The Beano Restaurant, Guildford GU1 4LH - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 17:16 20 May 2015 | UPDATED: 18:05 20 May 2015
Various (please see JPG names)
With National Vegetarian Week this month, editor Caroline Harrap pays a visit to a little-known lunchtime gem in Guildford that offers exclusively veggie fare...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2015
The Beano Restaurant, Guildford Institute, Ward Street, Guildford GU1 4LH
Tel: 01483 562142. Web: guildford-institute.org.uk
The food: 9/10
The venue: 9/10
What we ate:
Chickpea Tagine: £4.95
Salad platter: £4.25
Diet coke: 80p
REVIEW: Here at Surrey Life, we like nothing better than unearthing the quirky, the off-beat and the downright unexpected – and it certainly doesn’t get much better than The Beano Restaurant.
Housed on the first floor of the beautiful 19th century building that is the Guildford Institute, it is not only an unusual concept, serving as it does only vegetarian lunches, but it must surely be one of the town’s best-kept secrets too. Or, at least, I’d only heard of the place relatively recently, and I like to consider myself fairly well-versed in matters pertaining to Guildford, not to mention a pretty enthusiastic vegetarian.
Determined to put things right, a recent meeting in the town gave me the perfect excuse, and having ducked off the cobbled High Street and down Jeffries Passage, I was soon standing in front of the elegant white façade.
Originally opened in 1880 as the Royal Arms Coffee Tavern and Temperance Hotel, this Grade II listed building has been home to the Guildford Institute since 1891. A real cultural hub for the community, these days the Institute provides a wide range of courses, clubs, lectures, exhibitions and recitals – as well as a vegetarian restaurant.
Running since 1982, The Beano is managed today by three local ladies: Leone Palmer, Maija Lawrence, and Leone’s daughter, Emma Palmer. Between them, they do pretty much everything, from the cooking to the clearing up, so it’s run as a canteen-like operation, where you queue at a counter and then choose your dish from a choice of seven or eight, including a vegan and wheat-free option.
Walking in on a Friday lunchtime, I was immediately struck by the enticing smells and then quite bowled over by the tempting range of fare before me. The menu apparently changes with what’s in season, but on the day I visited, the dishes on offer included such mouth-watering options as Chickpea Tagine; Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne; Lentil Bake; Sweet Potato and Spinach Frittata; and a Nut and Mushroom Loaf. So basically vegetarian heaven then...
Having eventually decided on the Chickpea Tagine, plus a Salad Platter and Diet Coke (though I could have had wine had the inclination taken me), my jaw dropped when I saw the prices: the main courses were just £4.75 each. There was even a special deal where you could have your choice of a main course, two salads and a dessert for just £9.50.
I proffered my purse but was ushered off with the instruction that I should pay at the end.
Room with a view
Having secured myself a table overlooking the attractive Ward Street, and settled down with a magazine, I took in the delightful surroundings.
Suffice to say, the place can barely have changed in decades, with wonderful relics of more formal days at the Institute. Engraved in one stained glass door are the words ‘Ladies’ Room’, while elsewhere, in gilt letters above a mirror, the words ‘Silence is requested’. If either instruction was meant to apply today, no one was paying much attention; an interesting mix of people – both male and female and of all ages – were in evidence, while a polite but merry chatter pervaded the air.
Next to me was a group who looked like they had probably been coming since the Guildford Institute first opened its doors, deerstalker hats and all, while across the room a mother and daughter arrived with several shopping bags.
Throughout the establishment, each table was adorned with a brown and white spotted tablecloth and fresh daffodils in a little glass vase, while photographs of Guildford decorated the walls.
But back to the matter in hand, and I set about attacking my lunch – attacking being the operative word; the portions being very much on the generous side. My goodness, though, how I savoured every bite. A veritable medley of fresh flavours, my chickpea dish was first class. Alongside it, the crisp, colourful salad made the perfect foil. It was hearty, home-made veggie fare at its best.
I ummed and ahhed about dessert, and was seriously tempted by the likes of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Chocolate Roulade and Traditional Trifle, but in the end I had to admit defeat; next time!
In the club
In summary, there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about the Guildford Institute; I felt almost as though I was part of some exclusive gentlemen’s club, reminiscent of the Reform Club in Around the World in Eighty Days. Come to think of it, one of the gentlemen on the next table could very easily have been Phileas Fogg himself!
And yet, the refined atmosphere is coupled with that most modern of concepts: home-made vegetarian fare of the finest quality – but at prices which themselves seem to come from another century. It’s a heady combination for a vegetarian – and a discovery that I hardly dare share for fear that I can never get a table there again. In short, this place is an absolute gem and I can’t believe I’ve never been before.
But the surprises weren’t over yet. On leaving the building, I caught sight of a mysterious looking door that led into a library like something straight out of Harry Potter – but that’s a story for another day.
Needless to say, though, I’ll be back; it’s places like this that make me love my job.
3 other vegetarian offerings in Surrey
64 High Street, Kingston KT1 1HN
Tel: 0208 546 7992
Creating award-winning, internationally-inspired, vegetarian cuisine since 1989, with all dietary requirements catered for and a mainly local, organic and Fairtrade menu, this charming restaurant also benefits from a beautiful riverside setting. A perfect place for summer.
2 The Arches, Richmond TW9 1TH
Tel: 0208 948 8285
Nestled in a charming converted arch beneath Richmond Bridge, the views of the Thames are some of the best in London. What is more, the food is all vegetarian, and there are vegan and gluten-free dishes too, with many of the products organic or Fairtrade.
Dormans Road, Lingfield RH7 6QH
Tel: 01342 832150
For something a bit different, Claridge House is a Quaker retreat for healing, rest and renewal, offering residential stays or day visits, where you will also find well-balanced, delicious, vegetarian food, using organic ingredients whenever possible.