It’s not easy being green, as Van Morrison sang. It’s not cheap either. One of the chief criticisms of pretty-girl health gurus such as ‘Deliciously’ Ella Woodward, Calgary Avansino and the Hemsley sisters is just how damn expensive it is to emulate their recipes and lifestyles. For one thing, you need a private income. No one who works an ordinary job has time to source organic hemp seeds and make their own nut milk. And it’d better be a large one, too: the beloved Nutribullet of this shiny-haired brigade will set you back around £80. And that’s before you’ve bought quinoa, pure cacao or seaweed extract.
For those with the money, but not the time – or the inclination – to spend hours over home-made energy bars, the health craze has now moved into mainstream restaurants and cafes. Pret a Manger has launched a vegetarian branch in London’s Soho while juice bars are popping up like selenium-rich mushrooms. And this manifestation of hippydom isn’t about BO and overripe bananas. It’s about finding healthy ‘alternatives’ to old favourites. Oxymorons like ‘avocado cake’ or ‘low-fat Christmas lunch’ are mainstays.
The latest London health hotspot is Rawligion, just off the Tottenham Court Road. It’s an unlikely spot: traffic roars past, fag butts litter the street, the golden arches shine in every direction. Whither Primrose Hill? But if Rawligion tempts the Subway clientele to their café, I can only salute them.
The premise is fairly simple: it’s all incredibly healthy, in every way. Of course it’s vegetarian and vegan – that goes without saying, these days. It’s also organic – duh – and, er, raw. The space is small. There’s no getting away from that. A few bench / table combos at the back feel crowded by five people. There’s a counter and two fridges. It’s simple, zen, clean. The windows are festooned with cold-press coffee machines which look like a chemistry kit from Harvey Nichols.
The staff are young, keen and smiley. They grin at each other disbelievingly – ‘can you believe we did this thing?!’ At the helm is former poker player John Tabatabai, who ate his way back to good health (and the moral high-ground) through raw food. The consultant behind the venture is chef Kate Magic. Yes, really.
We start by sampling various drinks. I am careful not to describe them as juices, because that is way too simple. They contain ‘botanical extracts’ and ‘triple-filtered water’ and ‘uptake encouragers’. First up is John Dee, made of grapefruit, lime and ginger with propolis for good measure. It’s deeply bitter and astringent, and as satisfying as pressing a TCP-soaked sponge on a cut. Then Poseidon’s Trident, made of three seaweeds, chlorophyll and chlorella. It is made palatable by fennel, which lends a sweet, aniseed-y taste. Pretty In Pink contains roses, pomegranate and aloe vera juice to promote blood flow. It’s syrupy and viscous, and tastes like the smell of expensive face-cream.
If the drinks are unusual concoctions, the food is disappointingly prosaic: healthy takes on everyday favourites. Cauliflower rice sushi with vegetables and seaweed caviar is umami-rich, if a bit cardboard in texture. The kelp noodles with protein pesto are crunchy, full-flavoured and filling. An Asian slaw was spicy and varied, with all the punch you’d want from tamarind, garlic and ginger.
Their caramel shortbread was one of the best I have tried: sweet without being cloying, with a biscuitiness that challenged the more domineering chocolate flavour. The chia pudding pots come with edible flowers on top: they’re pretty and girly and perfect Instagram fodder.
I fear that Rawligion will become just that: a status symbol, a fleeting photograph, a try-once trampoline. It deserves better. It is idealistic and hopeful. I left feeling full but exuberant, rather than weighed down. These people are trying to do good things. Let’s give them a chance.
Rawligion is at 3 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 2AF.