Ruth Tal is always looking for inspiration. Fresh Kitchen + Juice Bar, her Toronto-born line of vegan restaurants, keeps her pretty busy – but even when she’s abroad, plant-based restaurants are frequently on her mind. “I’m always keeping my eye out for new, cute, yummy vegan spots to frequent and support when I’m travelling,” she says. Her standards might sound modest, but she’s actually highly selective with her stamp of approval.
Tal, and her business partner Jennifer Houston, are known throughout Southern Ontario for their nutritious and colourful vegan dishes (like the ultra-healthy ‘Noodlerama’ salad). Beautiful plating and presentation are guaranteed at Fresh locations, as is a beautiful dining environment – the newest outpost, located in Oakville’s town square, is a restored heritage building that Tal and her team of designers have decorated with scores of greenery and eye-catching leaf-patterned wallpaper. “As a vegan and as a steward of the brand, I always just wanted to redefine this idea that a vegetarian restaurant is healthy for you, but a sacrifice in terms of ambience,” Tal explains, gesturing to the lush space. “I wanted people to come, and think, ‘Wow. The food is beautiful, the decor is beautiful, the service is great.’ Hitting all those notes.”
How does she accomplish that? With no shortage of passion – and research. We asked Ruth Tal to share some of her favourite places around the world for delicious vegan eats, ambient environments and foodie inspiration.
For the best vegan brunch in London, Tal says, head to Canary Wharf. Mallow, the upscale eatery owned by the team behind local plant-based restaurant chain Mildred’s, is her favourite restaurant in the UK’s capital. “It ticks all the boxes for me: ambience, presentation, value and creativity,” she says. All the menus are reportedly stellar, but it’s the brunch that keeps drawing her back. “I’m a sucker for their Black Forest Chocolate Pancakes and the Full English Brunch Plate,” she says.
Crossroads (Los Angeles)
“This is my go-to Los Angeles vegan spot for foodie inspiration and hot date nights with my husband,” says Tal, who has lived in LA part-time for the past 10 years. Crossroads Kitchen, Chef Tal Ronnen’s plant-based Italian eatery (which also has locations in Calabasas and Las Vegas) boasts an extensive cocktail program and inspired vegan takes on Italian classics. “We absolutely adore the Peaches and Whipped Feta with Marcona Almonds, Lasagna Bolognese and the Truffle Mushroom Bianca Pizza,” says Tal.
AbcV (New York City)
Tal’s son went to college in NYC, and she says her family always went to Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Flatiron District eatery AbcV to celebrate special occasions. “This is one of the places I have consistently drawn inspiration from for chic, colourful decor and light-filled design,” she says. Tal’s favourite items on Chef Neal Harden’s menu are the Avocado Lettuce Cups and Mezcal Maracuya. “Their dishes and drinks are incredibly unique and creative, always sending me back to Toronto with new ideas for our menus at Fresh.”
Surdham’s Kitchen (Nosara, Costa Rica)
Acclaimed German chef and cookbook writer Surdham Göb owns this cozy restaurant in Costa Rica – a country Tal has been visiting when she needs to relax and unwind for over 25 years now. “Surdham’s is a sweet garden patio dining spot tucked away in the middle of the lush jungles,” she says. “I’m in love with the Miso Eggplant, the Pickled Watermelon and the Avocado Ice Cream.”
Ladybird (New York City)
Tal stumbled upon this East Village tapas and wine bar on a trip to NYC, and immediately fell in love with the atmosphere. “Ladybird was one of the best finds I’d come across in a long time,” she says. “The eclectic decor, the cool music, the warm vibe – and of course the delicious food, too.” Standouts include the Truffle Mac and Cheese, Buffalo Maitake Bun, Blistered Shishito Peppers and the Kale Caesar (which Tal says is almost as good as Fresh’s).
Aujourd’Hui Demain (Paris)
“This cute super-casual Parisian vegan spot calls itself a “concept” store,” says Tal. Aujourd’Hui Demain, nestled in the heart of the happening 11th Arrondissement, is a combination boutique-cafe. “I love it for its’ cool shakes, vegan ratatouille and ethical clothing,” she says. “The Ultimate Freakshake is so over-the-top decadent – brownie chunks, chantilly, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, frozen banana and peanut chips.”