Not long ago, I thought vegan desserts were half-baked surrogates for what’s truly good in life. I made egg- and dairy-free cookies before, and was pleased with the result – but let’s face it, every time I think of cookies, it’s buttery dough and white chocolate chunks that spring to mind first. There was one incident with a dodgy vegan cheesecake in New York, which ended with me putting off a visit to the Top of The Rock, on the verge of being sick in the cab that sped down 5th Avenue and back to the hotel. And let’s not talk about the dreary snacks I used to stash in my office drawer to keep afternoon cravings at bay, hoping they’d do as good a job as chocolate bars. I’m looking at you, Planet Organic – your raw granola bites are a sham. Less of those, and more muffins at the bakery counter, please.
Over the past year, the tide has turned. First, I became awestruck with Redemption‘s desserts, notably the date truffles I popped as easily as paracetamol after a Monday morning meeting. Then I made those truffles at home, with a friend who shared my obsession; we were hooked. Finally, this same friend and I discovered Rawligion. It wasn’t by chance – Alexandra’s review persuaded me I needed to get my refined sugar eater’s ass there long ago – and it didn’t require much planning, given I work just down the road.
I’d expected a bright, spacious, soothing environment; instead, I found myself in a tiny windowless cafe, with few seats and a bare counter. All the fresh food was boxed up and displayed on fridge shelves; the savoury choices were limited to small salads and courgetti dishes. I hope that was down to a late Friday afternoon stock shortage, as I’d be disappointed to visit at lunchtime and not find anything more fulfilling.
It wasn’t a meal I was after, though: I went straight for the desserts, and found plenty of options, from dried fruit and nut bars, to Chi Lime Pie made with coconut meat, vegan lemon posset, and a chocolate torte described as a “libido enhancer”. Now, does anyone really need that much encouragement to stuff their face with cake? Rawligion have their very own raw chocolate-making room in their basement, and to me, that alone should wipe away all resistance. So yes, I went for chocolate. And no, it wasn’t the torte. I’d heard so much about Rawligion’s caramel shortcake, I’d have been crazy not to try it.
Thus far, what surprises me the most about raw desserts is that I’ve found a few adapted recipes I enjoy more than the originals. Give me a stack of Millionaire’s shortbread, and I won’t eat more than one or two; give me vegan caramel shortbreads, stripped of the cloying taste of too much butter, and I’ll devour the pile with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever facing an unattended food bag.
When it comes to Rawligion’s shortbread, your experience could go two ways. You may realise raw caramel tastes nothing like the sticky, sugary caramel you know, and lament the shortcomings of vegan desserts. Or you can take it in your stride, one small part of a whole worth savouring, and focus on what makes this dessert remarkable: the thick, crumbly buckwheat base, and a chocolate topping so rich, you’ll feel the taste linger in your mouth for hours afterwards. It’s quite filling, but if you’re like me, that won’t stop you from considering going for seconds.
If you order a drink, prepare to be dazzled by the breadth of Rawligion’s menu. My friend and I stood staring at it for a good ten minutes, feeling at once excited and worried we were wasting the staff’s time. The lady who served us had the patience of a saint: she must have led many more customers out of the dark tunnel of indecision before. This must be why she immediately got us to try a sip of Brain Milk – or, for the lay reader, non-dairy milk made with walnuts, dates and vanilla. It was an ingredient match made in heaven, and pairing it with coffee sounded like a brilliant idea, so I ordered an iced latte (heating up Brain Milk tends to smother its flavour, our server told us).
I’m calling it: this is the best iced latte I ever had. It’s gentler on the stomach than a dairy latte, and richer in flavour than its counterparts with almond or coconut milk, which I can’t seem to warm up to. It’s the kind of addictive that might have you make weird noises as you try to catch the last remaining drops with your straw. So maybe, uhm, don’t go there on a first date, or for that offsite work chat with your boss? Scrap it, I know I would, if the alternative was the Starbucks next door.
A bottle of plain Brain Milk will set you back between £5; smoothies and cold-press juices can cost up to £6.50. It sounds and is steep, but it pays for the quality of the ingredients. On the other hand, coffees and teas are well within London standards, and £3.50 felt reasonable for my iced latte – a discovery I can only describe as a revelation. After all, the place must be called Rawligion for a reason.