January 2012 - Hajar couldn't be happier with her regular spot at Brighton's original vegetarian restaurant, Food for Friends - and it's not just because she loves singing!
Thought that vegetarian food was all about lentils and hippies? Think again!
After sampling Food for Friends' wares at my trial gig last December, I knew I'd have to come back for more. Luckily for me, the restaurant managers felt the same and I'm now there every other Sunday evening, singing to diners as plates full of sumptuous vegetarian cuisine try to distract me from Ella and Old Blue Eyes.
"We'll have Manhattan, the Bronx and mmm yummy pumpkin risotto too please."
I know this sounds extremely naive, but walking past Food for Friends as I had done several times before my first booking, I would never have guessed it was a vegetarian restaurant. It looked stylish, sophisticated, and brimming with happy diners, all glowing with health rather than wan from anaemia. As a meat-eater never having sought a vegetarian restaurant I'd been blind to how far meat-free cuisine had come - and that's even after spending six years in London.
I honestly didn't think that veggie food could be both elegant and popular. Surely if it's not dhaal it's just spaghetti bolognese with soya? But more fool me for not learning sooner just how good it could be.
Food for Friends: I absolutely love it. The vibe is relaxed without being lax. The waiters are friendly and at ease with diners yet still exceptionally competent and on top of things. Having worked in restaurants and waited on the very discerning residents of Sloane Square I'm pretty good at spotting an unhappy customer or a waiter slipping up, but customers always seem content and staff know just how to keep them that way. The restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine, where everyone knows what their role is and fulfils it brilliantly.
As I sing my little heart out, it's hard to ignore the mouthwatering dishes being served to customers. The food is just delicious and on my first night after sampling savoury beignets and indulging in the most exquisite hot molten chocolate pudding, I had a lovely chat with Head Chef Lisa about how vegetarian food can be inviting to meat-eaters. Variety in ingredients, getting flavours and textures perfectly balanced and not restricting yourself to just one sort of cuisine are all key. Relying on substitutes is a definite no-no - simply copying a meat dish is not the way to make the most of the wide range of ingredients available. From her cooking and conversation, Lisa's passion is clear - and contagious, completely shifting the way I view vegetarian food.
As wonderful as the menu is though, I just can't get enough of the je ne sais quoi in the atmosphere; making a diner feel comfortable and cared for is no easy task, so perhaps it's in the genes?
Sharing co-director Ramin's Iranian heritage I'm more than familiar with the famed Persian hospitality, some of which has definitely been injected into Food for Friends, leaving diners feeling less like paying customers, and more like guests - welcomed, comfortable and ready for a hearty meal. Ramin and his wife Jane have combined the ambience with fantastic food and a great hard-working team to make for the perfect dining experience. It opens your mind and taste buds to the possibilities of vegetarian delights and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling. It's not just Food for Friends, it's food for the soul too!
Oh... and I hear the live music's not bad either!
Catch me at this great vegetarian restaurant on their live music nights from 6:30pm.
To find out more about the restaurant or to book a table go to www.foodforfriends.com or tweet them @foodforfriends
Hajar will be performing at Food for Friends on Sunday 5th May.
java duo - wedding duo - jazz duo - lounge duo - live music brighton - hajar - wedding band - wedding singer - jazz singer - acoustic duo - live music - brighton - sussex - london - kent - surrey