Vegan Month

Back in October, in a seemingly annual need of my girlfriend and I to give up something for a designated time, we decided to become vegan for a month. Whilst ‘Stoptober’ is a great initiative that helps loads of people give up smoking every year, I saw it as a great excuse to try to cut out something from my diet that, up until this point, I had deemed very necessary, namely food products derived from animals. This may seem strange coming from a vegetarian, but a 100% plant-based diet has always seemed a stretch too far. On the other hand, through my blog’s instagram account I had seen a lot of people who had either been lifelong vegans or were recent vegan converts enjoying great looking food, eating all over town, and raving about it. Now, more than ever, felt like the time to ride the wave.

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Aside from the initial teething problems, we settled in our vegan life pretty easily, I found a renewed love for peanut butter in a big way, Rach for porridge with almond milk. It was actually a week or so until I ate my first vegan burger. I was working across the road from The Hive on Vyner Street and saw that they had a vegan burger as one of their specials. I think if you were to ask a #properburgerlad to draw what a ‘real’ burger looked like, it would not be this. This was a mushroom, courgette and pumpkin seed burger, in a gluten-free, chickpea flatbread. Truly in at the deep end. The burger itself was tasty if a little small, but in actuality the whole ensemble just fell apart as the patty, lubricated by chutney and vegan slaw slipped out of the flakey flatbread. An intruiging start. (6/10)

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My second burger of my vegan October just so happened to be on the very next day. Just around the corner from The Hive, on Hackney Road is the JustFab ‘Vegitalian’ food bus. This place is a great little spot for anyone craving some Italian flavours but wanting to keep things fully vegan. This time I went for the Just Burger with ‘cheese’. The patty comes in focaccia or ciabatta (of course!) and consists of a mix of beans and veg. There is also the option of doubling up and adding vegan mayo if you so wish. Sat out in the yard rather than upsatirs on the double decker, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this burger, and convincing myself again and again that I must have somehow unveganised it as the cheese and mayo were so believable. The piéce de resistance, and somewhat of a house speciality for them, was the vegamisu – this, everyone needs to try. How it is vegan? I have no idea, but it definitely topped off my lunch (if not making my afternoon very sleepy…). (7.5/10)

A meet up with friends provided me with another chance to sample not only a vegan burger that I’d wanted to try for a while, but also an entire vegan café. The Black Cat Café in Clapton has long been on my list of places to visit, and with it being evenly situated between my friends in Hackney and Stoke Newington, and myself, it seemed like the perfect time to visit. They have an extensive vegan menu, offering stews, pies, sandwiches, cakes, vegan milkshakes, and of course burgers. I went for the smoked tofu burger which comes with fries and salad. The late lunch provoked me to buy a samosa to munch on whilst waiting for my main. This again was a good burger, offering something completely different to the previous two mentioned. The massive accompanying portion of chunky chips made it very filling and perhaps accentuated a little bit of dryness in the burger, although the samosa to start didn’t help. One thing of note is the value for money, the whole plate of food coming in for easily under a tenner, counteracting the stereotype of over-priced vegan fare. Again, somehow I had space for dessert so decided to try out one of the house milkshakes. I went for the chocolate and it was bloody delicious! (7/10)

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A secondary school reunion-sized hangover took me to a unseasonably warm and sunny Victoria Park for my fourth vegan burger of the month, where I sampled the Classic V Cheeseburger from Big V London at the Victoria Park farmer’s market. Now, this is a burger. A deliciously juicy mushroom and seitan patty in a sweet poppyseed bun, with relish, vegan burger sauce, onions, salad and oozing vegan cheddar. Vegan food often gets derided as rabbit food, and for anyone who thinks that, I point you in the direction of this burger. This is the future of junk food: tasty, cheesy, fried, and plant-based. (On the flipside, if you do want a bowl of nutritious ‘rabbit food’, they also do an excellent V bowl which consists of a big bowl of veg topped with spicy chickpea balls, hummus and tahini). Catch the Big V alongside other great vegan ‘junk food’ treats at Hackney Downs food market as featured on Radio 4’s food programme(9/10)

