Restaurants are a risky business, we all know the stats, but when you add vegetarian and vegan to the concept, as in the case of the Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen in Bath, it really does sound like a challenge. After all, only 5.7% of the UK population shun meat totally, and those who don’t could be tough to persuade. On the other hand, some of us are becoming health conscious enough to incorporate vegetarian days into our week (not just Meat-Free Monday), are dumping bloat-inducing gluten, or are simply open to the possibility that a meal can be genuinely delicious without dairy, meat or wheat – with the right chef that is.
And that’s precisely why AVK has been a success, receiving Good Food Guide recognition right from the off. Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen was founded by chef Richard Buckley and manager Rob Eldon who both worked for Rachel Demuth’s ground-breaking veggie restaurant, Demuth’s, prior to taking over the business in 2013 after her 26 year run – and it’s universally agreed that the handover took it to another level.
Neither myself nor my husband are veggies (yet), nor were many of the diners on the night we visited, yet their reputation for extraordinary flavour and cookery meant that we were keen to have our minds broadened. This was the first time either of us had ever ventured to a vegetarian restaurant, and my carnivorous South African husband was not exactly dragged kicking and screaming, but he was quivering at the prospect of reading the menu, let alone having to say he was enjoying himself. Needless to say, I enjoy proving him wrong. And I did.
From the first, he was surprised by the appetising aromas wafting out into the twee cobbled lane on which the restaurant is situated, “Are you sure you’re not taking me to a steak house?”, while we found a buzzy neighbourhood bistro inside, packed with visitors and locals even on the first Saturday in January. The front of house are relaxed but efficient, serious about what their doing yet full of fun, and best of all, speedy about taking a drinks order and bringing you fresh bread (a yummy gluten-free for me) with olive oil and dukkah.
The dinner menu (a reasonable £36.95 for three courses), took my husband a while to take in, yet he admitted to being intrigued. Featuring glorious produce from the abundant local area, the starter entitled ‘Some Old Donkey Carrots’ certainly raised a smile. An incredibly tasty amuse of mushroom parfait certainly gave us a taste of things to come; as rich and satin-smooth as the world’s finest foie gras, without the need for guilt-ridden nightmares or a crash diet the next day. This was followed with a starter of exquisitely beautiful chioggia beetroot, steamed and finely sliced to showcase their appealing pin-wheel interior. Served alongside garden herbs, a beetroot vierge and an aged cashew purée, it was like no appetiser I had ever tasted – in a good way. Just to top it off there was an almost luminous green tarragon foam which added a fresh note to the dish without covering it in salad leaves. The atmosphere may be bistro, but the food is vibrant, bold and original.
Every dish also has a suggested wine pairing, while the full list offers a good, well priced selection; the South African ‘Man’ Pinotage going particularly well with my main of roasted butternut squash terrine, accompanied with a comforting pine nut risotto, tenderstem broccoli and topped with cones of pickled squash for a clever texture and flavour contrast. Hubby wasn’t talking much, but suddenly he looked up from his far-from-stereotypically-dull nut roast, featuring celeriac, hazelnut and apple, and declared, ‘If I could eat here every day I would become a veggie!’
Desserts were no less inventive, my compressed English plums with a sensational almond milk sorbet and a scattering of lemon thyme was a refreshing finale, while my partner in crime went all out with the espresso parfait and chocolate ganache, lifted to something rather unique with cold brew, rapadura gel (the pure juice extracted from a sugar cane) and a pink peppercorn crumb. No, Acorn isn’t just for vegans and vegetarians, it’s for everyone who appreciates creative, delicious food – the fact that it happens to be healthy is merely an added bonus and means that we have a good excuse to go there more often.
Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen, 2 North Parade Passage (just off Abbey Green), Bath BA1 1NX. For more information and reservations please visit the website www.acornvegetariankitchen.co.uk or call 01225 446 059.