Ever wondered where the likes of Keira Knightley, Bjork and Sigur Ros dine when in London? We can tell you… they visit Vantra Vitao. One of the first restaurants on the natural food scene in the city, Vantra Vitao has now opened doors to a whole host of passers-by whilst also hosting a stream of events and being home to London’s health food community. We visited the restaurant and had the pleasure of speaking to the founder, Mr Phun, who revealed his journey from blissful Malaysia to bustling Oxford Street (and also shared his incredible menu whilst introducing us to multiple food influencers who regularly visit… you’ll have to go there yourself for these privileges!)
Getting to Know Phun
What led to you founding Oxford Street’s healthiest restaurant, Vantra Vitao?
I came to the UK from Malaysia around 27 years ago… I was excited to arrive in a modern country. At the time I wasn’t vegan, but I did have a diet of more wholesome food. I anticipated a healthy lifestyle here in London, yet found myself adopting bad habits of eating fast food and overly processed ingredients. My body didn’t handle this well at all; it was such a stark contrast to my wholesome diet in Malaysia. Hand in hand with the bad eating habits came the side effects of not only feeling tired all of the time but also the development of allergies and depression. At this point, I decided enough was enough and I changed my diet to be completely vegan and organic. Slowly I learnt and understood how to adjust my eating habits. There were actually very few vegan establishments in London at this time, along with very little information on which foods were bad for you and how food was being prepared. Life got better when I started eating healthier and this inspired me to help other Londoners to improve their own lives by setting up Vantra Vitao.
We heard you’ve had a couple of celebs through the door, can you name any?
Yes, we have! We’ve had visitors including Keira Knightley, Bjork, Tilda Swinton and Andrea Riseborough. We’ve also had American celebrities including Boy George. Another of our regular visitors is Sigur Ros who are in London regularly and love our curries in particular!
What principles did you build your business upon?
Well, firstly you have to look at our menu to see how focused it is on the content of what you’re eating, rather than seeing food as standard meals. We understand that everyone has individual needs when it comes to food so we categorise lots of main ingredients based on this. When you come into our restaurant the first thing you’ll notice is how we label our food groups to make people more psychologically aware of what they’re consuming in a positive way. We are all about the cutting edge in health and nutrition, as well as sumptuous tastes. We believe that organic food is best, and should be kept in its natural state. This means we use a lot of raw food and as many organic and whole food ingredients as possible. Having said this, we recognise that not everyone can digest raw food for reasons including their metabolism or the way people psychologically think of raw food, so there are some foods that we cook above the ‘raw’ temperature. When we do this, we’re sure to focus on how the food is prepared by cooking everything in water rather than frying in oil or using a microwave .This means we avoid the harmful carcinogens formed by frying, baking, roasting, grilling or browning.
How does Vantra Vitao prepare food to reflect the value you place on nutrition?
Organic wholefoods are the foundation of our recipes. We were the first restaurant in the UK to avoid refined flours and cane sugars as well as artificial, GMO or chemically enhanced ingredients. We also use certain techniques such as aqueous cooking where food is not heated above 100°c, meaning that food is broken down gently ensuring maximum nutrient bioavailability. It’s also important for us to use only natural and low GI syrups because we understand the real dangers of sugary diets. We were also the first restaurant in the UK to start using healthy alternatives to sugar in our cakes and savoury dishes, hence why the palm syrups we use are suitable for those with diabetes and candida. Of course, our menu caters to those who are gluten and wheat free, yet still include dishes which are easy to digest and increase nutrient and alkaline uptake. Although everyone has different views on what foods should or should not be eaten together, we continue to pursue good practice in food combining in the preparation of all of our meals by ensuring guests can easily select only those foods that work well together when digested.
What is unique about your menu?
