Vegan in London: Top Five Places to Eat

It’s been a while!

Since my last post, things have changed for me. In April 2018, I moved to London and began my first professional job at a legal publishing group. It’s been a very rich and varied experience so far, although it’s come with its twists, turns and bumps in the road.

Living in London is whatever you want to make of it. There is a huge diversity in arts, culture, music, sport, everything. In terms of food, there’s a multiplicity of abundance and more choice than you could want. And it goes without saying that vegan food in London is unparalleled anywhere else in the UK.

In my year and a half in this booming city, I’ve been steadily making my way through eveyrthing the vegan scene has to offer – which is akin to trying to paddle towards the end of a never-ending stream, as new places/options crop up. To ease myself back into this blog – which regretfully went on the backburner as I learned how to balance work with my other interests – I have compiled my current top five cafes/restaurants.

5. Biff’s Jack Shack

Biff’s has a special place in my heart. When I arrived in London, untarnished by the allures of vegan junk food, the jackfruit wings at Biff’s little spot in Boxpark, Shoreditch were the first ‘naughty’ option I tried. And I’ve been a convert to them since. Yes, it’s fruit, but it’s fried and fatty and flavourful. The texture has widely been compared to pulled pork, but it’s lighter and easier on the arteries. Biffs’ loaded fries are also a force to be reckoned with.

You can now find Biff’s wings at 100 selected pubs across the country – check their website.

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Boxpark is not known for its lighting – Biff’s jackfruit wings and burger with loaded fries

4. Unity Diner

I’ve happy memories of Unity Diner in its orginal Hoxton location, before its recent move to Spitalfields (riding the waves of its own success). Unity Diner was co-founded by Ed Winters, aka Earthling Ed, a fantastic vegan activist – the most level-headed, calm and convincing spokesperson for the movement I’ve ever seen. All profits from the diner go to Surge, a animal rights campaigning group. Here, you can tuck into a wicked range of burgers, hot dogs and veganised classics such as tofish and chips and mac ‘n’ cheese. I’m looking forward to trying the new range of vegan-friendly cocktails on my next visit.

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The Surge burger

3. Tibits

Oh, Tibits, I love you. Self-serve vegetarian and vegan food from all cuisines – think risotto, curry, pasta – piled on to plate with each and any accompaniment of your desire. Tibits is where you can pair beetroot salad with tofu, hummus and kimchi. I get very excited at Tibits, and it’s best to exercise a little self-control to keep the plate to a reasonable price. But it’s a haven for veggies.

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There’s nothing missing

2. Purezza

The best vegan pizza spot in the country (along with its sister branch in Brighton). This is pizza, not just vegan pizza, at its finest – the award they won over non-vegan pizzas at the 2018 National Pizza Awards is testament to this. I’ve been here several times and plan on coming plenty more. Opt for the Pesto Manifesto – you’ve not tried pesto like this. There are gluten-free bases and even a raw pizza. (And if you’ve got a really impressive appetite, I dare you to order the Oreo pizza for dessert.)

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Pesto Manifesto (with ginger Jarr kombucha)

1. Cafe Van Gogh, Brixton.

My current favourite cafe in London. Why do I love it? By description, it’s perfect: a non-profit social enterprise offering a fully vegan menu. It’s a small homely space in the grounds of a church, with Van Gogh prints on the walls and a starry night painted on the inside of the domed ceiling.

The food is really top-rate, with so much flavour and utilising lots of fresh and healthy ingredients. The mushroom bourguignon I had on my first visit was one of the tastiest vegan meals I’ve ever eaten, and their desserts are also superb.

If I haven’t convinced you – I guess you’ll have to try it for yourself.

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Mushroom bourguignon

More London vegan spots to come!

Eating vegan in central Manchester

Exploring cities as a vegan has never been easier. Options are continually expanding, with new plant-based eateries springing up regularly.