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The last two burgers I had in the month were from places I had tried out before. The penultimate one was the Dippy Hippy from GBK, actually one of the nicer burgers I have had from there. This one was interesting as they went for flavours not otherwise seen elsewhere on the menu (such as beetroot & mint hummus giving it a really fresh feel), and also avoided any vegan alternatives. (7/10). The last burger of the month however, was at The Diner. In one of those weird star aligning moments, the Diner had decided to launch their new Vegan/Vegetarian specific menu just as my vegan month was coming to an end. I duly decided to take Rach – along with my parents – out as a kind of Thank You meal for trying this vegan experience out with me. The burger was actually a bit of a let down, and an anticlimax to what had been a great month eating what I realise now was a lot of burgers, even for my standards. As the menu was only in it’s nascent stages, there were only two burgers to choose from, and we both went for the standard Diner Vegan Burger. Unfortuantely the burger just seemed a bit generic, lacking anything that would elevate the flavour lacking from a lack of cheese or otherwise, such as the hummus in GBK’s version. A look back at the current menu looks like they have pushed the boat out a bit more with a  crispy seitan burger and a pulled-jackfruit option too. The meal was saved by some Vegan Mac n Cheese and another delicious vegan milkshake which again showed that if you want to slum it, vegan cuisine has the answers. (5/10)

So yeah, vegan month was fun. It also showed me that it is very easy to not only to live as a vegan, but also to eat out as a vegan too. What the Diner’s new menu confirmed to me was that there is definitely a trend happening at the moment. It’s not just numerous independent stalls and pop-ups that are pushing veganism, but a few of the bigger restaurant chains are standing up and taking note of a real change in peoples attitudes and eating habits. When I started this blog just over 3 years ago I saw it as a an excuse to eat burgers and let people know about it. What I didn’t realise was that I would interact with a whole new group of people online, and have my eyes opened up to a whole new way of life. This month made me realise that although converting to a plant-based diet takes at least some sacrifices, there is a lot to help you through, and that the sacrifices are worth doing it. And that’s why I have decided to become a vegan.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.9/10 (average score)

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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Temple of Seitan

This month my girlfriend and I have decided to try being vegan. Having just recently come back from Vietnam, it was a real eye opener for us to see just how easy (and delicious) it is to eat vegan. Vegetarian food in a lot of Asia is essentially vegan, bar the odd egg dish, and the word for vegetarian in Vietnamese, chay, is interchangeable with vegan. One of the veggie/vegan meals we had whilst we were out there was a bowl of Pho (eaten in Vietnam for breakfast) which had a few tasty chunks of vegan beef and chicken in it, in the process reminding me how Asia tends to be streets ahead with that kind of stuff. The UK is catching up though, with a number of establishments popping up offering very inventive, and believable, meat substitute foods. One of the most successful is the vegan fried chicken shop, just of Mare Street in Hackney, called Temple of Seitan.

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As someone who has never eaten fried chicken before in their life, it was an exciting first for me. In the name of fairness, however, I decided to go with my mate Cecil, a born-again vegetarian and previous fried chicken connoisseur, to provide another perspective. The restaurant is set up for take-aways with only a few seats outside. On the specific day we went it happened to be pouring down with rain, which was just as well as normally, when passing by, there is a queue reaching right along the vast, stepped Morning Lane pavement. The menu is pretty simple, offering a fairly standard chicken shop menu (if a lot more tastefully laid out…), the difference being that everything, including the Mac N Cheez, is vegan. Whilst the option of a two piece was temping, to stay true to the blog, I went for the Temple Burger and fries.

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The burger itself was very tasty for what it was, essentially some deep fried wheat gluten in a bit of bread, but the ‘chicken’ had a good chewy texture to it, the crunchy deep-fried nature of it offset by a big lettuce leaf and a mix of vegan mayo and some Siracha (NB, on a total side-note, I found out this morning that Siracha mayo is vegan!), the latter was Cec’s addition. Also hidden in there was some vegan cheese, which added noting, and a slice or two of facon. This had an instantly nostalgic effect, harking back to the veggie ham slices that my dad used to whack in my sandwiches for packed lunch when he was in a rush to make them. The fries were nice too, but maybe a bit overpriced at £3, the chicken shop aesthetic is definitely not continued in the price! As for the alternate, used-to-eat-real-chicken perspective I promised earlier, here’s what Cec had to say: “It doesn’t taste like chicken, at least not how I remember chicken tasting – it’s been a long time – but it still tastes good! The other good thing about it is that I’m not racked with guilt eating it.”

