Many an omnivore might be wary entering a restaurant with a sandwich board outside bearing the words raw and vegan. But those willing to dive right into uncooked, plant-based cuisine would do well to walk through the door of Vancouver’s Indigo Food Café.
At this cozy Kitsilano eatery, located just down the street from Choices Markets’ flagship store on West 16th Avenue, you can taste practically everything on the menu in one sitting by ordering the high tea. Indeed, it’s the high tea, as well as the cheese and chocolate fondues, that really sets Indigo apart from the other raw restaurants in town.
Lovena Galyide opened the fully vegan café in July 2011. Born in Ukraine, Galyide was an architect for 18 years before she became a raw-food chef. After moving to Vancouver in 2004, she became a vegetarian for health, animal-welfare, and environmental reasons and started teaching raw-food classes. (The café is closed on Sundays and Mondays; on the latter day it functions as Galyide’s culinary school.)
“Sometimes people think that vegan and vegetarian food is very boring,” Galyide said over the phone. “If you can let them know that it’s not boring—it can be very exciting, it can be very yummy—they start to think, ‘We can do this at least once a week.’”
When my partner and I, who are both vegan, made our first of three visits to Indigo during the summer, the nature documentary series Planet Earth was playing on the TV at the front of the eatery. The café offers a casual mix of table and counter service, and we were seated by Kate Galaida, Galyide’s daughter and co-owner, at one of the antique-style sewing tables.
The menu offers appetizers ($8 to $9), salads ($9 to $13), soups ($8), entrées ($9 to $12), and desserts ($5 to $9), along with hot and cold drinks. Everything is diabetic-friendly—the café uses sweeteners such as dates that are low on the glycemic index rather than granulated sugar—and, with a few exceptions, gluten-free.
We ordered the Mermaid kelp-noodle salad, collard roll-ups filled with avocado-corn salsa, and buckwheat crêpes—the latter being one of the few menu items that are not completely raw. Featuring excellent-quality ingredients as diverse as dulse flakes and enoki mushrooms, these dishes were both fresh and filling. For dessert, we shared the toothsome cake trio—a tart-sized berry cheesecake, coconut-cream pie, and chocolate ganache.
While I don’t consider myself a raw-food enthusiast, the meal’s impeccable presentation, interesting textures, and vibrant flavours had me excited about coming back to try Indigo’s raw vegan cheese fondue ($16 per person) and high tea ($27 per person), both of which require a reservation and a minimum of two people.
In place of cow’s cheese, Indigo’s fondue is made from cashews, garlic, lemon, and nutritional yeast. The creamy sauce came in small ceramic pots—each heated by a tea light—with dipping forks and a plate of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, and sliced yellow bell pepper. A choice of organic and fair-trade tea is included, with almond milk and coconut sugar available.
The menu stated that the fondue came with fruit and raw crackers, which we didn’t receive (although technically tomatoes are a fruit). So we asked for crackers and enjoyed a zaatar version made with sprouted sesame, flax, and sunflower seeds.
Overall, the fondue was underwhelming, especially for the price. The cheesy sauce—which is successfully used in many of Indigo’s dishes—has a pleasant flavour, but it didn’t have us salivating. Marinated veggies and a variety of crackers might have spiced things up. The raw chocolate fondue ($16 per person) that patrons at the table next to us were enjoying looked like a better bet. Heated to 46°C, it comes with a choice of essential oils such as mint, plus seasonal fruit and raw pastries.
Happily, Indigo’s colourful version of English afternoon tea made up for that disappointment. Our three-tier dessert stand came loaded with an impressive array of savoury and sweet treats, which we washed down with pear sencha. On the savoury side, there were kale chips, collard roll-ups, sprouted pizza, stuffed mushrooms, and yellow tomatoes stuffed with coconut cheese. Berry Romanoff, lemon-goji bars, and the cake trio—all of which impressed—comprised the desserts.
The high tea is the perfect way to try raw-food dishes. The kale chips were top-notch, the coconut cheese had a texture similar to goat cheese, and the lemon-goji bars had a bright flavour that belied their date bar–like appearance.
When I spoke to Galyide, she said her goal with Indigo is to take raw food to the “next level”. After experiencing her high tea, I think it’s safe to say she’s succeeded.