US chef Matthew Kenney’s new Shoreditch opening offers a full plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner menu of meat-, dairy-, gluten- and refined sugar-free dishes. The focus is on nutritious, flavour-packed vegan food, where everything is seasonal and made from scratch.
Review of Essence Cuisine
Essence Cuisine is not a conventional-looking restaurant. The large fridge next to the café-style glass front and tiny interior says more lunchtime takeaway pitstop than destination restaurant. Step through the front door though and the sharp, modern interior – with its mimimalist décor, aluminium walls and concrete bar – and an intriguing menu, tell a different story.
The welcome is friendly but the seating arrangement is a little less endearing. Apart from a single round table at the front, two long benches line the side walls, with tiny moveable tables that slot between couples, barely covering your knees when folded out. It makes for an uncomfortable dining experience.
At the recommendation of Essence Cuisine’s well-informed and enthusiastic host we start with garbanzo scramble, a take on scrambled eggs, featuring ‘scrambled’ chickpeas, ‘massaged’ kale, green harissa, asparagus and portobello ‘anchovies’. It’s a good opener, the chickpeas have a surprisingly fluffy texture and a kick of heat from harissa, contrasting nicely with the subtle crunch of the kale.
The three mains we choose are a little hit and miss: a meticulously crafted heirloom tomato lasagne (see menu must-order); a coriander- and spice-fuelled raw pad thai with wonderfully slurpy, springy kelp noodles, marinated kale, tamari almonds and lime; and a well-dressed but overly salty, unremarkable caesar salad made up of baby romaine, dulse (seaweed), capers, sunflower dressing, sunflower ‘parmesan’, shiitake ‘anchovies’ and croutons.
An ever-so-slightly claggy lime cheesecake for pudding, with ginger crumble, citrus filling and cola gel, expertly combined tangy lime with warming ginger. Even better was a chocolate caramel brownie with a chewy, toffee-like base, sweet-bitter raw cacao ganache, medjool date caramel and Himalayan salt.
The approach at Essence Cuisine is engaging and the kitchen team has an eye for presentation. Where they excel is in combining pleasingly contrasting textures, and teasing out the naturally appealing flavours of their ingredients (but skip the ‘cheeseboard’ and bland ‘bullet fuel’ coffee).
The beautifully presented heirloom tomato lasagne, with its thinly sliced layers of courgette in place of pasta, tangy sundried tomato marinara, pistachio pesto and creamy, fluffy macadamia ‘ricotta’, is an inspired interpretation of a classic.
The cashew nut ‘cheeseboard’, despite the appealing pear chutney and sundried tomato salsa, was a letdown – the ‘cheddar’, in particular, was unpleasantly sour, and more paste than block.