It’s that second point there that has recently changed my perspective on substitute meat. I used to think: if you’re going veggie, eat veggies! But for a lot of people, the reason they change isn’t necessarily because they don’t like the taste, or the idea, of eating meat. Many people choose vegetarianism or veganism because of other factors, but still like to eat things that they used to when they weren’t veggie, such as burgers, sausages, and fried chicken! As long as people want to contribute to a better planet, either through animal welfare or environmental reasons then who cares if they’re eating ‘fake’ meat. In this sense the Temple of Hackney is a doing great things by giving people that option of a tasty plant-based alternative to fried chicken. It’s certainly won me over.

Update: In writing this blog, I got hungry and decided to go back and grab some vegan chicken. The fries are no longer £3 (now a more reasonable £2, there is also a +£2 fries and drink meal deal), and the menu has a few more things to try than listed in the above photo.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Travel Post: New York

A bit earlier in the year, I had the pleasure of heading to New York for just under a week. It goes without saying that I was excited from from a foodie perspective, and quickly got to researching what was on offer veggie burger-wise. I read articles about some of the best the city had to offer – including one that is part of a $295 10-course tasting menu in a 3 Michelin star restaurant – unfortunately I wasn’t able to sample as many as I wanted, due to the large amount of other great cuisines (mainly pizza) on offer. I did get to try out one veggie burger establishment, a tiny little below street-level establishment in East Village, aptly named Superiority burger.

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One of the most amazing things about New York is that you can have completely contrasting neighbourhoods within the same boroughs (admittedly the boroughs are a bit bigger than their London equivalents), sometimes right next to each other. Nestled between the massive skyscrapers of the Financial district and Midtown, are the trendy ‘village’ areas of Greenwich and the East Village. The East Village has a particularly neighbourhood feel about it, with it’s rows of red brick townhouses, and each street dotted with a few tiny bars or restaurants on the ground or basement floors. Superiority burger on E9th street was one of these establishments. As restaurants this go this is certainly one of the smallest I have ever been to. The white shop front is the only thing that stops you from walking straight past it. When you enter it has the feel of a takeaway burger bar, but on closer inspection you notice it probably seats about 5 or 6 people in little banquettes hidden in the window bay and under the stairs with fold up tables like you get on the front row of seats on an airplane. The menu is pretty varied and unique, with a number of different burgers and wraps on offer, and a couple of sides – notably no fries (of any variety!) – which they describe as being all ‘vegetarian, a lot accidentally vegan’. I went for the namesake Superiority burger with a side of burnt broccoli salad.

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The burger was small, slightly larger than slider size, but packed full of veggies and served with melted Munster cheese and lettuce, inside a sweet brioche bun. I ate the thing in about three bites. The burnt broccoli salad was spicy and filled with a pleasantly surprising east-asian kick. Amazingly it was one of the cheapest meals of the whole trip, the burger – albeit tiny – was only $6! It was a real whistle-stop lunch though, in part because we had a lot more to see and do that day, but also because I was absolutely desperate for the loo, and they didn’t have a customer toilet!

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As mentioned above, unfortunately that was my only veggie burger experience in NYC. It was a great trip for the tastebuds though. Aside from all the slices I picked up from Joe’s Pizza, I had my first ever experience of veggie fried chicken, in the form of buffalo chicken and waffles at Sweet Chick on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. Another great bite was the Eggplant baguette from Jack’s Wife Freda in Greenwich – probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten! Needless to say I left New York with a full stomach and an empty wallet. Although the burger experience in was brief it was good to get one in there amongst all the other delights on offer. I’ll be sure to try some more when I’m back, probably not in the too distant future!

