Eat Here: The Willow, Kingston
A short walk from Norbiton station, The Willow is a new health food restaurant that aims to tap into the craze for low carb, wholesome meals. Recent winner of a Gold Free From Award for its food, the restaurant offers visitors an array of classic dishes redesigned to optimise their nutritional content.
Every aspect of every meal has been specially selected for its health benefits, indeed even the water has been “freshly squeezed” through a “Reverse Osmosis (Ro) Water Purification Process” (yeah, me neither). This meticulous attention to detail has also allowed The Willow to create a menu with an almost unparalleled level of dietary inclusion. Everything is gluten-free and most of the menu avoids both dairy and grain. But could the meals satisfy a junk food connoisseur such as myself?
One of the key mantras that underpin The Willow’s menu is a focus on eating a ‘rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables, so it seemed fitting to start with the Rainbow Salad (£6.50). A glorious mound of finely sliced, crunchy vegetables including no less than three varieties of carrots, in a light fresh dressing, the dish looked as good as it tasted.
As I firm believer of “anything potatoes can do, sweet potatoes can do better”, I was very excited to see Sweet Potato Gnocchi (£12.50) nestled among the mains options- and I wasn’t disappointed. Each piece of pesto-coated gnocchi was a fork full of pillowy goodness, while a bed of kale added a satisfying crunch.
Next, I sampled The Willow’s take on that much-maligned pub staple – burger and chips. An all-vegan affair the Falafel Burger (£13.50) consists of a mixed bean, chickpea and courgette falafel patty nestled between two portobello mushroom ‘buns’, alongside roasted slices of butternut squash. Potato are a no go here but the sweet-potato alert native on offer are a winner – especially with the homemade mayo and real-tomato, tomato ketchup. This dish is a bestseller for The Willow, who claim the dish will satisfy even the most ravenous carnivore. I don’t doubt it for a second. Every bite is exquisite.
Finally, we arrived at the dessert, an area about which I had a fair amount of hesitation. In my time I’ve had to politely smile my way through a number of encounters with gluten-free baked items which have disintegrated upon the lightest of impacts. Fortunately, there was no such problem with the Beer Brownies (£6), which were moist, rich, and potently moreish.
Fortunately, the beer based enjoyment doesn’t stop at the brownies. You might not expect an establishment that describes itself as a ‘heath restaurant’ to offer a selection of on-tap beers, lagers and ales, but The Willow has a surprise up its sleeves.
It’s impressively stocked bar is the UK’s only to offer gluten free beer on tap, a fact which gives you a great excuse to indulge in pint or two. For fans of golden ales, Monty’s Masquerade (£5.20/pint) is truly delicious, but if you’re more of a wine person, there’s also a fine range of sulphate-free natural wines.
I entered The Willow rather sceptical; I confess I don’t really understand what gluten is, but I had a firm, albeit misguided, belief that I’d somehow notice it’s absence but I’ve never been so pleased to be proven wrong. Each meal is delivered with its own twist and I was generally excited to try each dish. The Willow is a restaurant with a point to prove; that you don’t have to sacrifice taste to achieve a healthy meal that everyone can enjoy. I, for one, am thoroughly convinced.
The Willow is at 16 The Triangle, Kingston Upon Thames, KT1 3RT, United Kingdom