On a recent break in Manchester, I got a taste of what this culturally vibrant city has to offer for vegans. My twin brother lives here, and as a vegan himself, he was happy to tag along and try out some new places. So, here’s my run-down of some of Manchester’s best vegan options!

The Eighth Day Co-operative on Oxford Road doubles as a big health food shop, and a café serving organic vegetarian and vegan food. You can buy a range of products from supplements to bean-to-bar chocolate. The café serves really good, healthy food, varying daily. You can expect a cooked breakfast, sandwiches, dishes such as dahls and casseroles, and homemade cakes and puddings. I’d recommend Eighth Day as a great choice for an affordable lunch or a spot of tea.

If you’re planning on visiting Manchester Museum, its in-house café The Teacup (with another branch on Thomas Street) is a quick lunch-time option. There’s a reasonable falafel sandwich on offer, with a range of salads; check to see which ones are vegan. Take your coffee black – the soya will curdle. A vegan chocolate brownie is also available.

A trip to the Northern Quarter is a must, for its array of shops and nearby cultural offerings, such as Chetham’s Library and the National Football Museum (not one for me). If you’re particularly hungry, I’d recommend Earth Café for a hot plate of food and a cold drink. All food is sourced from the market a few yards away, and served up as dishes including chickpea curry, lasagne and vegan roulade. You can choose two mains and two accompanying dishes – rice, potatoes, salad – for a mere £7. I thoroughly enjoyed the food, the relaxed atmosphere, and the friendly service.

One place I missed was Real Junk Food, an outlet on Oxford Street looking to change attitudes towards food waste. They intercept food that would otherwise go straight to landfill, and craft it into meals. Instead of paying a set price for an item, they ask for a pay-as-you-feel donation.

Within the huge indie emporium that is Afflecks, you can find the vegan Beach Hut café, serving jerk jack fruit and Ital curries. Heroes Café also have some vegan options.

For dinner, Manchester has no shortage of chain restaurants such as Pizza Express, Ask Italian, and Zizzi. Burrito bars are popular and cost-effective, including Pancho’s and Chilangos. At the former, you can pack a generous portion of tofu or chilli, beans, salsa and salad into a spinach wrap, for a very good price.

If junk food is your thing, there’s no excuse to miss V Rev, the northern Temple of Seitan. For something different, try Asian cuisine at Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen or Jaipur Palace.

Mowgli, founded only in 2014, serves fantastic Indian street food in tiffin boxes. Its separate vegan menu offers plenty of choice, including a hot chip butty (roti with spiced potatoes), chickpea curry, and dahl. The food surpasses the vast majority of Indian high-street restaurants, and the service is quick and friendly. It’s located in the Corn Exchange, a good spot for dinner and a drink. Two more Mowgli’s are opening this year to complement two other restaurants in Liverpool, so watch this space.

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Chip butty, tea-steeped curry, dahl and Calcutta greens at Mowgli

 

For your caffeine fix, the endless stream of Starbucks, Costa, and Caffé Nero has got you covered. Independent coffee shops include Takk in the Northern Quarter, the Fig and Sparrow and Grindsmith (try its bigger Deansgate site).

There’s also the Cat Café. When I originally got wind of the first cat café opening in Edinburgh, I had my doubts. Was it right to keep the cats cooped up and make money from their appeal? But after visiting this one on Manchester, I’m fully reassured. The well-groomed cats have known each other since kittenhood, and as housecats, they seem to have no inclination for the outdoors. The café is roomy, with wooden platforms built into the walls for them to stroll around. Customers agree to not pick them up, or bother them if they’re sleeping. For £6, you get half an hour in the café with free drinks and the company of several haughty cats, who will mostly lounge above you, turning an indifferent eye to your admiring gaze. But you’ll enjoy it anyway.

I hope that this guide is useful to anybody looking for vegan options in central Manchester!

