London’s restaurant scene offers an incredible amount of choice – from casual café to fine dining, London diners can sample the cuisines of just about every country you can think of. But for vegetarian diners the options are sometimes rather more limited, so it was with a good degree of enthusiastic curiosity that I and my two regular vegetarian dining partners headed to the Coach & Horses, famously London’s first vegetarian pub. Situated on a corner at the southerly end of Greek Street, from the outside it looks like a traditional British boozer – and that impression is maintained when you enter the dimly lit main bar on the ground floor, whose faded carpets and wood panelled walls appear as remnants of a bygone era. The upstairs tearoom, while equally old fashioned in terms of décor, is bright and airy with a welcoming, casual atmosphere and cute mismatched china cake stands and teacups adorning the tables.
Having checked out the menu online before booking, I had already picked the beetroot tarte tatin as my main course and couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it. Imagine my disappointment to find that it wasn’t there. Or that neither my second choice (grilled polenta & artichokes), nor my third choice (portobello burger with vegetable chips) were there either. Of course, a restaurant can and indeed should change its menu with the seasons, but if there’s a complete revamp one would hope that they would update their website. Focusing on what was on offer, I decided to try one of the Sunday roasts – butternut squash stuffed with pearl barley, radicchio and goat’s cheese, served with all the trimmings. While the butternut itself was perfectly cooked, hearty and warming with a melt in the mouth texture, the stuffing fell short of my expectations. The pearl barley was pleasant enough, cooked al dente to give a satisfying mouthful. But alas, I could neither see nor taste the fresh bitterness of radicchio or the sharp acidity of goat’s cheese. Instead, the barley was smothered in a slightly glutinous brown gravy which tasted strangely meaty given its inevitably vegetabley provenance. The trimmings were well executed – crisp roast potatoes with fluffy centres, soft blanched French beans, roasted carrots, and a gigantic Yorkshire pudding, all liberally doused in the meaty tasting gravy. My dining partners too were somewhat underwhelmed by their mains – both of them went for the “Tofush” and chips (recommended by our waitress). While the chips were skilfully done – fat like the traditional chip shop kind, but not too greasy – and the batter on the “Tofush” was perfectly crispy, the “Tofush” itself was sadly bland (as tofu is wont to be when under-seasoned).
Drinks-wise, the Coach & Horses has the broad menu you would expect of a London pub, with a good selection of beers and ales on tap, plus the usual array of spirits and soft drinks. The wine list is relatively narrow but it does offer a few wines by the glass, from which I chose a reliable Viognier (the list is no more specific in its description than “Viognier, France”) for a respectable £4.15. Rounded and aromatic with pleasing peachy overtones, it was a good easy-drinking accompaniment to my food.
Despite our lacklustre main courses, we decided to give dessert a go – tempted as we had been by the prettily presented gateaux in the open fridge at the front of the tearoom. I am pleased to say we were not disappointed. One traditional Victoria sponge filled with whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries and generously dusted with icing sugar, one rich layered coffee cake with a sweet coffee buttercream icing, and one exceptionally light vanilla sponge cake layered with vanilla buttercream and topped with delicately sliced apple, strawberry and kiwi fruit – all were very well received. To wash down the cake, we decided on tea – one peppermint, one rooibos, and one interestingly named “white monkey”. All were good quality loose leaf varieties, and thoroughly enjoyable once we were given the means to drink them: service at the Coach & Horses, whilst friendly, was lackadaisical to say the least. When we ordered our mains, our waitress asked if we wanted any drinks with them, to which we responded with a request for the drinks menu. That was duly provided, but we weren’t asked for our drinks order until our mains had arrived. Our cake was brought to the table with all three pieces on a single cake stand; we had to ask for individual plates. The teapots arrived minus the teacups, which we accordingly requested. But when we tried to pour we realised we were also missing tea strainers, which we also had to request. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that one of the waitresses really struggled with her English so was unable to understand what we were asking for. Trying to catch a waitress’ eye to ask for the bill was also a seemingly impossible mission, though once we managed it she was quick to take our payment. As to value, two courses, a glass of wine, tea and service for just under £24 isn’t too bad – but the mixed quality of the food and the haphazard service brings the Coach & Horses’ score down to a middling two and a half Forks-Up. I must give credit where credit is due, however, so I will admit that the score for tea and cake alone would probably have hit three and a half or four Forks-Up based on the simple deliciousness of the cake.The Coach & Horses 29 Greek Street London W1D 5DH T: 020 7437 5920