27 Nov NAMA Foods – A Raw Restaurant Review
Well the festive season is approaching, at least if advertising is to be trusted, and for us Jews this means Chanukah (or Hanukah or even Hannukah, no one truly knows!), which like Christmas, of course means remembering the baby Jesus… oops, no it doesn’t, I meant presents. But like Adam Sandler sings in the Chanukah song, the Jewish Christmas surpasses its Christian counterpart because “Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights’. And yes Adam, Chanukah is indeed a lot of Fun-ukah! P.S. I’m only joking about all that, please don’t be offended, I like Christmas as much as the next man… unless the next man happens to be a Roman Jew!
My presents have been largely food based for years now. I think I am probably the only 14 year old to have received caramelised red onion chutney as a Chanukah present. One year I received a blow torch, which coincided with my short lived obsession with creme brûlée.. an obsession which ended almost immediately after receiving it (oh kids, what are they like!). One year it was salts; pink, smoked, sea… y’know, all sorts (ye, pun baby!). But this year, my sister thought, what with me becoming plant based, my early Chanukah present would be a trip to NAMA, a raw vegan restaurant in Notting Hill. Oh and there was a really good deal on for it. Ye, let’s face it, it was more probably that. But anyway, on to the review.
NAMA, Notting Hill, 25/11/16
After much menu perusing, I eventually plumped for the pizza. Pizza!? But you’re at a raw vegan restaurant Alex, how can you have pizza! Well, calm down young padawan, let me explain.
We have got to the point in plant based food where cheese can be conjured, as if by magic, from nuts. And, well, I truly love my nuts! NAMA made their ‘cheese’ from macadamia, a nut I rank highly on my list of all time favourites (yes, I have a nut list!). In truth, I’ve yet to to have a vegan cheese that truly replicates the real stuff, which, fortunately for me is not a negative as I was never really one of those cheese people anyway. Though saying that, I do miss the pleasures that halloumi and paneer cheese bring, so if some food boffin can get to replicating them, I’d be most grateful. But generally, I actually prefer the vegan stuff, particularly when it’s of the quality that NAMA’s was.
The base of the pizza, made from walnuts, was pleasant, but didn’t really replicate a soft, pillowy pizza dough. It was probably closer related to a brushetta type starter than a pizza, topped with all manner of lovely, errrm, toppings, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and even parmesan (well, parmesan made from almonds anyway). The lack of actual pizza mimicry didn’t really matter, the overall effect was an interestingly intense sensation. Pizza, it was not, but what it was, was a starter full of flavour, texture and intrigue.
Sushi was next. Raw and vegan of course. I found this course slightly more challenging. Eight maki rolls composed of kohlrabi ‘rice’, enoki mushrooms, cucumber, avocado, carrot and probably some other elements I am failing to identify/remember. I just feel this dish would have benefited from being a half portion and being served instead as a starter, or alternatively, offering different variety of roll, as the dish did become a little samey. And I must confess that I would have preferred the traditional fluffiness that rice brings and felt the ponzu dipping sauce could have perhaps been a little more intense in flavour.
However, this does not mean I didn’t enjoy the dish. The wasabi mayonnaise accompaniment was just that, gloriously accompanying the sushi both visually and in enhancing each roll with the earthy heat that only wasabi can produce. Again, textures were integral to the dish, the variety of different vegetables on show exhibiting the diversity of taste and texture vegetables have to offer in their raw form.
Dessert provided an agonising choice (well, perhaps agonising is a little strong; the ultimate first world problem), but they all sounded tempting. I eventually decided upon the hazelnut mocha torte. A lovely cashew based mocha frosting sandwiched a hazelnut cake, which was quite dense in texture, perhaps more akin to a date and nut breakfast bar. The frosting was very well done and something I could definitely see myself recreating.
I have to say however, my sister’s choice, the chocolate caramel cake was the real revelation. I was seriously quite jealous, the cake (which was actually more torte like, and mine more cake like!) was truly indulgent and not only felt like a ‘normal’ dessert, but a very good ‘normal’ dessert at that.
The service was particularly friendly, genuine in their want to show off what raw vegan food can offer their customers. A touch of Abraham-esque hospitality (to keep the Bible theme going) ended the meal on a high; the voucher we were dining with included any drink of choice. Two of my first choices were unavailable (which was not a problem as I ended up with a truly satisfying ‘Superfood Latte’). Upon leaving, our lovely waiter (so lovely in fact, his name currently escapes me… sorry, American vegan waiter man!) produced a bottle of the ‘Chocolate Heaven’ drink that I originally wanted that he had found in the fridge and gave it to me free of charge. This generous gesture and the drink itself was all rather fab. Thanks again ‘insert name’.
Overall, my dinner at NAMA was a real insight and I’m sorry, but I’m going to say, rather inspirational (ye, bit cringe I know). But what NAMA is, is people looking at food from a completely different perspective, it’s not accepting the status quo, it’s believing the mantra that food can be thy medicine, but making it gourmet at the same time.
Dinner at NAMA was not only an enjoyable experience, but a lesson. A lesson in creativity, in bushing the boundaries and in utilising to the maximum the humble plant in its raw form.
Thanks for reading one and all, or with my current readership figure more likely just one… thanks mum.
Recipe coming tomorrow, maybe. I am supposed to be receiving a PS4 in the post tomorrow, having given into black friday, so food might be playing second fiddle tomorrow!
Take care all,