If you've read my most recent food post, you'll know that I've been experimenting with a variety of 'diets', or, lifestyle choices. As my partner has been more passionate about being completely vegan, I thought I owed it to both of us to have my first vegan restaurant experience.
I've been following @kingcookdaily on Instagram for a while now, and what I've loved most, is the sheer amount of vibrant colour in his food. I've been trying to eat more 'colourfully' for a few months now, so seeing his food has definitely influenced how we eat. In the back of my mind I knew I'd visit his semi-permanent pop-up, Cook Daily, at Boxpark in Shoreditch, London, one day, but when I saw that he'd made his own version of my favourite food, traditional Jamaican hard food, I knew I couldn't hold off visiting any longer. (Hard food refers to starchy foods, often from the ground: yam, green banana, pumpkin, potato etc, usually served with some delicious stodgy dumplings and meat or ackee and sailfish. So good, and able to give you a Kim K bottom half minus the injections in no time.)
We stopped by Cook Daily on a Friday afternoon and were greeted warmly. The menu has just the right amount of options for a first timer; not too long, but enough detail to ensure you choose wisely. We opted for the Hard Bowl (mentioned above), a High Grade Bowl and some steamed plantain fries with homemade ketchup.
Without a doubt, eating that Hard Bowl instantly changed my thoughts on traditional Jamaican food needing all its unhealthy elements; the ackee was there, the fried plantain was there, even my dumplings were in there! Each element came in just the right amount - which is tough for me to say when I'm used to white flour dumplings bigger than the size of my palm - but he also refined some items. For instance, instead of white dumplings he made tiny wholemeal ones. What made me even happier was that, beneath those carbs, were even more, in the form of 50/50 rice (half white, half brown). So yes, it's a bit of a carb fest, but trust me, it's all pure goodness. King ensured that the prerequisite Scotch bonnet pepper was in there, but he also tossed in a wide variety of greens to balance the heat.
While I loved my bowl, I obviously had to try the BF's. The High Grade Bowl was even tastier; using 'chick'n' - fake chicken, although I don't think it was soy protein, I can't remember! - the chef concocted a lovely sweet and smoky barbecue sauce that again came with a vast array of veg and sat on top of a generous portion of rice. The best bit was the topping of superfood sprinkles, and the result was an extremely moreish meal. Obviously we made room for the steamed plantain chips too; loved the ketchup and sliced spring onion accompaniments.
Before we left we also tried the hemp milk - literally just hemp seeds, dates and water, and I was surprised that I enjoyed it, as I've always been a bit sceptical about hemp milk. It's great to know this is something you can make at home too. We were also lucky enough to have the chef come out for a chat; turns out King became a vegetarian for health reasons before deciding to go vegan full time. If you follow his Instagram or check out his Youtube channel, you'll see that his kids eat a raw diet and that King practises what he preaches day in, day out. We also learnt that he's classically trained, which makes total sense when you taste his flavour combinations.
A few weeks later, I've mastered my own 50/50 rice, made my own veggie ackee meal and even made a vegan meal when I was recently lucky enough to take part in a cooking competition judged by Levi Roots (and came second place, natch), so I know there are no excuses, I can remove all animal produce from my lifestyle. With rumours of another venue (I'm pitching for Wimbledon!) on the horizon, I can honestly say that my visit to Cook Daily was definitely life-enhancing. Go visit - you don't need to be vegan to appreciate good food.
All imagery: no Grace Kelly