On the face of it, the Little Earth Café is exactly the sort of place I should hate. Located in the triyoga centre in Primrose Hill, which is ground zero for A-list yummy mummies like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Sadie Frost, there's actually a sign on the wall saying, "Please remove shoes." The cuisine on offer is wheat-free, gluton-free and dairy-free--but even that doesn't make it sufficiently inedible as far as these socialite stick insects are concerned. After all, it isn't easy to regain your pre-pregnancy weight within two weeks of giving birth. In addition, everything on the menu is untainted by contact with an oven. That's right, the Little Earth Café is London's first "raw" food restaurant.
"As soon as you start heating something it depletes all its nutrients," explains marketing director Georgie Wolfinden, who is so disarmingly pretty I find myself nodding enthusiastically at whatever she says. "When you start eating raw food it's like cleaning out your cupboards, emotionally speaking. You start seeing things really clearly."
My companion is a slightly jaded glossy magazine editor who only agreed to have lunch with me because she assumed we'd be going somewhere expensive and chic like the Caprice. She's slightly taken aback to discover that one of the dishes on the menu is described as "a dehydrated tart". "That's what I feel like at three o'clock in the morning," she drawls.
The other diners are exactly who you'd expect to find in London's premier yoga studio. The two women at the table next to us are actually sitting on their chairs in the lotus position and--unbelievable, I know--talking about lentils. As someone who hasn't been able to touch his toes for at least 25 years--and would cross the street to avoid a lentil--I feel a little out of place. The interior, which was designed by Matthew Williamson, can best be described as "trust-fund bohemian". It's tricked out with the sort of Eastern bric-a-brac that sells for 25p in Calcutta, but retails at £250 on Regent's Park Road. The smell of incense is almost overwhelming.
For some reason the menu is full of dishes that are trying to impersonate proper food. There's something called "organic raw pink sushi", for instance, and an "organic raw almond burger". Needless to say, neither of these concoctions contains any fish or meat. If the people behind the Little Earth Café are so opposed to normal cuisine, I can't help wondering, why create dishes that mimic it? There's even something called "organic pizza"--fake cheese sauce made of soaked cashew nuts, lemon juice and vinegar tastefully arranged on a base of dehydrated crushed walnuts and flax seeds. Try ordering that at Dominos.
Georgie offers to have the chefs whip up a little bit of everything for us and, as soon as she disappears, I turn to my companion and say, "The Little Earth Café degustation menu." We both screw up our mouths in distaste. We're fully anticipating having to make a quick trip to McDonald's on our way home.
Imagine our surprise, therefore, when the food turns out to be absolutely delicious. The pink part of the "organic raw pink sushi" is a beetroot pate that perfectly compliments the avocado, cucumber, carrots and sprouts that make up the rest of it and the "dehydrated tart" is equally good once you've got past the fact that it doesn't contain any pastry. As for something called an "organic Johnny sandwich", it's infinitely superior to it's non-organic equivalent, ie, a rubber Johnny sandwich, not least because it's liberally covered with the same beetroot pate that enlivened the pink sushi.
I have to confess to being a raw food virgin and, as an unreconstructed carnivore, I came to scoff rather than nosh. But this turned out to be one of the best vegetarian meals I've ever had. The chefs, Katia Arain and Christophe Reissfelder, are more or less self-taught, though Katia did train for three months with Woody Harrelson's personal chef in Hawaii. I got the impression that they were continuing to experiment in the kitchen, gradually honing their skills in this bizarre new culinary field, though I can't imagine the food getting any better. The Little Earth Café really was one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in a restaurant for a long time--like discovering a three-star Michelin chef working at your local greasy spoon. If you're thinking about detoxing after the excesses of Christmas and the New Year, I can't recommend it highly enough.