Whole Meal café
1 Shrubbery Road, SW16 2AS
020 8769 2423
By Laura Burgoine
When the vegan and vegetarian movement landed in London it found its first home in Streatham behind the unassuming shop-front of a tiny, no-frills café that, if it was in East Dulwich or Shoreditch, would no doubt be described as a fusion of shabby chic and Danish minimalism.
The Whole Meal café first opened its doors in 1978, long before gluten-free became the diet du jour. Twelve years ago the current owner Bangkok-born Pongsak “Kim” Kimchun took over the business, continuing the tradition of serving up healthy, wholesome, seasonal “comfort” food. “A lot of our customers are not vegetarians but they like to give their body a break from meat and enjoy food that is healthy, fresh and also tasty,” he says.
Using fresh produce from Covent Garden markets, the café’s menu is adjusted to showcase the best seasonal vegetables on offer. “Our specials change daily and we have a small permanent menu; the most popular dish is probably the homity pie,” Kim says.
The small space is relatively full on a Saturday lunch-time (very family oriented and on this occasion not a dreadlock in sight) but the café’s culture is based around simplicity: order off the blackboard where there are a few staple dishes to choose from, and for drinks you have fresh juices, some herbal teas, coffee, or Whole Earth ginger beer or lemonade (organic shoppers will already be familiar with this fabulous soft drink alternative).
The vegetable Niçoise with salad and mashed potato was wholesome, flavoursome and healthy in a home-cooked kind of mish-mash style. Roasted Mediterranean vegetables, beans, brown rice and mash were piled high with a melted cheese topping that really pulled the whole concept together, as melted cheese has the omnipotent power to do. Eating a plate of vegetables also produces a feeling of smugness that makes ordering dessert entirely justifiable. To the sceptics out there, the vegan desserts are delicious, though the recipes remain a secret no matter how hard I pressed our waitress for the ingredients. The vegan chocolate cake with soya custard is delicious, indistinguishable from its dairy, wheat predecessor. The Banoffi pie, which contains dairy and wheat (coeliacs and vegans, sit this one out) is better than the decadent varieties most cafés serve up as they’ve somehow managed to eliminate the sickly aftertaste while retaining the flavour of the much-loved dessert.
2 x Vegetable Niçoise £8.50
1 x Ginger beer £1.95
1 x Cappuccino £2
1 x pot of Green tea £2.50
1 x Banoffi pie £3.50
1 x Vegan chocolate cake and soya custard £3.25