 

 

 

 

Review: Rebel Kitchen milk

On a sunny Saturday in Kensington, I was browsing for the first time the wares of Wholefoods. How unprepared I was for such a dazzling array of every product under the sun. Loose grains and beans for the taking; a coffee grinder; condiments I’ve never heard of; my favourite shampoo on offer.

Amongst all these magical displays, I came across a representative of Rebyl Kitchen offering tasters of milk. There are three versions: whole, semi-skimmed, and skimmed. It’s organic and coconut-based, also with brown rice, cashew, Himalayan salt, and nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast!

I’ve expressed my distaste for coconut many a time on this blog, so I asked the salesperson what to expect. She assured me that the skimmed yielded only a very mild coconut taste.

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I took a sip: it was delicious. Even the skimmed was creamy, neither watery nor thick. It’s got a luxurious, pure white colour, whiter than dairy. Safe to say I took a bottle home with me that afternoon.

In cereal and porridge, and by itself, Rebyl Kitchen milk is lovely. It’s fantastic to find a milk that a dairy drinker could actually prefer by its taste alone.

However, I’d been told that it wouldn’t split in my tea. Yet on two occasions (pre-boiling water, always a bad idea, and after waiting for it to cool down), the milk separated and left a sad mess in the cup.

And, at £2.99 a bottle, it’s not the most economical of alternatives. It’s also not calcium-fortified.

The verdict? Delicious. But it’s not perfect.

Still, I’m looking out for other Rebyl Kitchen products. They also offer a range of flavoured non-dairy milks, including banana, chocolate, and chai. These are sweetened with date sugar only, and contain no nasty additives. A definite brand to try!

Ditching Dairy: guide to plant-based milks

As an omnivore, I was a big fan of almond milk. Mild and nutty, I loved a cool glass to complement my cookies.

Going vegan, however, switching to plant milk was neither quick nor easy. I didn’t like the subtle sweetness of soy, oat, or almond in my cuppa, and grew frustrated with milks that separated in the brew. On the other hand, switching out dairy on cereal and porridge was easy as pie.

I’ve tried the vast majority of milk alternatives out there, and have developed a discriminating taste for which variety and brand suits me best. I’m going to go into a little detail here; so feel free to scroll through. Before, though, here a few tips to factor in when making the switch:

  • One milk does not fit all. I have a preferred variety for tea, milky coffees, hot chocolate, and porridge. If you can drink it fast enough, keep two bottles at a time.
  • Your tastes will probably differ from your dairy-ditching friends’ tastes.
  • It’s been surprising to note the difference in quality between brands, and between organic and non-organic varieties. Organic in general tastes better.

If you’re considering making the switch to dairy, you’ve probably come across the whole almond-milk-stunts-bone-growth argument. The media love to point out, in its regular vegan-thrashing, that calcium doesn’t occur naturally in plant milks as it does in dairy. However, plant milks fortified with calcium contain the same amount as cow’s milk (120mg per 250ml), as well as added B12 and vitamin D.

So, unless you’re sure that you are getting enough calcium through the rest of your diet or supplementation, it’s best to choose fortified plant milks. There’s also been a fuss about the vegan diet lacking iodine, because of the absence of dairy. I’ve personally decided to take an iodine supplement until the research is clearer.

Almond milk.

  • Almond Breeze – un/sweetened. This was the very first non-dairy milk I ever tried – and it’s probably one of my least favourites. I’ve always found Almond Breeze to be too strong in taste, not subtle at all, so not great in breakfast or drinks. I can recall pouring myself a glass one evening from a carton that had been opened longer than it should, and recoiling at the strange artificiality in the taste – down the sink it went. 2/5
  • Rude Health almond milk – un/sweetened.  At £1.99 / litre, it’s expensive, but the flavour is very pure and very clean. However, after their recent media suicide – “…vegetarianism and veganism, promising to save you from cancer and early death and save the animals while you’re at it, if you believe What the Health, Okja and other propaganda films masquerading as documentaries on Netflix” – you probably don’t want to support this brand. 5/5 for flavour alone!
  • Alpro unroasted, unsweetened almond milk. This tastes, as my vegan friend put it, “of nothing”, but leaves a hint of marzipan in the mouth. It went well over cereal, but needed a considerable dose of maple syrup in an iced latte; and it didn’t do well in my morning coffee. I’m not a fan, but suggest it to someone looking for a mild milk for breakfast cereals and porridge. 2/5

Soy milk.

