This article was first published online at Shlur.com. All words are my own.
We all know healthy eating doesn’t have to mean a life of salads, sushi and small portions, but when you’re out and about it’s not always easy to know which nutritional options will taste good too. Thankfully, London i well-geared toward us health-conscious individuals and there really is something to satisfy every craving.
Breakfast at Tossed
The first company in the UK to display all the nutritional information and calories of its products, Tossed might be pioneering the healthy eating revolution but don’t expect to find them ‘sitting in a field nibbling rice cakes and munching sunflower seeds’. No, this is healthy eating with substance. Both in taste and portion size. Why? Because by ‘keeping food simple, fresh and natural, you can eat to your heart’s content’ – and with whole wheat croissants, ‘muscle builder’ wraps and ‘might mexican’ Tossed pots on the menu it’s really quite difficult not to. Since opening their first store in Paddington in 2005, owner Vincent and the team have quickly amassed a loyal following and Londoners can now fill up at any one of the capital’s 13 stores. Starting with breakfast, or the meal of Kings as far as Tossed is concerned. From lean bacon butties and peanut butter protein smoothies, to granola with yoghurt and marmite on toast (whole wheat of course), not only is everything low GI but you can also top up on protein to really keep hunger locked up ‘til lunch.
Pasta at Amico Bio
With premises in Holborn and Barbican, Amico Bio is London’s original vegetarian, organic Italian restaurant and the range of dishes on offer is no less impressive. Giant green olives, vegetable kebabs and pan fried vegetable sausages are all popular healthy options but there’s really no better place to curb your carb-cravings than with one of the many tempting pasta dishes. Ravioli, pappardelle, orecchiette, vegan tagliatelle and gluten-free, wholemeal pasts – Amico’s got it all. The ingredients are sourced from chef Pasquale Amico’s family farm in Capua, Italy, and the traditional menu comes with a ‘green thinking, better living’ ethos to really convince you of Amico’s all-round goodness. Buon appetito.
Flatbread at Pure
Wrapped within freshly baked flatbread made daily and served hot from the oven, every ingredient at Pure has been meticulously selected to ensure that it doesn’t contain unnecessary preservatives, additives, sugar, salt or fat. Full nutritional information is available online and in store, but when food’s this honest you really don’t have to worry about the numbers. Noodle pots, rice hot boxes and wheat-bran toasties all make deliciously fail-safe, healthy lunches but it’s the flat bread that will have you going back again and again. In a rush? Why not jump the queue and pre-order, or have it delivered to your office to make eating lunch at your desk not such a depressing prospect. We’ve happily worked our way through fired chicken and chipotle pepper hummus, lemon dressed hot smoked salmon and slow-cooked ham hock with free-range egg, but with goats cheese, mozzarella and prosciutto also on the menu the only problem is figuring out a favourite.
Pizza at Franco Manca
Owned by husband and wife Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo, the Franco Manca ‘pizza revolution’ began in Brixton and, thanks to its allergy-friendly sourdough pizzas, has (slowly) risen to cover six London locations. Italian born Giuseppe, a self-confessed ‘pizza fascist’, takes such pride in his dough he even set up a ‘dough laboratory’ in his kitchen – and even now every pizza served up at Francos is made on site, from scratch, by special artisans from Naples. With prices starting at a mere £4.80, the menu is equally modest and guaranteed to change your perception of pizza. Made from slow-rising sourdough (proved for a minimum 20 hours), the bases are soft and chewy with an irresistible charred crust from the wood-burning brick oven they’re baked in. There are six core pizzas to choose from, the unusual no-cheese and no-tomato options well-suited to any dieter or fussy eater. Even their choice of meat is a conscious one – wild Cinta senese pigs that make healthy omega fat instead of the saturated fat found in commercial breeds. Organic, ‘heritage’ tomatoes and daily-made mozzarella top up the menu’s healthy living credentials and the best bit? They taste bloody good too.