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

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Mooshies London

As people from London, and further afield, become more and more aware of the growing strains on the earth that meat and dairy consumption is having, the taste for plant based cuisine is higher than ever. An Independent article from last May even put the amount of vegans in the UK at 500k! Going even further than the trend of seeing more vegan burgers around, which I mentioned in my last post,  some places have gone the whole hog (for want of a better phrase!) and opened up completely vegan burger bars. At the start of the year, none had been more prevalent – on social media at least – than Mooshies.  The story promoted on their website is one which my prejudiced mind would happily project onto a lot of vegans: left the rat-race behind, travelled the world, and returned with a much more positive outlook on life and a will to change the world. The difference with this story is that, instead of the (again, my prejudices, sorry) holier-than-thou attitude that these round the world vegans have, the Mooshies owners have decided to use their newly found world view and instil some positive change, ergo, have set up a vegan burger restaurant so that vegans and veggies alike can still enjoy some good old – as they like to call it – cheat-day food.

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It was a Friday lunchtime when I found myself on Brick Lane, less of a cheat day, more of a treat day. Nestled right in amongst the main row of Bangladeshi curry houses, Mooshies has a fairly low key exterior, and it’s only on closer inspection that you realise it’s a burger bar. Inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was fairly busy, even on a weekday lunchtime. The menu had four burgers to choose from (all vegan, obviously), the three house burgers and one guest – a bhaji burger – in homage to the burger bar’s surroundings. I went for the Fillet-Om-Phish, a vegan take on a fish burger, mainly because I couldn’t look past the main ingredient – aubergine. The sides were interesting too, if a little pricey. With no straight up potato fries on offer, sweet potato fries are the main staple, and come either plain or ‘cheesy’.  I wanted to try something a bit different though, so went for the ‘chick P bites’. I chose to wash it all down with a bottle of Karma Cola to keep that good karma flowing.IMG_9639 2.jpg

The burger itself was pretty strange. As I hinted at before, the patty consisted of a breaded slice –  nay slab – of aubergine, topped with nori and vegan tartare sauce, on top of a bed of lettuce and vegan cheese. The aubergine had absorbed all the oil from the deep fat frier and was very greasy. Coupled with the nori and the tartare sauce it had an overriding sense of an oily fish burger – in part as intended, I realise – but a bit too real for me. The chick p bites – about halfway between a fried ball of houmous and a felafel – were tasty if not a little dry, and very filling.

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Unfortunately the main event let down what should’ve been an exciting first foray into the world of vegan burger bars for me. Perhaps what was incongruous with my taste was the need for the burger to taste like something else, in this case a fish burger. As a lifelong vegetarian I rarely, if ever, crave for something to taste like meat or fish but that is just my opinion. The redeeming factor, however, is that this was not the only burger on offer. The best thing about these veggie and vegan burger bars popping up all over town is that should we – those who are used to only having the one burger to try – not enjoy what is on offer the first time, we do not have to write that place off. We can return again, and again, and again.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

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The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker

I might be a bit late to the party, but in 2017 vegan has gone big. Food bloggers and Instagram accounts may have been hash-tagging vegan for a while as far as I know, but my real gauge is the veggie burger scene. Whilst, in the past, a vegan option was just a veggie burger without the cheese, more recently a number of different restaurants and options have popped up, targeting the vegan market but also offering increasingly enticing, and exciting options that may appeal to the non-vegan consumer, such as myself, without going down the route of straight up meat-substitute products. One of these options is the pulled-jackfruit burger.

It was a particularly alarming moment when I saw Tim Lovejoy & Simon Rimmer sampling the burger on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. I knew right there and then that I was behind the mainstream, and had to get myself down to the closest pulled jackfruit proprietor. It just so happened that I was working in Clerkenwell that week, and just around the corner from The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker.

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The pub, nearer the Angel end of St John street has a tasty looking menu consisting of sandwiches and classic bar snacks. The main event for sure, though, is their burgers. Of the five burgers on offer, two are veggie, one, as I have already divulged I was there to sample was the pulled jackfruit, and the other veggie – the halloumi and kimchi burger – was equally as tempting as well. The burger comes with fries and slaw for a very reasonable £8. To accompany my burger lunch on that cold January lunchtime was half of Hobgoblin. I know, hipster burger, dad beer. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Sunday Brunch.