We have a varied range of desserts and cocktails which are ridiculously healthy but also insanely good. Each after dinner treat has its own benefit whether it’s being protein based (for example, our milkshakes), being something that helps clear the gut of bacteria (our mojito, which still tastes alcoholic even without the alcohol) or something vibrant for the mind (such as our Matcha Espresso bar).You have to come and try them to really see what I’m talking about!
We heard you moved from Soho to Oxford Street… why was this?
We set up in Soho 15 years ago when there was only a very small market for clean eating. As we were tucked away we were visited mainly by those who knew of us, rather than the masses. But since the market for clean eating is drastically on the rise, we moved to Oxford Street 2 years ago with the purpose of promoting ourselves to a more mainstream audience.
How would you describe the current state of healthy eating in London?
It has reached a level where more and more people are experiencing health problems themselves as a result of their diet. There is definitely a new ecological attitude emerging in the city meaning people are more conscious of living a sustainable lifestyle and eating well is a huge part of that. Previously people would pay attention to diets such as the Atkins diet which might make you lose weight but it is not a healthy nor a sustainable way of eating. This is why, with increased access to information, people are leaning more towards alkaline and raw foods which are more simplistic and based on common sense; if you choose to eat more natural and less processed foods you allow yourself to naturally look and feel better, even if it is more of a lifestyle change than a one-time diet.
Where did you learn your expertise in health and nutrition?
For the past 27 years I’ve been building my experience through research, events and working with top nutrition analysts such as Dr. Gabriel Cousens and Dr. Brian Clement, who highly recommend us.
How do you build your customer base?
We want to build more of a community for healthy eaters, which is why we host social events both in the early hours of the morning and in the evening with occasional speakers or open mic nights. We’ve been hugely inspired by people who are taking action to deal with new ecological problems and therefore believe that by bringing these people together we are helping people to help the world by creating a culture of sharing and healing. It’s also important to meet people in a similar mind frame who can reinforce your thoughts on healthy eating. You only become a champion by exercising a consistent culture; just as bodybuilders must hit the gym every day, healthy eaters must learn to eat consistently on a daily basis. We also build a community through the day to day meals that are eaten in the restaurant. We allow people with all types of dietary and religious eating requirements to sit around one table with food they can all eat, which is actually very difficult in many other places where people will often end up eating separately.
Rebel Wrap Up
What would you say to those aiming to get healthier?
What often makes it hard to achieve is the belief that being healthy must involve giving up everything tasty but we are sure to provide meals which are optimally healthy, meaning that they will fill you up and satisfy all your cravings, without fats, sugars, and harmful compounds. This type of food is also designed to leave you feeling fully rejuvenated. We focus on immunity protection and detoxification so that your body is topped up with gentle purifying cleansers every day to keep your whole body in good health and working order. If you manage to replace processed sugars with more natural types of food then losing weight is much easier because you are simply consuming natural and unprocessed foods.
What’s the most important part of Vantra Vitao for you?
Our priority is making sure our restaurant embodies our values. So long as we are always trying to better ourselves by doing the best that we can do, we will be able to provide our customers with the best possible experience. I have to take care of my own health to ensure I can effectively look after my team and they must similarly look after themselves and one another to enable them to effectively look after customers. In this scenario, customers will be receiving the highest value for their money as we have created an environment where we value ourselves and each other. When our values are aligned, everything will fall into place with the potential to grow. It’s easy to think of this idea as a tree… you start with the soil by creating a good environment for the roots to grow before the world can see what it has to offer. What the world will see will be 10 times better if the tree has been properly taken care of in a good environment at its roots.
What are your plans for future growth?
We are hoping that as we become more recognised by a wider audience that we can open up more mainstream restaurants. It is all very doable now because of demand – people are happy as they always have been to spend money on food but now consumers want to get something back for the money they do spend and what better thing to buy than energy to help the world go around? People are getting better at refusing to pay for food which will only destroy their health and energy levels. Our vision and mission is to serve people food which improves their wellbeing. At the moment people come to visit us from around the world but we would like to go to them by creating more restaurants.