Fast food at Leon
At Leon there’s something magical about fast food. The biggest treat imaginable. Or that’s what they claim anyway – and when you’ve got endorsements from renownedly harsh food critic Jay Rayner and Giles Coren of the Independent, it’s difficult to challenge Leon’s claims to brilliance. It all started back in 2007 when Leon’s inspired founders asked themselves, ‘Why can’t fast food be good food?’ Now Leon’s got 16 branches serving up fresh, healthy and feel-good food, with a successful line of recipe books and ‘little bits of Leon’ to take home too. Open from breakfast to dinner, the menu is extremely diverse with all the ingredients, calories and nutritional information clearly labelled.
Mexican at Adobo
Adobo opened its first branch in 2010 and now dishes up ‘the best burritos money can buy’ at three London locations (Holborn, Victoria, Crown Passage). The menu works as a three step choosing process: choose your style, choose your filling, choose your dressing. The health benefits of avocados, chillies, coriander and beans are the foundation of Adobo’s fresh and healthy Mexican menu and the build-your-own approach will cater to any diet. Portions are generous and reasonably priced but don’t be put off by the trailing queues out the door – the quick Subway-style service means a burrito is never too far away and is guaranteed to make for an interesting alternative to your usual lunchtime sandwich. It really is as easy as uno, dos, tres.
Meat at Smiths of Smithfield
London’s only working meat market, Smiths of Smithfield certainly has some pretty meaty credentials. Founded by self-proclaimed ‘meat masters’ under the direction of Masterchef’s John Torode, Smiths proudly buy all their beef on the bone at a minimum of 21 days dry aged. Their address book of ‘stellar’ British suppliers is carefully listed and enviable on its own, and that’s before they further age and skilfully butcher the meat in-house. Befittingly meat-centred, the menu boasts rare breed beef steaks (sirloin, fillet or rump) and côte de boeuf with bone marrow butter and rare breed beef tartare to ensure the whole meat-fest is at least a little cultivated. Free-range and additive-free, this is proper British food sure to satisfy any carnivore. Paleo fans – book now.
Burgers at Byron
Inspired by a four year stint in America, Byron’s founder, Tom Byng, set up his first London restaurant in 2007 to offer city goers the sort of proper hamburger he’d enjoyed in Rhode Island. Since then, the ‘gourmet burger’ has taken London by storm with Byron leading the foodie trend to gastronomical heights. Scottish beef, freshly minced, medium-cooked and placed in a soft, squishy bun with ‘minimum fuss and fanfare’. Byron burgers may not be low in calories but healthy eating doesn’t mean not eating. Still dead set on scrimping? A bun-free ‘skinny’ option ensures any dieter can get their mouth into a classic Byron burger guilt-free, or why not swap the hamburger for chargrilled chicken breast or grilled Portobello mushroom? Home made skin-on chips and courgette fries are convincingly nutritious alternatives to the classic chip, or stick to the token salad options for a full-on, sin-free American feast.
Vegetables at Food for thought
Covent Garden’s best-loved basement restaurant has become somewhat of a vegetarian institution in recent years. Serving hearty plates of wholesome vegetarian dishes for over 40 years, this endearing cafe/restaurant has an ever-changing menu of hot and cold dishes with plenty of wheat and gluten free options, all at affordable prices. From stews, soups and bean-bakes to quiche, salad and stir fries, pile up your plate and be prepared to squeeze in – it can get pretty crammed and at peak times you’re best off ordering to take-away. Fancy food this is not, so don’t feel shy about ordering a side of walnut and sage bread to mop up your plate. Seasonal, honest food served simply as you want it, it’s Food for thought and it never disappoints.
Buffet at Vantra
Vantra’s mission? To ‘deliver a complete nutrition package with every meal’. Serving organic 100% vegan produce in its natural or raw state, Vantra really is dishing up the cutting edge in health and nutrition and is the UK’s original living food restaurant. Vantra’s water-based cooking methods break food down gently and the pick and mix buffet menu offers a healthy-alternative to all your favourite comfort foods. With over 20 dishes from around the world, expect classics such as chickpea curry, falafel and vegetable biryani to the more unusual spicy kimchi stew, seaweed lasagne and mashed pumpkin shepherds pie. It’s certainly inspiring and they’ve even got a superfood cocktail bar to keep the whole experience strictly virtuous.