Going out for dinner is one of my most favourite ways to catch up with friends or have a ‘date night’ with my partner, I love cooking and I get a lot of my inspiration from meals I’ve had in restaurants mixed with my own imagination and a dash of my main man Jamie Oliver. I love trying to new things and have quite an open palate when it comes to new cuisine but having recently looked a bit deeper into nutrition I wanted to branch more into non-meat dishes as too much red meat really isn’t good for you. By coincidence, BBC ran a really interesting documentary ‘Should I Eat Meat? – The Big Health Dilemma’ which gave an insight into what meat does inside our bodies and the damage it can cause when eaten in excess. There’s also a short write up here if you don’t have access to the BBC iPlayer.
I was a keen vegetarian for almost 2 years so I’m no stranger to just how tasty and fulfilling a non-meat diet can be, my reasons back then were purely ethical (the meat industry is hideous – but that’s a another story entirely) but I fell ‘off the wagon’ when I became heavily involved in kick boxing and needed more protein which was easily sourced from meat. Anyway, whilst searching online for somewhere new (and cheap!) to eat I came across the Bonnington Cafe, a BYOB vegetarian restaurant conveniently located a 2 minute walk from Vauxhall station.
I LOVE the concept of a different cook every night, to me this means having someone who loves and is passionate about food and is doing so for the love of it as looking at the prices I can’t imagine it being much of a money spinner. A good veggie/vegan cook knows how to make the blandest food in the world (tofu – urgh! It’s like little lumps of what you imagine chlamydia to look like) not only edible but delicious. Booking a table is a simple process, there’s a spreadsheet on the website of what cook is on each night and you simply send the cook a text on your chosen night with your name and the time you would like to chow down.
Our cook on the night was Marie, who was a friendly middle aged woman who had that familiar warmth to her, like a favourite school dinner lady who gave you extra chips. My name was scrawled on a piece of paper (spelt incorrectly but meh) and we were seated with little fuss. I love unlicensed restaurants as I find alcohol really bumps up the bill, being able to bring a £5.25 bottle of Sainsbury’s Cava made the tight bastard in me very happy indeed! The restaurant itself is nestled in a little residential square, away from the usual Vauxhall riff raff from the outside it looks like you could be in a little village somewhere in the country and the interior is just as offbeat and welcoming.
Each cook will freshly prepare 2 starters and 2 main courses, with vegan options all at a very reasonable fixed price – starters £3, mains £7 and desserts are £3. Unfortunately, here is where the excitement ended as I found all 3 courses to be bland, unexciting and really not restaurant quality (although Bonnington Cafe is not trying to be anything special I was expecting decent food). On the day we visited the menu consisted of a choice of hummus and carrots or carrot, parsnip and orange soup, vegetarian tagine or vegetable curry and for dessert there was a chocolate cake or apple pie. Quite a simple selection, but cooked right could be packed full of flavour with the added bonus of being all home cooked, healthy and meat free.
We both went for the carrot, parsnip and orange soup to start which was bland and watery, we found it hard to detect the orange and as we dismissed it as being OK for £3 I thought to myself I could make something much more creative and flavourful at home on the same budget. If I’m really going to nit pick the portion sizes were really quite small, those with a larger appetite wouldn’t be satisfied with the serving size but as it wasn’t that great we were cool with the amount we had. With little flavour and served with a shop bought slither of French stick the soup was a bit of a let down and didn’t give us high hopes for our main course.
Again, we both went for the tagine (I had something spicy for lunch and my partner isn’t keen on any kind of heat) which was presented well but again lacked flavour and it was hard to distinguish just exactly what the vegetables were that made up the stew. Served with grated carrot, cous cous, salad and some runner beans the tinned tomatoes used for the base of the stew hit you in the face as soon as the dish was laid on the table and unfortunately overpowered the whole plate. It basically tasting like we were eating tinned tomatoes with lumpy bits in it or a cheap vegetarian ready meal that had all the flavour nuked out of it. Not good. To their credit, everything did taste fresh BUT there was just no flavour. It needed something to give it a good kick and at least distract from the tinned tomatoes, if I had made this at home I would have threw in lots of garlic and paprika and maybe boiled the cous cous in a ginger broth? Jamie Oliver has a great recipe for a vegetable tagine here, which I’m keen to try. Overall it was very disappointing and we both left quite a bit on our plates despite being moderately hungry.
Wanting to down my cava (and get a kebab on the way home) I wasn’t keen to order dessert but my partner loves apple pie and was interested in seeing if the desserts would be any better than previous offerings but once again flavour and passion were desperately lacking, I should have asked but it tasted like it was sugar free. The limp mass of fruit and pastry disguised as an apple pie was probably the most displeasing thing we ate as it just wasn’t the sweet treat we were expecting, it even looked sad, which made us sad.
I’m sorry Bonnington Cafe, I wanted to love you. I wanted to Instagram the fuck out of my delicious, healthy meals that would come out of your kitchen. I wanted to be inspired to do more meat free cooking. I wanted to bring my friends here for a cheap night out and become a frequent customer but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be. Even though there is a different cook every night, I don’t think I shall be returning due to my disappointing experience. Shame.