The Coach & Horses – London’s First Vegetarian Pub
The ‘West End’s Best Known Pub’ is famous for a few reasons. Mostly for its legendary self-proclaimed ‘rudest landlord’ – Norman Balon – who reigned over the bar for 62 years before handing over the keys to its current owners in 2006, and also for its clientele of writerly types, including late columnist Jeffery Bernard (you’ll be pleased to hear I’m going to resist making *that*joke). Now it’s famous for being London’s first vegetarian pub.
‘Vegetarian pub’ is a slight misnomer; on entering the pub, I spied a Guinness pump on the bar. As any self-respecting vegetarian will tell you – because it contains isinglass – Guinness isn’t vegetarian. For the uninitiated, isinglass is bits of fish bladder. Mmm, tasty. Pedantry aside, the menu served in the upstairs restaurant is 100% vegetarian, including customers’ favourites such as vegan tofush and chips, vegetarian pies and beetroot ravioli. Despite the downstairs bar serving non-vegetarian drinks, all the alcoholic drinks on the restaurant’s menu are labelled as suitable for vegetarians, with a few also labelled suitable for vegans.
The entrance to the restaurant is behind the bar and, as the management isn’t keen on any old riff raff wandering about the staff only areas, you need to let a member of staff know you’d like a table, then they’ll show you up (to your table, that is; I don’t mean they embarrass you in front of your friends). The Coach & Horses hosts the Private Eye fortnightly lunches, which explains the Private Eye covers and photos of Ian Hislop adorning the walls. Ian Hislop aside though, the upstairs is charmingly decorated like a 50s tearoom.
I’m informed by a friend who knows more about these things than I do, that the music is ‘ambient’. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it’s certainly not something I’d listen to in my house. On entering the toilet, the first thing I notice is an art deco mirror, the likes of which can be seen in bedsits across the country. Old-style graffiti is scrawled on the door; my favourites being ‘I take it the cat went down the loo as there is no room to swing it’ and ‘Nigella Lawson is innocent’. The toilets were – to be blunt – downright disgusting, but as this is an old-fashioned boozer, not a high-end gastro pub, I can’t really complain. Not that I would complain, I’m far too British. I’d just moan to my mates about it. Or update my Facebook status.
Our starters arrived quickly. My blue cheese quiche was luke warm; I’m not sure if it was supposed to be but I don’t like food that can’t make its mind up. Be hot or cold but not in between. The apple and cranberry chutney it came with certainly knew what it was – it was so cold it set my teeth on edge. The quiche was fine but slightly lacked blue cheese flavour. My friend described her soup of the day as, ‘Okay but the chickpeas were a bit hard’ but we were impressed that the bread accompanying the soup came with a choice of spreads; butter, or dairy-free for vegans and those (as in my friend’s case) who are dairy intolerant.
After a long wait, our main meals arrived. I’d been looking forward all day to the tofush and chips (tofu wrapped in seaweed and battered with organic ale batter, served with minted peas and avocado tartar sauce). The tofush was fab and even better than I’d remembered but the chips were obviously mass-produced frozen ones. They’re certainly missing a trick here by not serving homemade wedges or Heston-esque twice (or is it thrice?) cooked handcut chips. I loved the avocado tartar sauce, despite me usually hating avocado and the peas were, well, they were peas. I gave a bit of the tofush to my friend to try, warning her it would probably be too fishy for her. I was right; she screwed up her face and said, ‘Ew, too fishy.’ Well, she can’t say I didn’t warn her.
My friend’s burger (chickpeas, red kidney beans, onion, carrot, garlic and paprika) arrived with a slice of halloumi, despite her asking for it to be left out. It didn’t particularly bother her as she’s not vegan, but said if she was a vegan, she wouldn’t be very happy. I was happy though – delighted, even – as I love halloumi, so she gave it to me. She agreed the chips were rubbish and she wasn’t a fan of her burger either. ‘Too much bun and it wasn’t that nice a bun,’ she said and took the burger out of the bun to eat on its own but complained it was dry and bland.
Our meals filled us up but I’d been eyeing up the vegan chocolate mousse on the dessert board. We decided to share one and it’s just as well we didn’t get one each as the mousse was huge as well as being wonderfully thick and rich. After telling the waitress how much we loved it, she wrote down the recipe for us.
We left with our bellies full and our wallets about £28 lighter (not including drinks) between the two of us. I noticed on the way out four flavours of pickled eggs in jars behind the bar. I bet they all taste like mouldy balloons inside mouldy balloons though – I’ll stick to my tofush and chips, thanks.
You’ll find London’s first vegetarian pub at:
29 Greek Street, W1D 5DH
Tel: 020 7437 5920
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NormansCoachAndHorsesSoho
Monday-Thursday: 11am – 11.30pm
Friday-Saturday: 11am – 12am
Sunday: 12pm – 10.30pm
Monday-Thursday: 12pm – 3pm and 5pm – 10pm
Friday-Saturday: 12pm – 10pm
Sunday: 12pm – 9pm