Restaurant review: The Wholefood Café – ‘Chilled out, ethical, homely - I loved this veggie cafe’

Houmous on sourdough toast

Houmous on sourdough toast - Credit: Archant

Food reviewer Nicola Warren tries out the Manningtree café during Fairtrade Fortnight.

Vegan sausage roll

Vegan sausage roll - Credit: Archant


Fairtrade Fortnight runs until March 8, so my husband Phil and I wanted to visit an ethical eatery for our latest review.

We certainly found that in The Wholefood Café, which is just over the border in Manningtree, Essex.

Spinach and coconut dhal

Spinach and coconut dhal - Credit: Archant

The bijoux café is situated in The Wholefood Store on the town's high street.

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I intended to pick up some Clipper tea in the shop (Clipper became the first Fairtrade tea company 25 years ago) and we were pleased to see Fairtrade coffee on the café's menu too. Other hot drinks available were Tea Pig teas and turmeric latte.

We started with a cold drink, though. Options included fresh juice of the day and kombucha, but we both had a local James White Juice (£2) - pear and raspberry for me and apple and ginger for Phil.

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There were jugs of water on the side to help yourself to, so I poured us a glass each knowing the juices would go down all too quickly.

Carrot cake

Carrot cake - Credit: Archant

Then we had to decide on what to eat. There was a small but interesting sounding menu on the blackboard, including spinach, tamarind and chickpea stew (£7.50).

Phil ordered the spinach and coconut dhal (£7.50) and I chose the houmous on sourdough toast (£6) and we also asked for a vegan sausage roll (£2.50) to share.

I must admit I'm not very adventurous when having lunch at home ("cheese sandwich?" Phil assumes on a regular basis).

So, when I go out, I like to have a lunch which has had a bit more thought put into it.

Raspberry and white chocolate frangipane

Raspberry and white chocolate frangipane - Credit: Archant

The houmous on sourdough toast was the perfect choice for me. The creamy, smoky dip was topped with sundried tomatoes, cooked beetroot, a balsamic glaze and a sprinkling of dukkah (a blend of seeds). All on crisp, toasted sourdough.

Not only did it taste delicious, it was a feast for the eyes, with the tomatoes and beetroot dotted on top of the houmous and the balsamic glaze drizzled over the plate.

Phil's dhal was like a thick soup and had a delicate coconut flavour and was nicely spiced. Although not overwhelming, his lips were still tingling a good while later.

It was served with chapati, which he dipped into the dish, and some raita dip.

He wondered if the spice of the dhal had made the vegan sausage roll a little bland in comparison, but I had to agree, I think it could take a bit more seasoning, thought it had crisp pastry and a nice texture inside.

I realised later that on the menu it said the vegan sausage roll was served with sweet chilli sauce, which we didn't get, so perhaps that would have complemented the flavour. I also realised, again too late, that I could have ordered a soul bowl (£7.50) - three fresh salads served with houmous and toasted seeds. I'd overlooked it as it was on the printed menu and not on the blackboard. That's something I'd want to try if we visit again.

There was a tempting array of sweet treats on display on the counter, which we couldn't resist afterwards.

The options included the cake of the week - vegan chocolate cake served with oat cream (£3.75) - double chocolate cookie (£2.50), and wheat free brownie (£2.80).

My gaze went straight to the iced carrot cake (£3.50), decorated with orange zest and edible flowers, so I ordered a slice, plus a gluten free raspberry and white chocolate frangipane (£2.50) for Phil.

I asked for a Teapigs English Breakfast tea with oat milk (cow's milk is also available, as is cane or coconut sugar), and a flat white for Phil.

The carrot cake was so deliciously moist and perfectly spiced that I didn't initially want to try a small corner of Phil's cake. But I'm glad I did, this was lovely and moist too with that unmistakable flavour of almonds.

At the end of the meal I paid a visit to the facilities and I was glad the rain had cleared as this was across the courtyard in another building. There was Bio-d soap on the sink - a refillable brand stocked in The Wholefood Store. And there was a pull-down nappy changing table, so very handy for families.

The café is great for older children too - when one young customer couldn't decide which hot dish to try, they offered her the chance to try a spoonful of each before ordering, which I thought was a very nice touch and a reflection of the friendly service at this lovely little café.


A nice range of local soft drinks and ethical hot drinks including Fairtrade coffee and Teapigs tea temples, which are ethical and plastic-free.


Our server was friendly and not too intrusive while we ate, just coming over once to check everything was okay with our food. Although it's a small café, and you can order at the counter, it was nice that they came to take our order at the table.


Light and airy, this café is nestled in the corner of The Wholefood Store. Shelves feature artwork and cards, which are also available to buy, from local artists. Fairy lights light up the corners of the café. Chilled out music adds to the laid-back ambience.


There's free parking in the town centre. We managed to get a space down near the river wall.


It cost just over £30 for the two of us, which I thought represented really good value considering the homemade food and quality of drinks.


It has to be that gorgeous carrot cake.


Tasty, homely vegetarian food, including vegan and gluten free options, in a little haven on Manningtree High Street.

Food reviews go online very Thursday night at 7pm. Read Mark Heath's review on The Woolpack, Fornham St Martin.

- Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.

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