After something veg-led, but want to play dress up? The fancier (but still very veggie) Fallow may be for you.
Or if you're after the city's most slap-up dining options, feast on our guide to the best restaurants in London.
What is it?
It’s nice to sit in a genteel natural wine bar and pick at too-small-for-the-price plates – but sometimes you just want a scuffy, no-effs-given, dyed-in-the-wool dive. This genre of restaurant is rarer and rarer in the London of 2022, when all edges are blunted and smut immediately hovered up. Facing Heaven is the closest we’ve got to a real and proper joint – the vegan Sichuanese spot has an anarchic spirit that’s reminiscent of those proto-vegetarian restaurants from decades past. You can see their brash approach in the decor: checkerboard flooring, coloured bulbs, neon signs, and silk tablecloths lend the space a hedonistic '80s feel, while the disco-ball-lit, knick-knack crammed toilet cinches the lawless vibe.
Facing Heaven is the second reincarnation of Mao Chow, a cult Hackney outfit that served a comparable menu of mouth-searing, plant-based Chinese food. It had a similarly ragtag verve, and was beloved for its flavour-bomb dishes at sympathetic price points. So, the formula hasn’t changed very much at Facing Heaven – but, if it ain’t broke, etc. The neighbourhood kids certainly don’t mind that Facing Heaven is a Mao Chow redux – they pack the small space every night, brushing elbows as they manoeuvre their chopsticks around a pile of Quorn-mince dan dan noodles. In a neighbourhood where the ‘hot’ restaurants can feel pretty samey, Facing Heaven stands apart for its chilled, anything-goes approach and steadfast commitment to big, loud flavours.
On the menu, you’ll spot veganised versions of pan-Chinese classics (the aforementioned dan dan noodles; dongpo tofu; chongqing cauliflower) beside Facing Heaven’s own experiments in Chinese cooking (like the divisive wild garlic congee). The restaurant’s name comes from a variety of Chinese chilli peppers and, true to form, most dishes are laced with the stuff. After you’ve cleared your plate of noodles or veggies, you might find a swarm of dried chillies bobbing in the leftover sauce. This is how Facing Heaven approaches cooking: everything is piled on, heavy-handed, turned up to 10. MSG – that unfairly vilified flavour enhancer – features heavily. It might all be unsubtle, but who wants subtlety when you can have delicious food instead? Go with a group of pals, get a little oiled on shots, and order the whole menu. Even once you’ve tried it all, you’ll want to come back for more.
What should I order?
The tingly potato salad is aptly named, as it’s spiked with tongue-tickling Szechuan peppers. But the wild garlic dressing – with its sweet and vinegary notes – elevates this dish from a humble spud salad to an addictive little morsel.
Vegetarians usually miss out on the sublime, crunchy pleasure of prawn toast. Not anymore. Though Facing Heaven’s fish free version – “seaweed toast”, layers of seaweed sandwiched between sesame-crusted hardo bread – doesn’t really taste like the classic dim sum dish, that’s to its benefit: its salty-sweet flavour is something altogether unique and delicious.
The menu rather vividly describes the chongqing cauliflower as “bludgeoned with chillies”. There’s no way to describe the chilli walloping these crispy pieces of cauliflower get without resorting to violent imagery – and we’ll happily get absolutely slugged by their murderous heat every time we visit.
Why should I go?
To get absolutely thunderstruck by flavour.
1a Bayford Street, E8 3SE