  • The most reliable plant-based milk out there. Some say there’s an aftertaste, some say not. There’s a lot of variation between brands, however.
  • Supermarket brand un/sweetened UHT soy milk. As the cheapest and the most versatile, this is the stuff I buy every week.  Make sure you allow boiling water to cool for half a minute before adding the milk. It’s less likely to separate, although inexplicably the water at uni (hard, as at home) reacted differently. Although at first sniff, it’s got a peculiarly sour odour, this doesn’t manifest in taste. I find it completely flavourless in tea and coffee, although a bit bland on cereal.  4/5
  • Alpro Original soy milk. A go-to milk: great in cereal, in porridge, and in hot chocolate. In tea and coffee, there’s only a very, very mild sweetness. Compared to supermarket sweetened soya, it’s got a much better taste. 5/5
  • Co-op organic soya milk. This is wonderfully creamy, and very tasty: fantastic in porridge, smoothies, and hot drinks, or even just by itself. Although it’s not fortified, the milk has a good, pure taste, with a subtle nutty hint devoid of any artificial ingredients. 4/5
  • Alpro Dark Chocolate Soy milk. This is one you’ll find it hard to keep your hands off. Thick, sweet, and decadent, I love slurping on the child-sized carton of this. Yes, it’s sugary, so maybe it’s not one to drink every day, but if you’re missing chocolate milkshakes, please give this a go. Drinking it makes me thirsty, unsurprisingly, and there are some strange added ingredients on the back of the carton. 3/5 

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    Soy milk hot chocolate

Oat milk.

  • Oatly oat milk. A firm favourite of mine. It’s creamy; sweet, but not too sweet; is great in coffee (although occasionally separates in my tea); it makes a good porridge; and its barista version can’t be beaten in cappuccinos or lattes. I opt for the non-organic, as the organic isn’t fortified. The Oatly team also win in terms of marketing: they are umatched in promoting dairy-free alternatives. Their chocolate milk is also one to try. 5/5
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Delicious oat milk cappuccino

Cashew milk.

  • Alpro Cashew milk. This is a less traditional offering to the nut milk scene, and it’s a good one. Cashew milk has a slightly less nutty taste than almond milk, and is less sweet; and, somehow, it’s thicker and creamier than most milks. I can drink it straight in a glass, as well as over cereal. 4/5

Hazelnut milk.

  • Alpro Hazelnut milk. Creamy and a fair bit sweeter than soy, hazelnut milk has a light brown colour, and is lovely hot or cold. I wouldn’t put it in porridge, as I prefer to sweeten my oats with fruit with a liberal dose of peanut butter, but on cereal, it’s a winner. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near tea, although it makes a fantastic hot chocolate.  3/5

Hemp milk.

  • Good Hemp milk. This is definitely a less popular milk, and I can see why. It’s got an unusual, marzipan-like flavour, with a strange sort of metallic aftertaste. The one I tried was unsweetened, but I didn’t much like it in my breakfast. One thing I noticed was the fat content – 2.5g per 100ml, compared to Alpro soy milk’s 1.8g per 100ml. It’s creamy, for this reason. One glass apparently contains 50% of your day’s intake of omega-3s, which is great; but I’d rather stick to soy. 1/5

Rice milk.

  • Alpro rice milk. I’m not quite sure how anyone gets on with this. It’s very sweet, and quite thin; so not ideal for drinks, or cereal. 1/5

Coconut milk.

