A large mural covering the entire front of the restaurant is the first thing that strikes me as I approach Scarlett Green, the restaurant where a new set of plant-based items has just been added to the menu. Painted by Paul Robinson it is indicative of the bold Australian theming of the interior with huge prints by the artist covering the walls but the striking decoration isn't where the boldness ends.
The Daisy Green Collection’s set of antipodean inspired restaurants are probably best known for their incredible bottomless brunches. Each with its own unique character, Scarlett Green is the collection’s Soho offering, set just one street back from London’s bustling Oxford Street and featuring the capital’s largest Australian wine list.
Scarlett Green has recently introduced a limited collaboration with plant-based chef, Kirk Haworth. Haworth’s life was completely changed in 2016 after a tick bite led to a diagnosis of Lyme disease. The plant-based menu of his Shoreditch restaurant, Plates, was inspired by the impact that changing his own eating habits had on the chef’s health and Scarlett Green brings that East London innovation to the city centre. Adding to their own already flexible menu, Haworth worked with Daisy Green chef, Prue Freeman, to combine quality ingredients with her personal love of Australian culture.
Many of the plates added to the menu take the form of small, snack-like offerings to pair with the restaurant’s wide selection of drinks. There are a variety of seating areas within Scarlett Green but one of its most popular features is the bar with its long marble countertops lit with a gentle, welcoming light. These small plates are intended to appeal to the fact that a majority of restaurant’s patrons that visit outside of brunch hours are there to drink.
Our exceptionally friendly waitress, Wasima, recommends we order three of these dishes to get the best sense of the new menu. Unfortunately, they don’t have the herbaceous pancake so we settle for the smoked aubergine tacos, beetroot and cumin falafel, and the strawberry and tomato tartare. All three dishes look fantastic, with the vibrant colours of the star ingredients remaining pleasingly undisguised.
Taking a bite out of the black taco shell, immediately the crunchy fire of fresh chilli is strong. When the heat subsides, the smoky flavour of the aubergine comes through. The menu also lists whipped avocado, kimchi, pickles and slow-baked carrot as ingredients in these tacos but their contribution is masked by the strong heat and subsequent smoke of the dish’s boldest ingredients. They are definitely enjoyable but holding back on the chilli just a bit might let these hidden flavours shine through.
Wasima introduces the tartare by calling it the kind of dish you need “when you don’t want to eat something but you know you should”. Strawberry and tomato work well together in the tartare, living up to the promised lightness but the elderflower syrup is lost in a sourness, saltiness of the other ingredients. What appear to be sundried tomatoes add this saltiness that clashes with the sweet crisp elements intended to come from the dish’s star pair. The recommended Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc is evidently intended to bring out these sadly absent herbs and fruit flavours.
Of the three small plates, the definite winner is the beetroot and cumin falafel. Earthy but sweet it isn’t at all dry as falafel can sometimes be. The pickled kohlrabi on top adds a crunch to contrast the soft texture of the falafels themselves and the light flavour is great alongside the cumin.
The Main Event
As a main, we opt for the Bondi Vegan Sharing Board that places the new Plates collaboration curry alongside some of Scarlett Green's own vegan offerings. As a sharing board, it is a complex mix of tastes that jump from bel puri inspired crispy salad to a smokey tofu steak to what seem like East Asian inspired flavours with crispy kale and fried rice. Whether the prominent flavours of the tofu and aubergine overpower the curry or whether there were too many things on one plate, the advertised fragrance of the curry is not strong enough to make a lasting impression.
It is Scarlett Green’s own dishes that shine on this board, particularly the aubergine, tofu and sweetcorn ‘ribs’. The ‘ribs’ are crunchy, sweet whilst a spicy chilli seasoning gives them an almost meaty flavour and the fried rice is probably the best vegan fried rice I have had. There isn’t a lot of coherence to this sharing board which makes it a confusing selection of tastes; many of the individual dishes would perhaps make more of an impact if eaten alone.
As a side to go with the sharing board Wasima recommended the Korean hot potato, another of the Plates dishes. This is intended to be a fifteen layer gratin with a hot pepper sauce. The Korean influence is well integrated with the heat building in each mouthful but never becoming overwhelming. The potato is buttery, an accomplishment for a plant-based dish, and the unusual crunchy kohlrabi pickle that was so good on the falafel makes another appearance here.
The wine pairing for this course is Innocent Bystander's 2017 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, fruity with flavours of cherry and dry spices. It is incredibly drinkable and the savoury tannins pair well with the smokey flavours of the dish.
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There aren’t any desserts on the Plates collaboration menu but many of the restaurant’s options can be altered to make them vegan and it seems remiss not to finish our plant-based meal with some of these items. The vegan chocolate cake is the only option available unaltered and is a decent rendition of a classic. By swapping the mascarpone for coconut cream, the Josper roasted pineapple becomes a vegan dish and carries through the smoky flavours that seem consistent in many of the restaurant’s dishes. A shortbread crumb adds texture and a biscuity flavour to the soft, caramelised pineapple.
It is certainly a different experience from many of the other plant-based restaurants I have visited in London, a lot of which focus on recreating classic comfort food. Kirk Haworth's innovative take on this genre is clear in the dishes alongside Australian BBQ vibes. The menu is innovative and provides an incredible visual treat but some of the more subtle plant-based ingredients could be treated with a bit more sympathy.
Scarlett Green says that the Daisy Green X Plates collection is limited, you can check out their website for bookings and more details about the menu here.