no surprise: the dish is itself is a product of 3 / 4 cultures. Originally from Hunan in Northern China and travelling down to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Thai cooks created it here to cater for Yunnan based Chinese tourists and their taste for noodle soups. Like any laksa, this bowl is also about the garnishes – here, deep fried noodles, fermented mustard greens, plenty or coriander, cucumber ribbons and lime, the textures of each bringing the bowl to life.
Also not to forget are their drinks. In Saturday night style, we ordered the Watermelon martini made with fresh watermelon, east London vodka and lime (£7) and the Tamarind sour made with bourbon, lime and tamarind (£10). The first was summery, salty and easy to sip; the latter had all the complexity and depth of the sweetness yet sourness of tamarind – a good choice for early Autumn. It’s exciting to see Asian spices, herbs and condiments used to their full potential in cocktails.
Alter’s tag line is “Massive Flavours” and those words do the food and drink here justice. Every bite (and sip) packs tonnes of flavour. Andy Hogben has succeeded here in showing that vegan food isn’t just for vegans. Tip for your visit? Come with a group so that you can order a everything and experience some serious flavour sensations.
Alter, 15 Leman Street, London E1 8EN