  • I can’t give an opinion here: I don’t get on with coconut at all! From what I’ve heard, though, it’s creamy and great in a milky coffee.

I hope that this post has been useful for anyone looking for advice on which plant milk to try!

Hackney Downs vegan market

At the dawn of this new year, the vegan movement continues to make waves. Worldwide, thousands are sailing through Veganuary. In the UK, vegan options continue to increase, including Tesco’s new range of ready meals, sandwiches, and pizza. In Australia, Dominoes have launched a range of vegan pizzas, including one topped with avocado.

I’m excited for the year ahead and the developments it will bring for veganism. I want to see the movement gain an even stronger foothold in mainstream media. The rise of vegan convenience and ‘junk’ food, especially, should help shed the image of veganism as a faddy diet.

Which brings me to the Hackney Downs vegan market, another relatively recent development. Organised by Fat Gay Vegan and EAT WORK ART, it’s now held every Saturday from 11am to 5pm. There are regular traders, with preference given to businesses run by women and members of the LGBT and BME community.

You’ve most likely heard of Temple of Seitan, Hackney’s finest vegan chicken store. It’s been a massive hit among vegans and omnivores alike. Although I’ve never been inside, I’ve passed the shop and carried on walking at the sight of the queue, snaking way out of the door.

This week, Temple of Seitan had a stall alongside the likes of Eat Chay (Vietnamese cuisine) and Young Vegans (vegan pies). My friend and I came over for the first time and marvelled at the offerings. A connoisseur of vegan cheeses and meats, my friend queued up twice for Temple’s mac n cheese. Judging by the silence as she ate, it was very good. I did sample a spear of pasta from each of hers – one slathered with barbecue sauce and studded with chick’n – but the smell of coconut-based cheese had gotten to me. I’ve a very strong nose for coconut, which I detest in vegan cheese, after a particularly bad experience making my own macaroni. But my friend, and many many others, love the Temple. By 3.30pm, the stall was sold out.

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Barbecue mac n cheese

I opted instead for a lentil curry from Rupert’s Street, who also offered sweet potato latkes and tofu wraps. I’m a big fan of lentils, and on this particularly cold day, it was exactly what I needed. Warm, satiating, and flavoursome, I’d highly recommend this curry if you’re popping by.

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Lentil curry with brown rice

We also stopped by Hell.Yum!, and took advantage of an irresistible three for £5 offer on cookies. I picked up salted chocolate, chocolate and walnut, and white chocolate and macadamia, telling myself that I’d share these at home. This I did not, finishing the bag contentedly by myself.

The final purchase for me was a cup of mulled cider from Clarkshaw’s Brewing. Very sweet and warming.

If you’re interested in top vegan cuisine, healthy or not, pop along to Hackney Downs vegan market. Details of each market are made available on Fat Gay Vegan’s website or on the Facebook page. Arrive promptly – after 1pm, it gets increasingly busy!

Photos courtesy of @_rhiannonnorman.

Vegan pizza @ Pizza Express

A while ago, I wrote about trying the vegan pizza offerings at Pizza Express and Zizzi. The Pianta at Pizza Express, which seems to have been taken off the menu, was a reasonable experience. On the other hand, Zizzi’s rich tomato sauce and its smattering of vegan cheese was a significantly tastier meal. But, having revisited Pizza Express, I wanted to report back on the progress made since.

One point that must be highlighted: the vegan pizza game in the UK keeps getting better. Pizza Hut are grabbing a slice of the action, offering vegan cheese on their bases. Dominoes offer VBites vegan cheese on their pizzas in Israel, with plans to bring this on to Australian menus next year; but in the UK, not even the bases are vegan. I’m hoping that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see this change.

So, how did a vegan and her almost-vegan friend fare at Pizza Express?

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Dough balls

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Veneziana with vegan mozzarella

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Vegan Giardiniera

We began with dough ball starters, perfect little balls of carby bliss. Although we missed out on the accompanying garlic butter, the garlic and chilli oils were a reasonable swap. Both plates were quickly demolished. The marinated olives, roasted tomatoes, and bruschetta (without pesto and butter) are also suitable for vegans.

