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Out and About, Vegan and Free From

Finding Redemption in Notting Hill

Redemption from what?, you may ask.

Teetotalers, vegetarians, vegans, dieters, and the ever-annoying folks who divide foods into “naughty” and “nice” might come up with very similar answers. It’s wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol…or even all of them.

If you don’t fit into any of the above categories, the reasons why Redemption is called this way will probably matter to you far less than the quality of the food. Yes, the restaurant’s selling point is only offering vegan, sugar-free and wheat-free food, as well as alcohol-free drinks: a godsend for those with actual, restraining dietary requirements. If my options were limited to dreary salads in 9 restaurants out of 10, I too would jump at the chance to eat in the one place where I can choose freely from the the full menu. I face no such limitations, though – nor am I a clean eating fanatic. I know people who will have anything, from smoothies the colour of mud to rice cakes that taste like cardboard, as long as it’s worthy of the #30daycleanse hashtag; they, too, would love Redemption, although you can bet their first comment wouldn’t be about taste. To me, omnivore and (I like to think) discerning, taste is all that matters: while nothing stops me from trying anything once, I’ll only order it again if it’s good. I’ve eaten at Redemption around once a month since they opened; make of that what you will.

Redemption, Notting Hill

Redemption used to live in a rather unlikely location for a niche restaurant: a space below North Kensington’s infamous Trellick Tower, a familiar sight from my third-floor window. The day I visited them there was also the first time I stood at the foot of the Tower; in the dark of a February afternoon, the low-rises surrounding it reminded me of the housing projects in The Wire. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see D’Angelo Barksdale, Wallace and Bodie hanging out on a broken sofa – and yet Redemption, the hippest thing that side of Golborne Road, was right there, nearly empty and nearing closing time. It must have been busier earlier in the day, as all desserts had sold out when Jesse and I arrived. We ordered a cup of tea, headed to Golborne Deli for cake, and never got a chance to return for the food: a few months later, Redemption closed, leaving no clues as to when and where they’d open again.

After a season of pop-ups in Central London, I was thrilled to discover that Redemption had found a new permanent home, two minutes away from my office. Since then, it has become my favourite lunch break spot, but sadly, not my colleagues’: very few accept to join me there, everyone else cringing at the thought of a vegan menu. They don’t know what they’re missing. “Free-from” isn’t short for “free-from-enjoyment”; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, whether it’s those who value “good-for-you” more than “good-full-stop”, or those who claim that pleasure lies at the bottom of a fried chicken bucket after a drunken night.

Redemption, Notting Hill - Lentil Soup

Redemption’s menu combines a number of fixed options with dishes that change regularly. I have much love for the soup of the day: a safe choice if you’re not feeling too adventurous – and a convenient one, too, at £4.50 per (generous) portion. I’ve tried a chunky lentil soup and a smooth butternut squash soup so far, both on par with any home-cooked version I know of. I’m not sure what I make of the gluten-free bread on the side, though. Its dense, wet texture feels odd; it would work much better toasted. If it was any other type of bread, I’d think it’s undercooked, but I don’t know enough about gluten-free baking to make that call (any experts out there who can shed some light?).

Pancakes, both savoury and sweet, are another staple at Redemption. The latter (buckwheat, berries, banana and date syrup) are my forbidden dream, as I always visit at lunchtime; I shall make time for a weekend breakfast visit. The former have nothing to do with pancakes as we, the omnivores, know them; you might as well think of them as sweetcorn and red pepper fritters. No amount of replacement ingredients can make up for the lack of dairy, and even I, who use butter as sparingly as I can, realise that’s what makes pancakes really sing. I do like the avocado, coriander, chilli and lime guacamole topping: it’s fresh, well balanced in flavour, and a much needed complement to the pancakes’ eerily bittersweet taste.

Now for my favourite dish so far: brown rice spaghetti, found for the first time in the January menu. The pasta is cooked to perfection, but the real showstopper is the seasoning: the olive and tomato sauce is a pure Mediterranean delight, while the ground walnuts on top add substance to the whole, making it fit for even the biggest appetite. We’re in comfort food territory, here, and I sure as hell never had a wheat-free pasta dish this impressive. I hope Redemption will make it a regular feature, or the next new dish on the block will have very big shoes to fill.

Redemption, Notting Hill - Brown Rice Spaghetti

Desserts deserve a chapter of their own. To me, serial bookmarker of raw dessert recipes I never made once, it’s a revelation how well sugar-free recipes can satisfy a sweet tooth. Even when procedures looks simple, and ingredients easy to source, I worry that it’ll take a wild flight of imagination to convince myself I’m not settling for consolation prizes. It’s great news, then, that appreciating Redemption’s desserts requires no suspension of disbelief. Raw cheesecakes are made with cashew nut cream and an almond and buckwheat base, but the taste doesn’t give it away in the least. The no-bake brownies have the thick, gooey texture you’d expect from a recipe involving loads of dairy; there’s no butter to steal the show, though, and so the rich, enchanting notes of cocoa stand out even more. The smaller bites go as well with a cup of coffee as any petit-four would; my favourites are the raw dark chocolate and date truffles rolled in ground pistachio, of which I wish I had an unlimited supply. I could easily name four or five “classic” desserts I don’t like quite as much as any of these, and chances are you can, too.

Redemption, Notting Hill - Power balls

Redemption
6 Chepstow Road
London, W2 5BH
Nearest tube stations: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park
Open 12:00 – 23:00 Monday to Friday, 10:00 – 23:00 Saturdays,  10:00 – 17:00 Sundays
020 7313 9041
http://redemptionbar.co.uk/
Redemption Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Square Meal

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