Behind the scenes… at Aspargasm
Vegan restaurant Asparagasm, which opened last year in Nailsworth, offers a range of organic, vegan and gluten free dishes which have proved an immediate hit. Collaborating with guest chefs, the restaurant also hosts pop-up nights to showcase the best in creative dining…
Asparagasm launched three years ago as a pop-up event in London. It was the brainchild of Kate Lewis, now owner of The Royal Oak in Tetbury, whose idea was to provide an inclusive sharing of vegan food, designed to be both exciting and inspiring. Although Asparagasm events aim to showcase vegan food, they are also theatrical experiences, using lighting, foliage and music to create atmosphere and energy.
The success of a ten day pop-up in Brixton last year sparked the idea of a permanent venue for Asparagasm. At a fortuitous moment, Kate then found the current site in Market Street, Nailsworth. Her friend Lauren Lovatt, a self confessed ’vegan foodie’, was the ideal candidate to take on management of the new restaurant and she is now also Head Chef. Lauren explains, ”I’ve always been really interested in food, especially healthy eating. A workshop with Kate Magic really opened my eyes to raw foods so I trained with raw chef Deborah Durrant and am always looking for inspiration and creativity in my cooking. It’s not about nut roasts and all the meals people may think vegans eat, but it’s about surprising customers with tasty, healthy dishes and dispelling stereotypes.”
Food at Asparagasm is fresh, organic and gluten free, with no use at all of refined sugar.
As much produce as possible is sourced locally and each morning is spent prepping the vegetables and salads for the day ahead.
Every product stocked by the restaurant has a story, whether it is tea or spirits or the art on the walls. Aside from the juices and smoothies, the team also makes its own beer and is looking to produce its own vegan cheese.
It’s unusual for a restaurant not to open at weekends but at Asparagasm, Friday and Saturday nights are used for a return to its roots, with a series of pop-up events hosted in collaboration with guest chefs. Whether it’s antipasti and happy hour with the in-house team, monthly tapas with Jos Butler, Greek mezze with Pesky, or dishes from ’The Holistic Chef’ Jamie Raftery or Masterchef finalist Andrew Kojima, the selection and style of the vegan and gluten free meals is, quite literally, an ever-changing feast.
Lauren loves this aspect of the business and says, “As we are a passionate foodie team here, we’re inspired by these amazing chefs. Every chef offers something a bit different – from how they prep to how they garnish. It makes us all keen to get into the kitchen and try things out ourselves. It also gives the chefs themselves an insight into what they can achieve with vegan food.”
Sharing ideas is also the idea behind the ’Art of Asparagasm’ workshops which are held in the restaurant every second Monday of the month from 4pm–5pm. Working on a drop-in basis, participants pay £10 to learn the basics of vegan cooking and pick up tips and tricks used behind the scenes at Asparagasm. Previous workshops have covered subjects such as raw cakes, nut milks, desserts and salads.
The restaurant itself has a calming aura, with wooden walls and a tranquil atmosphere providing something of a retreat. Lauren says, “There is a lady who comes here as she says it’s the only place her baby will sleep, so she sits in a corner and enjoys some quiet time.” With its healthy meals and peaceful ambience, Asparagasm certainly offers food for the soul.
The space is intimate, seating just 19 guests. Booking is advised although Lauren says she will always do her best to accommodate customers: “There’s nothing worse than turning people away!” Customers often travel great distances to attend the pop-up nights and enjoy the catering of a particular chef. For those nervous about what to choose, the simple option is a fixed three or seven course tasting menu.
Business has boomed since Asparagasm opened nine months ago. Lauren believes that, in part, this is due to a changing mindset, with healthy eating becoming more accessible and mainstream in society. She says, “I think people are more conscious of what they are eating now. There’s a current trend towards healthy eating, juice bars and raw food, helped by cookbooks like Deliciously Ella and Hemsley and Hemsley. Some customers have had this approach for years whilst others are just discovering some new ideas.”
When the restaurant first opened, customers cautiously tried the raw cakes but now Asparagasm is renowned for these and many customers make a special trip “to find the place that sells those cakes I’ve heard about!” [Having tried them, we can confirm they are amazing.]
Lauren believes that cakes made without refined sugar provide a gateway into a healthier lifestyle for children: who would have thought a beetroot chocolate cake could taste so good?
Milk Chocolate and Avocado Tart
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups nuts (we like half almond, half coconut chips)
1 1/2 cups dates
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp coconut oil
For the filling:
3 medium ripe avocados (around 450g)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup (90g) raw cacao powder
1/2 cup nut milk
Pinch of sea salt
100g coconut oil
1/2 cup (100g) liquid sweetener (eg. light agave)
1. Add the nuts to a food processor until fine and almost flour-like.
2. Add the dates, sea salt and coconut oil and process until it forms a dough.
3. Press the mixture into a round cake tin with the bottom lined with cling film. Leave to set in the fridge while making the topping.
4. Place the avocados, cacao, salt and vanilla essence in your food processor until creamy and well mixed.
5. Gradually add sweetener and nut milk.
6. Add the coconut oil and process again until really smooth and well combined.
7. Spread the mixture on top of the base and leave to set in the fridge.
Your delicious creation will be ready to eat when left in the fridge overnight. Decorate with a sprinkle of hemp seeds and goji berry patterns.
Most customers do not know what to expect from the restaurant and Lauren is keen to reassure customers that Asparagasm doesn’t take itself too seriously. The restaurant is licensed, so a meal out can be a fun night out for an extended family or group. Asparagasm offers a selection of biodynamic wines, including their own vegan wine, and also serves organic pale ale and superfood cocktails, created using homemade Kombucha or with the FAIR spirits range. Lauren says, “I love it when a vegan person brings their whole family and you can see that some are more sceptical than others. Having tried a few things, they quickly discover it is all just about good food. We use whole, plant based foods in a delicious way and most people are surprised at how good they taste.”
Asparagasm will continue to hold pop-up events in London and the team recently catered at the Soul Circus Festival, near Gloucester, and also helped at Glastonbury. Owner Kate Lewis continues to provide inspirational ideas for building awareness and keeping the excitement in the venture.
The team likes to build creative partnerships and Lauren says there are always lots of different things to be thinking about: “Whether it’s seasonal menus, new recipes or coming up with ideas of collaborating with local producers, it helps to keep it creative. We do like partnerships as we can learn from each other and showcase each other at the same time.”
This month, Asparagasm is set to open a new kitchen space in Nailsworth, enabling the team to host a vegan cookery school and have more room to prep for events. Lauren would also like to expand into outside catering for events such as retreats.
The restaurant is open on Mondays from 12 noon–3pm, and on Tuesday to Saturday from 10am–5pm, serving a range of salads, fresh soups and house specials. Alternatively, everything can be taken away and, if you’re lucky enough to live or work within walking distance, Asparagasm will organise the delivery.
Asparagasm, Nailsworth: 01453 839352 / GL6 0DA / asparagasm.com