youUntil recently, Mildreds had niche appeal: meatless and strong since 1988, but not exactly mainstream. Your average restaurant liked vegetables, of course, but preferred them with a good steak. Or even a not particularly charming steak, like those served at Covent Garden Angus Steakhouse, where tourists flocked for 12oz ribeye and thick Carolina crisps smothered in cheese and crispy bacon. Or at least they did until it was closed and replaced by a busy new branch of Mildreds.
Interestingly, the Burger King in nearby Leicester Square also went vegan for a month this year, serving plant-based Whoppers in constant queues. Plants, it seems, are coming for all of us, though anyone who’s seen The Day of the Triffids would have no illusions about it.
Modern-day Mildreds is no longer the odd kid on the block. It used to be a name to have up your sleeve when the weird Aunt June who didn’t shave her armpits came to town. Now it is sleek and elegant; the new St Martin’s Lane branch even has a private dining room for 10 people called Jane’s Place.
Today’s clientele is everyday – mixed groups, birthday parties, etc. – like at the Pizza Express next door. My everlasting memory of my Friday lunch was that they desperately needed more staff to deal with all the hopeful visitors staring at the menu outside and blocking the door.
The menu is deliciously bizarre in its presentation, in a tiny, all-lowercase font, and with strings of words such as “mercimek kofte, pomegranate pea freekeh, dill tahini” or “bol alma, quinoa sweetcorn goji, rainbow ribbons, beetroot neep & pickle, tiger leche shrub, almond queso fresco, avocado cream, omega seeds”; “edamame, szechuan passion fruit, furikake” alongside “tempeh laab club grown, prik nam pla dressing, leaves, herbs”.
Mildreds menu is a list of geographically incongruous small and main plates influenced by the cuisines of India, Turkey, Korea, Thailand, South America, Los Angeles and beyond, with authentic-sounding names spiced up with fake meats and terms for alternative proteins. So a rather simple fake chicken kebab, for example, is listed as “bhatti ka chick’n” – it was great, by the way: smoky and nicely seasoned, served with mango yogurt and a bowl of rich and sweet tomato chili. chutney. The soy chick that Mildreds uses is one I’ve seen in several fine restaurants recently, has an amazing mouthfeel, and soaks up the flavors of frying pans, spices, and sauces incredibly well. God knows where we’ll be with all of this in 10 years – the leaps and bounds in the world of fake meat are absolutely amazing.
“Katsu hot dog” was slightly less exciting, as the mock breaded frankfurter wasn’t quite hot, but it was saved by a pile of tangy pickled daikon that made me forget about the bowl of curry sauce anonymous katsu. A plate of gunpowder bonda – pea, spinach and potato fritters – lacked evidence of heat, although the spinach gyoza was more successful with even more daikon and a lime ponzu pointed orange.
We ordered a “false rerro cake” with chocolate sauce, hazelnut praline and “chantilly cream”, even though we knew the latter was not feasible, and the arrival of this chocolate cake was the moment when Charles, who usually scours every vegetarian restaurant visits, but jovial until then, began to growl. “It tastes like mushrooms,” he said.
“OK, yes,” I agreed. “It’s a little earthy, but it looks the part.”
Mildreds’ “vegan” menu is almost unique in its complete absence of any mention of being vegan, vegetarian, anti-meat, pro-planet or otherwise. There’s no friendly mission statement next to entries about being kind to pigs or saving us from cow farts, no whimsical poetry on the pudding list, no lecture at the bottom. of the poster and no invitation by the portmanteau to a vegan poetry slam party. This is the first meatless establishment I’ve eaten at that didn’t try to whip me a holistic birth doula service when I sat on the toilet.
Mildreds is shameless and utterly ruthless, and there’s nothing more than a little “100% plant-based” label on the menu. They’ve been doing what they’ve been doing since 1988, and it’s now become trendy. Mildreds isn’t here to change your mind; if you don’t like it, get off. They take a little long to give explanations and, besides, they are far too busy anyway.
Mildreds 79 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2, 020-8066 8393. Open Monday-Friday 8.30am-11pm, Saturday 9am-11pm, Sunday 9am-10.30pm. Around £30 per person plus drinks and service