Until a few years ago, Maggie Nuttall and Claire Langdon had never met, nor considered following a vegan diet. Now they’re running Richmond’s hippest new restaurant, The Retreat Kitchen
Words: Hannah Lawrence
Lead image: Jeff Emerson
Those in search of vegan fare have often been drawn to Hackney where the market for vegetable-based eateries is nearing saturation. But Maggie Nuttall and Claire Langdon of Richmond’s The Retreat Kitchen are readdressing this imbalance with their homely vegan food offering. Their decision to set up shop on Hill Rise came after a lot of research, property hunting and thought, which led them to realise Richmond was the ideal location.
‘We didn’t just stick a pin in a map. We needed to be, and wanted to be, in west London,’ says Nuttall.
The story behind the kitchen’s formation is pretty unique. Until a few years ago, Langdon and Nuttall had never met and neither of them had ever considered following a vegan diet. The pair met on the 2016 BBC show The Retreat, which followed a group undergoing an intense 28-day detox and healing programme in Thailand, joined by former DIY SOS stars including Nick Knowles.
For Langdon, the show was a chance to make a change, having been off work ill and unsuccessfully trying a number of different pills. Similarly, Nuttall says it seemed like a good opportunity as she was conscious of getting older and trying to lose weight. Admittedly, though, the pair didn’t know the full extent of what they were signing up for.
‘They were very secretive about what was actually going to happen,’ says Langdon. ‘We didn’t know there was going to be a seven day fast and we didn’t know it was going to be vegan, either.’
It’s not about finding a way to replace the meat, it’s about completely reimagining how your plate looks
‘The only hint I had it was going to be vegan was the fact that they very kindly booked all the meals on the flight to be vegan for me,’ laughs Nuttall. ‘I think I suddenly thought “Hmm, what’s going on here then?”.’ Fast forward two years and they’re running a restaurant given a vegan trademark by the vegetarian society and dreaming up new ways to serve quiche and chickpea pancakes.
Just don’t ask them about meat substitutes: ‘We try to avoid doing any meat replacement products; it’s mainly about using the vegetables,’ Langdon explains. ‘It’s a very different way of cooking. You don’t have the meat as the centrepiece, so you are much more inclined to have a few more vegetable dishes and there’s not really a centre. It’s just a different style and once you get used to it you just don’t miss it.’
They keep the menu fresh by listening to feedback from their customers, which has been known to stop them in their tracks, should they try to take a well-loved dish off the menu. ‘At one stage I was going to take quiche off the menu for the winter and there wasn’t an outcry, but a lot of people said not to because it’s the only place they can get quiche,’ says Nuttall.
So what do they recommend from the menu right now? ‘The one that I really like, and it’s had quite a bit of positive feedback, is the English breakfast muffin with the Hollandaise sauce, just because it’s quite difficult to figure that one out,’ Nuttall tells me.
I was going to take quiche off the menu, but our customers said not to because it’s the only place they can get quiche
Despite being the driving force behind the project and the ones who decide the menu and run the business day to day, Langdon and Nuttall have Nick Knowles by their side as a ‘silent partner’. Knowles is a self-described ‘flexitarian’ who follows a plant-based diet the majority of the time. He is a big supporter of the restaurant, giving it his seal of approval by bringing family and friends to eat there.
As well as expansion plans, there’s also talk of a cookbook. Watch this space…
16 Hill Rise, Richmond TW10 6UA; theretreatkitchen.co.uk