Fending off the chocolate fondant and saying no to the cheese course is hard enough, but there are plenty of other frustrations for fine-dining vegans, who have to dissect beautifully constructed menus to find something to eat. In Michelin-starred restaurants, where each dish has been polished to perfection, last-minute dairy-ditching isn’t always easy to execute or appreciated.
That said, Navadhanya, situated on Newmarket Road, has come prepared for the vegan revolution, offering seven courses of imaginative, contemporary and luxurious plant-based Indian food that is ideal for Valentine’s Day.
The opening course of potato and basil mash was incredible. Coated in a light breadcrumb and topped with beetroot relish, radish and sweetcorn, it was spicy, crisp, tangy and refreshing. My only criticism is that it wasn’t small enough for an amuse-bouche, but I still mopped up every ounce of the monstrous morsel. Desi-licious.
Up next was a dosa stuffed with masala purple potato. I have to admit, I completely forgot I was eating a second helping of potato. It had a different texture; was partly mashed and had an earthy flavour, with subtle notes of cumin and ginger. A romesco sauce complimented the dish – and, although it’s something you would usually find on a menu in Italy, the sauce’s punchy flavour evoked India.
The third dish really put veg centre stage. A solitary broccoli floret lay on a ring of red pepper sauce next to a twirl of cucumber. It was so simple, yet remains my favourite dish on the menu. The broccoli was woody, buttery and slightly charred. I later learnt it had been cooked in a tandoor oven, which explained its tender texture and somewhat acidic taste.
A palate-cleansing mint and coconut sorbet was followed by a tiny purple aubergine in crisp tempura batter, accompanied by fluffy steamed rice and a hidden veg sauce. Despite the child-friendly sauce, this dish is not to be scoffed at, because beneath the batter, wrapping around the sweet and succulent vegetable, was a firecracker mango and coriander jam.
The final savoury dish was big in both size and flavour. A bowl of dhal tadka that had me asking: why do my lentils never taste rich, yet nuanced? How have I tried every dhal recipe in existence and still produce lacklustre stodge? This was so garlicky that I think the garlic was added in raw, but it was also incredibly soothing, served with soft rotis and a mix of seasoned veg and sweet onions.
I ate a Williams poached pear to finish. I usually find that fruit is, without doubt, the most offensive vegan dessert. But after six courses, I was ready for something light. It was infused with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron, which delicately rounded the flavours that clung to my mouth from the savoury dishes.
Navadhanya’s decadent tasting menu is not for the faint-hearted. Then again, faint heart never won fair maiden, which is why this restaurant gets my pick for Valentine’s Day.
However, no Valentine’s Day is complete without chocolate. Over the years, I’ve relied on Hotel Chocolat for its ample offering of fancy dark chocolate and now it’s finally launched a ‘milk’ chocolate, made using finely milled hazelnuts instead of milk. The solid chocolate batons took the company five years to refine, to which I say: time well spent. Similar in flavour to Guylian’s, they have a smooth, elegant and creamy texture. Sold as a box of 15, they’re perfect for sharing with a loved one!