Wulf & Lamb, London SW1 – restaurant review | Grace Dent

Wulf & Lamb, London SW1 – restaurant review | Grace Dent


Some critics visit restaurants twice before writing their review. I see valour in this, but at the same time feel it’s expensive folly to dispense second chances when the paying public won’t. “The waitress coughed on my Paris-Brest and my omelette was hairy, but dash it – let’s go back,” no customer said, ever.

I’m reminded of this as I enter Wulf & Lamb, a posh vegan cafe-restaurant in the heart of zillion-pound real-estate Chelsea. Most of my gut feeling about any new opening is formed within the first 10 minutes. When my lunch guest arrives, there’s a look in my eyes, a “distant light” that Celine Dion would know indicates “a storm tonight”. Because that’s what happens when a place charges £15 for a veggie burger or £8 for a slice of vegan cheesecake, in an upstairs restaurant that doesn’t do table service. It also lets you walk up there with no clue, no signage, only to be snottily pointed back downstairs, where a glum-faced waiter is begrudgingly creaming money off diners hand over fist.

All vegan-friendly restaurants are not made equally. The financially stacked, clean-eating, CrossFit pant-wearing new wave of Wulf & Lamb, Farm Girl and By Chloe are very different animals from the tiny, Citizen Smith-style indies such as Rehab Hackney, Kat’s Kitchen in Keswick or Purity Petal Cafe in Barnstaple. The latter are labours of love, the former future-facing, flashy setups. By Chloe, a New York chain, announced plans for a new Tower Bridge spot before the Covent Garden flagship even opened its doors. That is confidence. When modern chefs whine about vegans – and how they do – all that indicates is a vast gap in their skillset and a tired approach to customers. “I’ll spend four weeks of spare downtime experimenting with making cow lung delicious to impress Michelin,” they might say. “But I won’t spent five minutes learning to scramble tofu so hundreds of punters can order brunch.” In the meantime, the likes of Wulf & Lamb, with their “fiercely kind food” and “just veg with edge” mission statements, will thrive even when they’re not terribly good.

‘This will be my go-to lunch if I am ever roused from a coma and find chewing arduous’: Wulf & Lamb’s green cocount winter veg Thai curry.

‘This will be my go-to lunch if I am ever roused from a coma and find chewing arduous’: Wulf & Lamb’s green cocount winter veg Thai curry. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Guardian

Despite the staff trying to put me off ordering food by telling me it will be a 30-minute wait (though the place is half empty), I insist on two mains – a green coconut winter veg Thai curry and a beetroot and quinoa salad – plus sides of roast sweet potato wedges with rosemary and thyme and a vegan mac’n’cheese. I wave my credit card to pay nigh on £30 and am prodded by the till to give more for service. By this point, I am so inwardly furious that I can see clearly from only one eye and my internal jukebox is playing Extreme Noise Terror’s Radioactive Earslaughter.

We then sit at a crumb-covered table for the next half-hour, untroubled by basic hospitality. Eventually, a bowl of emerald green, Thai-influenced sauce appears with a splodge of mashed sweet potato floating in it, like Necker Island. This is the “curry”. I see little evidence of “winter veg”. It’s just sauce. Despite having no texture at all, however, it is beautifully seasoned, so will be my go-to lunch if I am ever roused from a coma and find chewing arduous. The beetroot and quinoa salad, meanwhile, is a vast pile of spinach sodden with unlovable vinaigrette. This is a vegan restaurant that can’t dress spinach. A bowl of dry, reheated, unseasoned potato wedges could have been served with less care only if they’d opened the kitchen door and pelted me with them, and the cashew-cream mac’n’cheese was dry and welded to its bowl.

The vegan Mac’n’Cheese at Wulf and Lamb restaurant, Sloane Square, London.

‘Dry and welded to its bowl’: vegan mac’n’cheese at Wulf & Lamb, London SW1. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Guardian

Wulf & Lamb may well have operational difficulties, but it cannot choose its customers. And one of the biggest ball-aches for any vegan restaurant is that alongside all the chipper, grateful animal- and nature-lovers merely trying not to kill things, it also attracts a constant stream of mollycoddled, malnourished berks demanding that their other allergies/dislikes be catered for. Three such furious types stormed out during my first visit, in full umbrage over some coeliac- or legume-intolerant-based slight. On my second visit, another customer flounced off about something she found in her porridge that was not to her satisfaction.

Yes, I went back for a second visit. I had a delicious teff-seed chocolate bundt cake and an americano for £9, and left equally sharpish. I’ve now realised that it’s good to give things a second chance if only to be even firmer in my conviction that I am always, always right.

Wulf & Lamb 243 Pavilion Road, London SW1, 020-3948 5999. Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-10pm, Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 9am-9pm. £25-£30 a head, plus drinks and service.

Food 2/10
Atmosphere 2/10
Service 0/10

Grace’s week in other dishes

1 Tofu steak energy bowl at Andi’s in Stoke Newington, north London: restorative bowl of loveliness in a happy place.

2 At The caramel Malteser shortcake brownie at Cake and Salad in Keswick, Cumbria. A moment on the lips, four hours of CrossFit on the hips.

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