What is The Willow?
I am reviewing the bar and restaurant but highlight that The Willow is part of an integrated approach to healthy eating. Evidence based, sustainable, enjoyable healthy eating of real foods.
The Willow brings to vibrant, delicious life the Alliance for Natural Health Food4Health plate. This offers an alternative to the UK and US Government food plate recommendations. The Willow restaurant is also co-located with a clinic offering functional medicine and nutritional services and a space with facilities for providing cooking skill courses.
Everything about The Willow terrifically impressed me, the ethos, sustainability, décor, service, menu and yes, the food! Only one other new venue has impressed me so this year, Farmstand. Farmstand is an outstanding fast casual place from which I love to buy many of my meals since it offers the same high quality, tasty, ethically and sustainably sourced healthy food that I otherwise prepare myself. The Willow is a destination restaurant to which I would confidently bring diners with allergies and intolerances and anyone else with a taste for fine dining .I am envious, very envious, of those for whom The Willow is also their local!
Free From Menu
The Willow is 100% gluten free and peanut free. Allergen awareness, cross-contamination protocols and allergen information within the menu are equal to the best I have seen anywhere. I felt completely safe to relax and enjoy dining here and confident to recommend it to those dealing with other allergies and intolerances.
The menu design is worthy of praise. It presents consistently clear information about allergens along with sprinkles of education about the ethos that has influenced the menu choices starting with Hippocrates “let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It is really worth seeing, so pictures and video below. Notice that the ingredient symbols are kept visible on the menu backing board as the pages themselves are turned and that entries are presented in an easy to read format. Everywhere else, please copy this!
A large number of the dishes are dairy free or egg free or both so there are many tasty options safe for vegetarians and vegans. Nuts do feature in many dishes and one facet of the superb clarity regarding allergens built into the menu is that the type of nut present in dishes is always specified e.g. you see “pistachio” or “macadamia” instead of “nuts”.
Separate to the allergens many dishes are grain free, low FODMAPs and low sugar, again all clearly marked as such on the menu. I personally eat both grain free and low sugar most of the time and flex from this when I eat out or travel, partly due to necessity. At The Willow I can enjoy delicious food without compromise.
The cuisine offered features meat and plant based dishes and a range of sides well suited to sharing. There is a dedicated Sunday Roast menu. I have yet to sample this since I visited on a Saturday and would choose the ‘Cauliflower Steak’ if I did but expect that The Willow will become a compelling answer to very popular question “Where can I get a great gluten free Sunday Roast?”.
Food Glorious Food?
My dining companion has become quite fond of sampling gluten free alcoholic drinks on my behalf since I am coeliac but also a non-drinker! Color him impressed. The Willow has possibly the widest selection of gluten free beers and ciders and sulphur free wines of any venue in the UK. I counted 13 beers and 4 ciders. It also offers a wonderful ‘Flight’ of gluten free beers which was immediately ordered with enthusiasm.
I choose a Mixed Bean, Courgette and Falafel burger. I have both home-cooked and purchased a very large number of veggie burgers. I can name some dry, bland examples. I can more enthusiastically name some great examples. This one was quite possibly the best I have ever had. The key was that the burger was accompanied by a puree also made from beans and courgette. The puree provided moisture to compliment the burger so that it could be firm and pleasingly chewy rather than soggy and soft. Then the taste . . . the seasoning was goldilocks zone just-right, leaving a spicy hot sensation that lingered to be enjoyed after every bite.
My side order of sweet potato chips were fried in coconut oil and were, as you can see, vibrantly orange, served with mayo and ketchup for dipping.
The Salmon ‘n’ Salsa ordered by my +1 came with seaweed tagiatelle. Seaweed is a very expensive ingredient so I asked if the pasta was in fact made from something else with a small amount of seaweed added, a very common approach that allows producers or restaurants to feature the premium ingredient whilst the bulk of something is made from something far cheaper. Not here, this was seaweed tagiatelle made from seaweed. I highlight this because it reflects The Willow choices of high quality, nutrient dense ingredients throughout the menu.
Our desserts were a Blueberry & Pistachio ‘Beer’ Brownie and Carrot & Courgette Cake. Both were beautifully plated. We overcame our admiration of the presentation in order to actually taste them too.
The low sugar in the cake means that the natural flavour and sweetness of the ingredients can be, and was, savoured slowly and bite by bite. I really applaud that The Willow are focusing on low sugar instead of the very trendy and in my opinion, mostly meaningless “no refined sugar” approach. Give me a little bit of sugar and an extra sprig of broccoli, done!
The Brownie was a surprise. It was a cake-like brownie that really needed to be accompanied by some cream or ice cream as alone it had pleasing flavour but was overly dry. Feedback was offered and received with grace and thanks and I hope to eat an improved version on a future visit!
Would I Return?
I live in central London. I realize there are great restaurants outside of it, truly, but there are so many great restaurants within it that I am reluctant to travel further out. For The Willow, I will gladly assign my subconscious the task of generating plausible reasons to take me there and if my subconscious doesn’t work hard enough I’m happy to recruit my gut microbes. You hear that, little bacteria people? Start sending those chemical signals to my brain, get me back there! You know you are in for a feast once you succeed.
Simply yes. Until The Willow comes closer to me, I will have to go to The Willow.