e’ve been on a real journey,” says Paul Grey, hospitality bigwig at Friends House. It’s culminated in the relaunch of the basement eatery as a meat-free enterprise.
Housed in the central offices of Quakers in Britain, it’s a “destination venue that’s underpinned by our testimonies of simplicity, truth, integrity, and sustainability,” says Paul.
The team want people to use the whole building. “A lot of individuals come from the tube and through the garden, but they don’t realise we have a café and a restaurant,” says Paul. “We’d like them to visit us for an ethically-sourced meal. Our menu will be seasonal, and we’ll keep it fresh with some specials too.”
Seating fifty-eight, the modern room is decked out in eco-sourced materials, with eye-catching preserved reindeer moss lining one wall. And the new name epitomises the ethos of the project – planting and spreading ideas.
The Quakers have always shown compassion for animals, and over the years they’ve increasingly considered how to channel that value into the food they serve. “We started a small-steps approach that’s gradually led to where we are now,” says Paul.
Open-minded chef Mauro Calheiros has found the new trajectory challenging but rewarding. “It’s satisfying; I’m really enjoying it,” he says. “I come from a background where my parents made me try different things. I’m originally from São Paulo, and my dad used to travel to the Amazon and bring things back for us to try that we had never seen before.”
Mauro’s created a host of plates, including shallot tarte tatin, lentil burger with piquillo peppers, and pistachio, lemon and ricotta cheesecake served with honey from the rooftop hives.
He’s been experimenting with meat alternatives too. “I did a lot of research on seitan. Most didn’t have much taste and were rubbery, but I managed to find one that’s particularly good.
Their chorizo version is absolutely beautiful: I mix it with paprika and pumpkin and use it in a pie.” Slightly spicy and smoky, the textural filling is surrounded by incredibly thin and light pastry, making it one of our top picks.
The provenance and carbon footprint of the ingredients are important: 71% are British, all cheeses are sourced from the UK, and their fruit and veg are Fairtrade and organic.
“We found a farm in Wiltshire that produces chia, quinoa, and different oils,” says Mauro. “We’re going to draw a map for customers showing them where everything comes from – it will tell a story.”
Mauro’s favourite item is his chestnut mushroom stroganoff. “That dish is so easy to make and is amazingly tasty,” he says. “It’s very creamy – that’s from the cashew we use in the sauce.”
Another must-order is the vegan fish and chips, where super crisp gluten-free batter encases hunks of banana blossom. Falling apart in flakes – just like cod or haddock – it has a taste of the sea and is an absolute revelation.
“I soak it in Cornish seaweed and samphire for a few days,” says Mauro. “It’s spongy, and takes on those flavours. It’s really something else; I think that one’s going to be a huge success.”
Main image: Suki Ferguson for BYM