The Rainbow Café offering healthy, nutritious vegetarian meals

By BigHospitality Writer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Veganism, Vegetarianism

The Rainbow Café has been servicing vegetarians' special needs since 1988 and willingly keeping up with dietary fads. Regular readers of the magazine will recall a recent story we ran on the horror that is dining out in the UK as a ...

The Rainbow Café has been servicing vegetarians' special needs since 1988 and willingly keeping up with dietary fads.

Regular readers of the magazine will recall a recent story we ran on the horror that is dining out in the UK as a tourist.

It's not that we aren't in the throes of the food revolution – we are, at least I think we are – but foreign visitors to our shores aren't yet benefiting. So it was a joy to go to Cambridge, to the very centre of Cambridge, in fact, to find a restaurant able to offer tourists and locals alike a healthy, nutritious and top value meal, that just happens to be vegetarian.

The signs on the door and decorating the quaint alleyway where Rainbow Café is hidden away, in a basement site opposite world-famous King's College Chapel, are multilingual to attract the city's many visitors, vegetarian and otherwise.

The menu is similarly global, featuring Latvian potato cake, Catalan butter bean Cazuelito, or Tajine Pruneaux.

Impressively, it offers some 20 mains and a specials board, but owner and chef Sharon Meijland would never cut it back.

"We have to cover all the bases," she explains. "Our customers come here for specific reasons: some for gluten free, some for non-bovine products, others for vegan. It makes it harder for us, but it's what makes it interesting."

Since she took over the café in 1988, Meijland has discovered that people eat there for many reasons, not necessarily because they are vegetarian. "Sixty per cent aren't vegetarian," she boasts. "My favourites are the ‘reluctant boyfriends'. They come with their girlfriends, but end up being regulars.

"The religious element is also interesting. We have Jewish customers who can't find kosher food. A lot of Muslims come too because we don't use any animal products at all. Also, there are Buddhists wanting onion and garlic-free food. That was a new one on me."

Gluten and dairy-free requests are becoming increasingly common. "The trends have gone with us over the years," says Meijland. "Luckily, it's now easier to source good produce than it was, because of the internet."

If she can tweak a recipe to suit more people's dietary needs, she will. Meaning all ice cream is vegan, breadcrumbs are gluten-free and cakes are made with non-dairy spread. "The hardest thing is finding consistent supplies of organic vegan alcoholic drinks. We've changed the beer umpteen times."

Getting it right isn't easy, but Meijland is confident her product is spot-on. "There's nothing left to do here now. It's as good as it gets," she says. "I thought about finding larger premises but it's hard in Cambridge as the colleges have a stranglehold on all the town centre property."

She would, however, like to see a Rainbow Café set up in Oxford. "I've set it up so I can franchise it. It's the same environment there, so I think it would work. Can you believe there's no vegetarian restaurant there?"

The competiton in the vegetarian sector isn't strong, according to Meijland. She'd love to have more competition but finds most are "very boring or very pretentious". She rarely visits other restaurants and cites none as an inspiration to her. "There's no way they could be as good as us." She even eschews cookbooks, preferring instead to make notes of flavour combinations that pique her interest. Figs and pinenuts are a current favourite.

From there, it's down to her team of faithful staff, all of whom who have been with Rainbow for over ten years.

They're all vegetarian, as you might expect, but it's not a requirement. "I can hardly insist on that," she chuckles, "I think that might be discrimination. What's important is passion. They all know their job means something and there would be a hole if they weren't here."

There's only one thing still irking Meijland: her Christmas business. "Business is going so well, but we lose out at Christmas. If you've two vegetarians in an office of 15, the vegetarians will always lose. I'd love to see that change."

Pots of gold.

On the Menu?

Marinated Tofu and Sun-dried Tomato Salad; Kala Chana Curry; Risotto Toscana; Gado Gado; Dolcelatte Pachetto: Rainbow Brownie with Chocolate Sauce; Fresh Cream Gluten-Free Roulade.

Size? 50 covers.

Where? Rainbow Café, 9a King's Parade, Cambridge.

01223 321551, rainbowcafe.co.uk

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