According to Wikipedia, the ‘Paleo’ or ‘Paleolithic diet’ is a fad diet based on the foods our ancient ancestors might have eaten, such as lean meat, nuts and berries. Also known as the ‘caveman diet’, the diet is divisive and not without controversy, generally splitting people into one of two camps – the devout, almost evangelical paleos, and those staunchly against the diet. Before last week, I really didn’t have an opinion on the matter. I considered the diet the same way I considered the gluten free diet, before it became part of my daily reality – just one of those things that some people did.
So when I was invited down to Pure Taste, the first paleo restaurant in the UK, I was incredibly curious and excited, although not without some reservations – the strict paleo diet excludes wine and coffee, which I’m quite partial to. We met the nutritionist and head chef behind the restaurant, Holly Redman, in the elegant, intimate and understated private dining room to find out more.
Pure Taste started as a pop-up, and after raising over £30,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign opened up shop in December 2014. Redman is a coeliac, as well as being a nutritional therapist, chef and chemistry graduate. She came up with the concept behind Pure Taste after seeing a gap in the market for a delicious dining experience for those needing special dining requirements, but without having to compromise.
Pure Taste is entirely free of refined sugars, as well as gluten and dairy, meaning that I wouldn’t be suffering from food envy at dinner, as well as being able to eat without fear of accidental cross contamination. The restaurant also caters for those on legume free, egg free and low FODMAP diets, as well as vegetarians and vegans, making it the perfect place to take a motley crew of diners (if they have dietary restrictions of any kind).
The best part? As the concept behind Pure Taste is largely inspired by the paleo diet, they serve a range of biodynamic, organic wines from a vineyard in La Mancha, exclusively produced for the restaurant – and gluten free, organic beers and ciders too. Alcohol and meat? Always, always, count me in!
The menu I sampled was from the newly launched Spring menu, created with seasonal ingredients for a truly Paleolithic dining experience.
A key part of the paleo diet is to use fresh, seasonal ingredients as well as the whole of the animal, meaning that the use of offal is encouraged, as it’s largely unprocessed and provides essential nutrients. Our first course at Pure Taste was the green soup with chicken hearts, a brightly verdant concoction of parsley and wild garlic. The dish is labelled vaguely, as it’s subject to change – Pure Taste’s green soup can be made with nettles, given the right season, but is always includes the use of wild garlic. For a dish that had the potential to be so bland, the parsley and wild garlic soup was delicious, made rich and indulgent with the addition of the chicken hearts, which were perfectly seasoned. The dish has inspired me to use chicken hearts more in my cooking, as when it comes to offal I too often stick to what I know.
The second starter I sampled was the squid, seasoned with lemon and Japanese sansho pepper, delicately placed on a bed of shredded pak choy.
This starter was one of the main highlights for me. The squid was expertly cooked, with none of the rubbery texture that squid is so prone to, and the combination of seasonings was really full of umami, with a delicate balance of flavours and textures.
The third and final starter I sampled was the salmon fishcake with celery and radish, served with an avocado paste and a tapenade.
I enjoyed the combination of flavours and textures in this dish, though it didn’t impress me as much as the other starters. The salmon fishcake was light, yet moist, and combined with the black olive tapenade was really delicious. The avocado and radish was not at all memorable, and rather bland – I prefer my avocado dishes to have a bit of a kick, and be more firm, instead of blended down into mush (which to me always impacts the taste, too).
The main courses included a beautifully seared smoked mackerel, beetroot, horseradish and hazelnut dish, which was let down somewhat by the addition of the side of cucumber which had a gummy and unappealing texture. I particularly enjoyed my little copper pot of the braised ox cheek, which was served with orange, spring greens and a wonderful celeriac puree.
The final main was a succulent and flavourful piece of lamb, served with burnt shallot, baby gem and carrot. This was incredible, and beautifully seasoned, although not necessarily what I would order if I went again as the smoked mackerel and braised ox cheek dishes (with the exception of the cucumber) were vastly superior, as well as being slightly more complicated to recreate at home, which, face it, is half the reason we dine out. Isn’t it?
Already stuffed to the gills at this point on delicious food and a rather lovely shiraz, I didn’t think I could fit dessert in – but I’m not one to shy from a challenge (particularly if it’s food related).
I couldn’t say I enjoyed the tonka bean chocolate and coffee cheesecake, which was deserved with a delicate sliver of dark chocolate and a dollop of espresso gel. I did enjoy the creamy texture of the tonka bean, and couldn’t believe it was vegan, but the combination of chocolate and coffee was too much like tiramisu for me to enjoy it. There are few dishes I detest, but tiramisu is one of them, and I honestly have no idea why – surely a dish a coffee and chocolate should make me incredibly happy, but I’ll just have to put it down as being one of those things.
It was, however, beautifully presented, and the base of the cheesecake was delicious.
After being somewhat let down by the tiramisu masquerading as a “cheese”cake, I was so, so impressed with the chocolate lava cake. It was incredibly rich, and tasted the same as a chocolate fondant, and came with a side of stem ginger ice cream. What’s more incredible is that they have managed to recreate it with no refined sugars, gluten or dairy. The stem ginger ice cream was made with coconut milk and honey, and tasted absolutely divine – creamy and cold, but with the pleasant warmth of candied ginger coming through. The chocolate fondant lava cake was incredible, and I’m definitely going to need to have the recipe as I can’t believe they’ve managed to recreate a classic dessert so well.
The inside was molten too, and was served with a dark chocolate shard.
The great thing about Pure Taste is how accessible it’s made dining out, but without compromising on quality, flavour or being unimaginative in their menu. It will definitely be a place I’ll be recommending to gluten free visitors to London, and it definitely won’t be my last time there – I’ve got my eye on the gin pannacotta and the rabbit next.
In the long run, I think I’m a bit too keen on dairy to take the leap into living and eating the ‘paleo’ way. Pure Taste has inspired me think outside of the box when it comes to ingredients and recipes, and was a great dining experience regardless of dietary restrictions.
Have you ever tried the paleo diet? What are some of your favourite recipes?(4.5 / 5)
Pure Taste is located at 115 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UP – for reservations, call 0207 727 5000.
My meal was complimentary, but all opinions are fully my own.