Farm Girl Caf, Chelsea: We don’t stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough restaurant review | Jay Rayner

The food was so bad, says Jay Rayner, a nearby Yorkshire terrier started to look more appetising

Farm Girl Caf, 9 Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ (020 3674 7359). Meal for two, including drinks and service 110

The menu at the Farm Girl Caf features lots of initials. Theres V for Vegan. Theres GF for Gluten Free. Theres DF for Dairy Free. I think theyre missing a few. There should be TF for Taste Free and JF for Joy Free and AAHYWEH for Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. If you examine the companys website, and I would only advise doing so if you have strong teeth that can cope with a good grinding, you will learn that the Farm Girl group offers: A holistic and healthy yet comfortingly simple approach to Australian Caf culture. Nope, me neither. Apparently, they like to use nutritionally nurturing ingredients, which sounds rather nice. I could have done with a bit of nurture, rather than the dishes that came our way.

I have nothing against eating healthily. I have only one body and I try to look after it. My mother used to say that she hoped to die aged 98, shot dead by a jealous lover. She didnt quite manage it, but its an ambition Im happy to inherit. The menu here is omnivorous with a heavy emphasis on non-meat cookery, which is a fine thing. I like vegetables, me. They can taste really nice. But this sort of cooking does have to be done with skill, grace and, ideally, an absence of malice.

The Farm Girl Caf, Chelsea, is the third in a group which until now has stuck to charcoal or matcha lattes, and light lunches involving an awful lot of almond butter, avocado and something called coconut bacon, which you just know isnt. This is the first to serve dinner, and it does indeed look like a proper restaurant in a very Chelsea sort of way. Theres a giant blue Welsh dresser behind the bar, faux wooden beams across the ceiling and banquettes in a field shade of green. Its like a cartoon version of a farmhouse as imagined by someone who hasnt been in one.

It fills quickly on a cold winters evening, with blonde-tressed Chelsea women just bubbling with intolerances. They are fizzing with them, these dairy- and gluten-fearing dietary warriors, seeking sanctuary from the terrifying world of modern food. With them are their pink-cheeked, anxious-looking boyfriends, who clearly fear they are just one more rugby club, traffic-cone-on-your-head piss-up away from being chucked. A woman arrives clutching her Yorkshire terrier. They are given a corner table. The dog is offered a bowl of water and a plate of food and disappears on to the floor for dinner. At least somebody gets to eat well.

The artichoke is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someones overheated suburban front room. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

From the small plates we order the whole (completely out-of-season) globe artichoke, which apparently is gluten free. Its tough to see how it would be anything other. It has been prepared by someone who either hates globe artichokes or has never met one before: boiled until it is as soft and rank as Grandmas cabbage, only with none of the glamour. It is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someones overheated suburban front room. The damn thing could be disposed of without the aid of teeth or, better still, using a composter. That would remove the middle man, which in this case happens to be me.

Paolas Market Veggies arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly carrot hummus thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate accident and decided to close the loo door and run away. At the bottom is a cashew aioli, which is the kind of discharge you get when you torture nuts. It tastes of raw garlic and nothing else. There are sticks of celery and hunks of cauliflower to dredge through this, alongside seeded crisp bread which is neither of the last two words. It is dense and hard and tasteless, as you imagine cork floor tiling might be, if it had somehow been repurposed as food.

Finally, from the small plates, comes tostadas piled with jackfruit, the latest hip, unconvincing replacement for meat. It is a fibrous tangle that gets stuck in your teeth on top of a violent, acidic sludge of guacamole. The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This means it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pubs with a flat roof. Each of these dishes costs about 8. After this vegan calamity, this extraordinary display of dismal cooking, I find myself eyeing the Yorkshire terrier, greedily. Just hand him over, give me access to the grill, and five minutes.

The turkey schnitzel has the texture of something Timpsons might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

Perhaps the kitchen can do better with something that once had a pulse. Or perhaps not. The crispy turkey schnitzel sounds nice. Apparently, it is encased in lemon and thyme-infused breadcrumbs, but tastes of neither of those things. It barely tastes of anything at all. The meat is overcooked and has the texture of something Timpsons might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues. A heap of pickled cucumber and radish is piled on top helpfully, to ensure the breadcrumbs go soggy. A side dish of roasted cauliflower is so undercooked that the knife barely manages to go through it. The one edible dish is a glutinous, cloyingly sweet vegetable curry. It would be regarded as an utter, shameful travesty by many in south-east Asia, but its not actively unpleasant.

