Last week I visited Kensington-based Down To Earth, an organic, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly café, with small health and lifestyle shop offering. While those in the very exclusive know may have been rabbiting on about the raw food diet for some time, I only recently gave it a brief whirl at 42° Raw in London’s Mayfair (read my review here). Although my experience at 42° was a good one, the offering was very much a luxurious and ultimately raw version of what’s on offer at popular high street lunchtime haunt, Pret a Manger. In other words, it’s excellent for lunch but it’s not somewhere to while away a few leisurely hours with girlfriends or fill yourself up. Despite London being considered one of the most cosmopolitan and culinary diverse cities in the world, those seeking something more elaborate or substantial were simply not catered for, until the launch of Down To Earth.
On my arrival the café’s manager, Ali, was keen to stress that the venue is very much a work in progress. Over the next few months there will be new displays, a private dining area which he likened to a chef’s table will be created on the lower floor and hopefully next year the front wall windows will be extended, allowing light to flood into the shop, as well as enticing passersby in for a quick cup of herbal tea and more. The kitchen team currently serves breakfast and lunch daily, but again, Ali hopes to soon launch a dinner menu and extend opening hours beyond 7pm.
My lunch began with a palette cleanser. This wasn’t just any amuse bouche. In fact it was a rather daunting long, green juice. Thankfully it was made up of pear, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger – a pleasant combination. To be honest, the most recognisable flavours were by far the cucumber and lemon which made it very refreshing. As a self-declared ginger nut I would have enjoyed more ginger, but equally I’m sure many others wouldn’t, and after all, this was supposed to be a palette cleanser.
First up food wise came a selection of tapas from the raw menu. I enjoyed a meat-free yet flavoursome lasagne made with tomatoes, cashew cheese, courgette pasta strips and pesto. There was also a courgette pasta dish which was absolutely packed with ripe avocado which is always a winner for me. The vegetable terrine was an exquisite stack of fennel, red pepper, carrot, mushrooms, herbed cashew cheese, rocket and salsa verde. Interestingly, the chef informed me this was the only dish of this round that had anything cooked though it was at the very low temperature of 45°C.
In between the next course I had a quick chat to the raw chef, Rich Havardi, who was a real delight. I wondered how a young, clearly talented chap came to work at a vegan-friendly establishment. Most men, after all, including the café’s own manager, Ali, tend to veer toward a diet of rabid carnivorism. After explaining that he’d suffered some health problems and started to cut things out of his diet before coming across the idea of a raw diet, he filled me in on the intricacies of concocting a raw cake. It was illuminating, although be warned, if you’re a recipe collector, they won’t willingly give you too many details!
It’s not all raw food at Down To Earth. While it’s a big part of the menu, there’s also a selection of warm dishes, including soup. Out of these I enjoyed a warm pear and fennel millefeuille with beetroot. My love for this dish was rather surprising. I normally hate fennel but in this quantity and with these delicious contrasting flavours and texture, it was possibly my favourite dish of the day, although what came next was without doubt a culinary triumph of grand proportion – a pumpkin and mushroom risotto with walnuts.
Mushroom risotto… I love risotto, I love mushrooms and I love mushroom risotto but it doesn’t stop the look of the dish usually being rather grey and sloppy. This was certainly not the case at Down To Earth. The gorgeous autumnal brown risotto sat on a small swirl of balsamic glaze which gave each bite a fabulous sweetness. There was soft pumpkin, delicious chestnut mushrooms and crunchy walnuts, as well as perfectly al dente risotto rice. It was an excellent conclusion to the savoury section of the meal.
I finished my meal with two sorbets – a raspberry and a watermelon. I’d not come across the latter before but it was so subtle and refreshing, it was just a shame it was pouring with rain outside! I politely declined dessert, I think if I’d stayed any longer I may never have left the Kensington haven of leather studded sofas, marble tables and intriguing ingredient and beauty product displays.
Ideal for vegans, as well as carnivores who can be convinced to give the meat or fish a miss for one meal, Down To Earth seems set for success. It’s already attracted a loyal, local clientele of Sex & the City style women who lunch, as well as older local residents, and even those who live by very strict dietary rules, whether it be for health reasons or just down to personal preferences. Ali let slip he’s looking at a second site already, although he kept quiet on where this may be. I’m hoping it’ll be a bit closer to the West End because I can see it being the perfect place for media breakfasts and long lunches with friends.
Down To Earth 240-242 High Street Kensington, London W8 6ND
Tel: 020 7371 6987