My friend ordered a Veneziana pizza, subbing the mozzarella for the vegan alternative. Toppings included pine kernels, red onion, capers, and olives. I have to say, I was bemused by the sultanas. Isn’t pineapple a controversial issue? What about the outrageous sweetness of sultanas?

I ordered the vegan Giardiniera, awarded Best Vegan Pizza at PETA’s Vegan Food Awards 2017. It’s a step-up from the Pianta, loaded with red onion, olives, artichoke, and mushroom. Artichoke has a meaty texture which works well. And the cheese? Creamy. I’m really not keen on coconut-based cheeses, but their own version melts well and tastes good.

In terms of desserts, there is a Raspberry Sorbet and Coconut Delight available for vegans. Perfect for when you’ve inevitably not left enough space for afters.

So, overall, Pizza Express have done a great job. The possibility of swapping dairy cheese out on any vegetarian pizza is fantastic, and a real upgrade from the days when you could bring in your own vegan cheese to top your pizza. What’s more, signing up for offers with the company means you can snag a deal of £10.95 for a starter and main. Bargain.

 

Review: V Rev, Manchester

For those who still hold the assumption that vegan food is all salads and spirulina, a visit to V Rev in Manchester’s stylish Northern Quarter is a must. Not only is there no single head of broccoli in sight, there’s no limp side-salad available for the sensible vegan, either. Entering the doors, you go all in for unhealthy eating, the stuff of parents’ nightmares and American fast-food dreams.

V Rev is a completely vegan diner, specialising in beefburgers, chk’n burgers, and fully-loaded fries. There’s a range of organic and fair-trade soft drinks to complement the meal if one doesn’t opt for a huge milkshake or beer. Most strikingly, the creative powerhouse behind the menu has utilised all of their pop culture knowledge in naming each item: from the ‘Hell-vis Presley’ beef patty to the ‘Wake Me Up Before Mojito’ cocktail, the levels of pun are atmospheric. It’s canny marketing, capturing the diner’s modern aesthetic and giving the traditional vegan stereotype – long-haired, anaemic, tree-worshipping – a right kick up the backside.

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Guac to the Future

Walking in on a Friday night, the diner is busy and bustling, but it’s not long before I’m guided to my reserved table in a quieter zone. We order beer, cider, the special donut burger, and a ‘Guac to the Future’. The first consists of fried chik’n, cheez, baecon, fried onions and maple sriracha sauce sandwiched between two sweet donuts, and it’s an interesting combination. Hard to get your mouth round – but the different layers of sweetness bring it home. The Guac is made from breaded, deep-fried seitan, and I try it in that hope that I get over my first average experience of it – but I don’t. The texture isn’t chicken, but it’s chewy and reminiscent of it in a way which doesn’t twist your brain wondering if it actually could be the dead stuff itself. Also included is cheez, guacamole, chipotle mayo, salsa, and lettuce – all good toppings. Both burgers come with sides of fries, which I drown in slightly luminous and watered-down ketchup. The drinks are great, though, and the service friendly – “Where did you get your blouse?” – so we tip gratefully.

A factor close to my heart is cleanliness, with no complaints. The decor fits in with the old-school American diner feel – food’s served in red plastic boxes, with squeezy condiment bottles. The wall prints had me Googling “You’re the nutritional yeast to my macaroni” to self-mail next Valentine’s.

So, V Rev have an awesome thing going with their unique menu and whole aura of what my dad calls ‘trendiness’. While the food’s no Temple of Seitan, it’s still tasty, and I’ve heard excellent reports on the milkshakes. Most importantly, it’s idolised by vegans and omivores alike, if their social media feeds are anything to go by. You can find their Instagram here and website here.

V Rev, 20-26 Edge St, Manchester, M4 1HN