We do not stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough. In any case they are mostly a list of ice creams and sorbets including a spinach, kiwi and coconut oil gelato, which sounds terrifying. What weve ordered so far, plus the second-cheapest bottle of wine, has already run up a bill of just under 100. Its not just the dismal cooking that pains me here. Its the squandering of ingredients and of peoples time and the tiresome narrative of wellness with which its been flogged. I feel especially bad about our waiter. Tom is a good man. He is charming, on point and utterly wasted here; he should do something more socially useful, like fly tipping or nicking cars. I whip out my phone and discover there is a branch of Honest Burgers nearby. One of their finest, served medium rare, a big heap of rosemary and salt chips and a hefty tumbler of cheap and cheerful sauvignon blanc is exactly what we need to make all those BTGW (Bad Thoughts Go Away).

News bites

The elegant glass box that houses the caf at the Garden Museum, just south of Lambeth Bridge, gives equal billing to both meat and veg, but does so with grace and good taste. A recent menu started with winter tomatoes with tropea onions, or cockles with bacon, followed by gnocchi with wild garlic and almonds or oxtail and lentils. Stay for dessert (

Theres nothing clever about stupid high prices for food items, but its always good to have something to gawp at. Recently, on a trip round the refurbished Harrods food hall, I spotted Wagyu Kobe fillet A5, imported from Japan, for 62.50 per 100g. Or 625 a kilo. The minimum order is 500g. You do the maths.

Restaurant no-shows have become a serious issue in the industry recently. Two weeks ago, Edinburgh chef Mark Greenaway introduced a deposit scheme after recording 450 no-shows in a month. Now the Casual Dining Group, which own brands such as Bella Italia and La Tasca, is considering introducing advance payments for large groups.

Email Jay at or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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Curd your enthusiasm my adventures in vegan cheese

Vegan burgers are increasingly convincing, but can vegan cheese or cheeze or chease melt our hearts?

Vegan cheese has been suffering a bad case of Fomo fear of missing out on the vegan food revolution. Some of the new, plant-based products have been groundbreaking, such as the Impossible Burger, which not only tastes like cow, but also bleeds like one. Some, such as mock duck in gravy, are startlingly bad.

But with vegan cheese, quality versions have been so late to the party, you would be forgiven for not letting them in even if they brought a nice bottle of vegan wine. At last, 2017 was a big one for vegan cheese. Most supermarkets started stocking it. A vegan friend points me towards Sainsburys coconut-based vegan cheddar and a feta substitute that is getting close, although lately he is excited about a very realistic vegan parmesan from Ocado. Theres now a vegan camembert made with cashew nut milk and even Dominos has rolled out a vegan pizza in Australia and New Zealand.

Cheese, my friend says, is the thing he initially missed the most the meat quitters after-dinner fag but these recent developments have provided hope. Small grains of hope, but ones that can be harvested and turned into more vegan cheese. Because you can make vegan cheese from almost anything. Cauliflower, chickpeas, rice, nuts, seeds, quinoa, courgette, even carrageenan, a type of seaweed extract spelled by your cat walking across your keyboard, which is excellent for firm or wheel cheeses.

Vegan feta. Photograph: Evi Oravecz / Green Evi/Getty Images/Picture Press RM

Buoyed, I sampled a few. Tynes smoked paprika chease is a bestseller, but looks like a sponge and tastes predominantly of smoke. Vegans cheeze balls are essentially haunted by garlic. Tynes creamy classic cashew is nicer, while NVs parmesan substitute is fine.

Why its so hit and miss is anyones guess. Maybe its because cheese is pretty hard to make without dairy, or because we hold cheese in some sort of cultural reverence theres cheese and theres cheese, but now theres chease, cheeze and sheese. And thats the first sticking point the name. I am, however, fully on board with alternative names, such as Mozzarisella, mozzarella made from rice, which is way more fun than Tescos elliptical Free From version, made with coconut oil and soya. Its still not a patch on Vegustos No-Moo Piquant, though, whom I definitely saw play Glastonbury once.

This is not a screed about veganism. As a non-vegan who is too weak to divest herself from dairy, this cheese is not meant for me. Rather, I admire these small acts of bravery: some of them coming in French-looking boxes, others on a bed of straw like baby Jesus. And if some of them melt on pasta, then great. Its also true that whatever vegan cheese is made of, it couldnt possibly be weirder than the bodily fluids of animals mixed together and left to go mouldy.

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Good enough for Beyonc: chocolate ganache, paella and stir-fry vegan recipes

Forget dodgy dal and chickpea salads and be inspired by World Vegan Day with our pick of delicious, colourful and healthy meals

Whether its down to health and environmental concerns or merely following in Beyoncs footsteps, veganism is on the rise around the world. Those who eschew all animal products (including leather, honey, eggs and dairy) are increasing in numbers in the UK, the US and in Australia.

Now, in the aftermath of World Vegan Day, we asked three well-known Australian vegan chefs for their favourite and most delicious vegan recipes.

