When you ask John Tabatabai how he’d describe himself, he looks thoughtful for a moment – a trailblazer perhaps? A maverick? His response: “A lunatic probably.”
Tabatabai is 2 months into his first restaurant venture, a stressful time for any restaurateur but perhaps more so for the beginner. “I’ve never run a restaurant before,” he admits. “Working with operations, people, managing all the separate aspects and bringing it all together – it’s difficult. But I believe in it so strongly. It’s the opposite of what I was doing before.”
Opposite is about right, his previous life being that of a professional poker player. John spent around 10 years on the poker circuit, travelling the world and living a less than healthy lifestyle, eventually developing Bell’s palsy. He was told by doctors that he’d have to live with it and there was nothing that could be done, so John began looking into health and wellbeing.
“It occurred to me that if I kept eating and drinking the way I had been, it would never go away. I got really into juicing, and was fascinated by different ingredients and combinations and the significant effects they could have on health. I got better through a combination of physiotherapy and a much more healthy lifestyle, and realised I wanted to work with healthy food in some way. Two years ago I started planning, and here we are.”
The result is the fast-casual Rawligion, a charming little site on Tottenham Street, that feels wholesome and fresh, with a modern edge, partly brought by the presence of London’s first Oji Cold Drip coffee tower. Known as the Rolls Royce of coffee towers, it’s handmade in Tokyo and produces artisan coffee both hot and cold – and it’s delicious.
The space is enhanced by a live wall of moss that gives an earthy backdrop to the counter area. “Why do I have a wall of moss?” says the proud owner. “The same reason I do everything: ‘Why not?’ I didn’t want it to look like a shiny, modern coffee shop, the moss makes it feel more natural and homely.”
The idea behind the food offer is to provide homemade, plant-based food in its rawest form, to maximise on nutrients whilst maintaining delicious flavours and textures. There is of course an abundance of seasonal fruits, vegetables, cold-pressed oils, nuts and seeds, but also your less common ingredients – sea vegetables feature, and the juice range includes burdock, rhodiola, schizandra and eleutheroccus among others. There are no grains, so it’s all gluten-free, and nothing contains dairy. There are also plenty of vegan options.
What does it taste like?
Tasting the food, it’s extraordinary how the team have managed to achieve some of the flavours and textures on offer – kelp noodles in pesto have a creamy flavour and the punch of basil you get from the real thing but it remains vegan, and chocolate torte is rich and satisfying, the dates and cacao balancing perfectly between sweetness and the bitter tang of very good quality chocolate.
So what’s John’s favourite item on the menu? “I love the juices,” he enthuses. “The Pretty in Pink contains rose water, which reminds me of my childhood, and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice is delicious. It’s just not the same when it’s bottled or you get the seeds packaged or frozen, you have to juice it fresh to get the best result and the most nutrients.”
3 Tottenham Street, W1T 2AF | www.rawligion.co.uk