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

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Vegan fried chicken: the mock-meat question

Not everyone is in agreement over mock meats. Are they helpful in weaning omnivores off meat? Do they provide a healthy source of plant-based protein? Is it really vegan to advertise a product which “tastes just like meat”?

For me, I think that whatever helps a person give up meat is a very valuable tool to the vegan cause. So, an uncannily beefy burger made from soy is infinitely better than the actual beef itself. That being said, I’ve found that I don’t enjoy eating products which recall the taste and texture of meat. Although that sounds quite puritanical, if a friend kindly provided me with a veggie sausage at a barbecue, I would happily accept; and, I’m quite partial to a Quorn fishless finger. On the other hand, the new variety of burgers which supposedly bleed take the mock-meat to the next level, one which I don’t necessarily agree with. Why does a vegetable burger need to square up to its animal counterpart? Why can’t we hold it as something entirely separate to meat, rather than comparing it constantly with something it’ll never quite be? A burger which bleeds models itself on a product of extreme injustice and cruelty. Perhaps this burger seeks to perpetuate the so-called human craving for meat, in tricking both our eyes and our tastebuds. This carnivorous ‘instinct’ is not innate – from the moment we’re born, humans are conditioned to think, act, and be a certain way,  and foods we are taught that we need to eat is a part of this. Arguably, a mock-meat which looks to satisfy this conditioned craving for meat, to the extent that it bleeds, damages the vegan attempt to argue that eating flesh is not natural. 

I like to believe that in consuming the average soya protein sausage, we are parodying the meat-power association: meat has always been a symbol of inequality, from the days in which the wealthy flaunted their meat consumption over the vegetable diets of the poor, to the diners today in expensive restaurants who buy vastly overpriced steaks or consume a live octopus to show off their wealth and refinement. I read a study recently which corroborated Carol J. Adams feminist-vegetarian critique in The Sexual Politics of Meat (an absolutely eye-opening and fascinating read): men today eat more red meat than women, and see reducing meat intake as a perversion of Western masculine hegemony.  So, through eating burgers which look and even taste like meat, but essentially are not meat, we can challenge the performative aspect of meat-eating as associated with power and masculinity.

I recently tried vegan fried chicken for the first time, out of curiosity. That might make me a hypocrite, but it’s better than unfairly condemning the mock-meat family. This variety was made from seitan and deep-fat fried; they smelled quite like chicken nuggets, recalling the McDonald’s of my childhood. Resembling popcorn chicken, they were crispy on the outside, and ‘tender’ on the inside; my omnivorous friend said that there was a definite similarity to chicken, although not a striking one. In all honesty, I wasn’t too keen. They didn’t taste fantastic, even when smothered in barbecue sauce, and I felt laden down and heavy after eating five or six of them. What’s more, they cost more than most other options on the menu, at £13.50 – which for me highlighted the way in which the vegan diet is often made out to be ‘exclusive’.

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Veganism is not a binary. There are shades of opinion and varying beliefs within the conscious choices vegans make. I know those who don’t like salads, and marvel at others who shun cooked food. Where we stand on mock-meat is another issue. When we can get enough protein from beans, pulses, grains, and nuts, soy burgers aren’t essential; but not everyone has the time or motivation to plan what they eat quite as carefully, in which case soy mince in a spag bol is the best option. Moderation, as always, is key, so eating a lot of mock-meat isn’t the best way forward. Experimentation with wholefoods can lead you in new directions, including to the beautiful discovery of homemade lentil and beetroot burgers. But there’s nothing at all wrong with vegan popcorn chick’n once in a while.

Black bean and feta burgers

This is my fiftieth blog post which, appropriately, falls about a year after the first. In my twelve months of blogging, I’ve come to realise the importance of having some form of creative outlet: before, the only words I wrote were for purely academic purposes, and I struggled to consistently keep a diary. This blog has pushed me to explore and experiment with food, and I’m proud of it.

 

I love a good veggie burger, and I’ve always preferred them to meat. Granted, there’s a spectrum of burger quality, but my own personal tastes leant towards the texture of beanburgers. Eating many times in Nandos taught me this, as did barbecue season: the real highlight of the grill, for me, was the halloumi and veggie skewers, not the typically overcooked quarter-pounders. However, I’m not a fan of the mushroom burger: my first (and last) at Byron in York left me heartily disappointed.

A few months ago, I made these beetroot and lentil burgers, and thoroughly enjoyed them: but until I can find a suitable replacement for the egg used to bind them together, I’m on the hunt for other egg-free varieties. Flicking through my Hemsley and Hemsley cookbook, I decided to give these black bean and feta varieties a try.

 

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To make eight patties (I halved everything), you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp ghee (I just used olive oil – I’m sceptical of the Hemsley sister’s lauding of ghee)
  • a medium onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tins of black beans, or 500g homecooked beans (200g dried. ‘Activate’ overnight – i.e., soak.)
  • 100g chestnut or buckwheat flour (I used plain)
  • a tsp dried oregano or thyme (I also used a tsp of dried rosemary)
  • 170g sun-dried chopped tomatoes
  • a handful of fresh parsley, or coriander
  • a tbsp chopped jalapeños or fresh chilli
  • 100g feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Finely chop the onion, garlic, chilli, and sun-dried tomatoes, before chopping the parsley.

Gently cook the onion over a medium heat until coloured. Stir in the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, before adding the drained beans.

Mash the beans roughly with a wooden spoon or fork, and let the excess liquid evaporate. Transfer the beans to a mixing bowl and incorporate well with the flour.

Add the rest of the herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, chilli and feta, season with salt and pepper, and, using your hands, fold everything together. When the patty mixture has cooled down a little, divide it equally into eight rounds.

Place each burger on a lined baking tray, and pop in the oven for fifty minutes. They’re ready when golden brown and slightly crispy: slide straight into wholemeal buns or onto the plate, and eat as desired.

This is a fantastic recipe: hands-on but not particularly time-consuming, and yielding some very tasty burgers. The burgers are light, with a delicious saltiness to complement the herby notes. I served mine with sweet potato wedges, homemade hummous, tomatoes, and salad – perfect.

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