Raw and Peaces chocolate ganache tarts

Basic shortbread crust
3 cups cashews (dry)
cup coconut oil, liquid
cup coconut flour

Chocolate ganache
2 cups cashews, soaked
3/4 cup cacao powder
cup coconut oil
cup agave
1 cup water
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp psyllium

To make the shortbread, grind cashew nuts to a fine flour consistency in a high-speed blender. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and mix through with your hands. This will get sticky. Then add coconut flour slowly and knead into dough. Excess shortbread can be stored in a freezer bag in the freezer. You may need to add a little more coconut oil when working with it again.

Line some small tart cases with plastic wrap. Press shortbread mix into these not too thick using your finger to neaten off the edges. Set in freezer.

To prepare the chocolate ganache, place all the ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend. Then pour into tart cases and return to freezer to set. Allow to soften in the fridge before serving.

The Naked Vegans stir no-fry with coconut cauliflower rice

This veggie stir-fry with coconut cauliflower rice is easy to prepare when youre short on time. Photograph: Ben Dearnley/Murdoch Books

Serves 4

A great working-week dinner option, this dish is colourful, filling and tasty, and really easy to prepare when youre short on time. Just chop, whiz up some stuff and throw it all together.

Lime and tamari marinade
125 ml ( cup) cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp cold-pressed sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger

Veggie mix
125 g (2 cups) broccoli florets
1 red capsicum (pepper), seeded and finely sliced
90g (1 cup) julienned carrot
115g (1 cup) bean sprouts
30g (/ cup) shredded bok choy (pak choy)
40g ( cup) shredded savoy cabbage
red onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed

Coconut cauliflower rice
500g (4 cups) cauliflower florets
45g ( cup) finely desiccated coconut
tsp Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt

The Naked Vegan by Maz Valcorza (Murdoch Books, $39.99)

To serve
4 tbsp black or white sesame seeds
3 tbsp coriander (cilantro) leaves

Blend the marinade ingredients in a high-speed blender until well combined. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add all the veggie mix ingredients to the bowl. Toss together, then allow to marinate while you make the cauliflower rice.

Carefully pulse the cauliflower coconut rice ingredients in a food processor until the cauliflower resembles the texture of rice. Do not over-process, or the cauliflower will turn into a puree.

To serve, divide the coconut cauliflower rice among four bowls and top with the veggie mix. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, garnish with coriander and serve.

Recipe from The Naked Vegan by Max Valcorza (Murdoch Books, $39.99)

Smith & Daughters paella

A well-travelled Spanish paella recipe takes a vegan twist. Photograph: Bonnie Savage/Hardie Grant Books

Sure, youve had paella before, but this happens to be the fifth-generation (maybe more) recipe of the grandmother of chef Shannon Martinez from Melbourne restaurant Smith & Daughters. If the Spanish immigrants knew their descendants would use this well-loved and travelled recipe to make vegan paella, they may have had second thoughts. But non-vegans can add anything to this paella prawns, sausage, squid, seasonal vegetables. Just cook separately and add to the paella at the end.

Serves 4-6

1.25 litres (5 cups) vegetable stock
1 large pinch of saffron threads
60ml ( cup) olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
green capsicum (bell pepper), diced
red capsicum (bell pepper), diced
1 tsp fine salt
2 tomatoes, tinned or fresh, diced (only use fresh if tomatoes are in season)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
400g bomba or medium-grain rice
185g podded broad (fava) beans or substitute peas
Cooked seasonal vegetables, such as asparagus and peas in spring or pumpkin (squash) and olives in winter

Lemons, cut into wedges
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes
Flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Place the stock in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and drop in the saffron. Set aside to infuse for at least 5 minutes. You will see the stock turn bright yellow.

Heat the oil in a 30cm or slightly larger paella pan or ovenproof casserole dish over low heat. Add the onion, capsicum and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft and almost jammy. Add the tomato and garlic and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the sauce becomes thick.

Add the paprikas and stir to combine, then add the rice and broad beans and coat with the sauce. Cook for 12 minutes, or until the rice begins to turn translucent.

Smith & Daughters: A Cookbook (that happens to be vegan) by Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse (Hardie Grant Books, $48) Photograph: Hardie Grant Books

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Pour the stock over the rice and turn up the heat to high. Stir to make sure the rice is evenly spread across the pan, then simmer for exactly 5 minutes. Do not stir.

Transfer the paella to the oven and cook for 1215 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and stir through the cooked seasonal vegetables. Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and set aside for 5 minutes.

Place lemon wedges sporadically but evenly throughout the paella, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes and chopped parsley.

Recipe from Smith & Daughters: A Cookbook (that happens to be vegan) by Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse (Hardie Grant Books, $48)

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