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I didn’t know what to expect from the burger itself but it was a lot fuller than I had imagined it to be. The chunks of jackfruit were virtually spilling out of the brioche bun. Biting into it I was confronted by a texture that I had never experienced before. Having never eaten pulled pork before I cannot make a direct comparison, but it was definitely similar to what I imagine it to be like. At the same time chewy and stringy, lathered in the sweet, sticky BBQ sauce synonymous with it’s meaty cousin. Personally, I’m not too big a fan of barbecue sauce, perhaps because I’ve always associated it with the smell of spare ribs and brisket. The unfamiliar flavour starting to feel more to my taste, safe in the knowledge I was consuming plant-based goods. Saying that though, I’ll hold my hand up – the meal was not completely vegan as the slaw had mayo in it, but could have also been easily missed.

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My own indifference to BBQ sauce aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into this new world of pulled jackfruit and other trendy vegan delights. As someone who has always been inclined to drag my feet when it comes to veganism, it is encouraging to know that tasty, alternative options like this are becoming the norm. And why not? There’s literally no harm in it.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 7/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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My Buns

Quite often one of the bad things said about London is that it is too expensive to live in. Rental prices are so high, that even if you can get a well paying job, you’ll never be able to save up enough money to afford to buy a house. It was this, in a roundabout sense, why I found myself on Wood Street in Walthamstow on a Saturday afternoon. You see, one of the side effects – positive, or not, depending on how you look at it – of the current housing situation is that people are being forced to look further and further out to find places to live – and I was meeting up with some friends who had done just that. Another side effect, is that with all these trendy, young Londoners moving out to the sticks, so too must exist the establishments that cater for the needs. Namely, pubs that sell craft beers and burgers such as the Duke E17.

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From the outside the Duke stands out, and literally stands apart, from the other establishments lining the Wood Street thoroughfare. Its a big, all black building that stands back from the road, with a massive mural on the adjacent building proclaiming that ‘It’s all good in the Wood!’. The interior is a lot more welcoming – a quite large restored pub, still with all its original wood panelling and big L-shaped bar. My Buns, the resident burger sellers, occupy the kitchen at the back and offer up a very tasty looking burger menu, consisting of a wapping twelve burgers, of which three are veggie (ONE QUARTER). The three veggie burgers cover all bases; a felafel patty (The Felafel), a mushroom burger (The Portobello), and a veggie patty (The Lazy Butcher) – I went for the latter. Possibly overly-excited by the size of the menu and all it’s extras (and a tiny bit tipsy off a few strong but crisp pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), I went for some extra blue cheese.

The burger itself certainly packed some bang for its buck. The large veggie patty was a deep-fried, breadcrumbed patty made mainly from courgette and served with lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and a house yogurt sauce. The burger was full of flavour, with courgette providing a texture and taste that I haven’t previously experienced when eating a veggie burger. The downside to this was that the burger fell apart far too easily when I started eating it, so I ended the meal – probably a bit too gleefully – licking blue cheese off my fingers. In regards to the cheese, it was definitely not needed and a mistake on my behalf, as I should have  seen that it already came with a yogurt sauce.

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Overall, despite the massive schlep out to it, what I found in the far away spot of East London left me more than satiated. It’s good to know that, should I ever have to move out of the centre, that there are options for beer-drinking, veggie burger lovers such as myself, provided by kitchens such as My Buns in pubs like The Duke. In a bittersweet twist however, the occasion that found me in E17 was actually a leaving do. My friends, who had found a reasonably priced place to live out that far were actually leaving London, to move to a bigger and cheaper property in Brighton. I guess a veggie burger blogger’s trip to Brighton is on the cards!

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 7.5/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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Tommi’s Burger Joint

Around Christmas time one’s appetite gets a little bit out of hand. The endless Christmas dinners, the ridiculous amount of boozing, and the general increase in the consumption of all things sweet, all add up to one big festive period of gluttony. With a friend coming to Town for our annual Christmas get together I thought I’d add my own touch to this yuletide gorging by having two burgers in the same day. The first burger I had was my Obama-dedicated burger at Kua Aina, the second – and originally the only one I had planned for the day – was at Tommi’s Burger Joint on Thayer street in Marylebone.

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I had been to the Burger Joint a few year’s back in my pre-blogging days and was enamoured by it’s no nonsense approach to serving up burgers. The location had changed since the last visit, but the feel was still the same. As you walk in there is a small queue of patrons ready to order at the till off the black board above. The menu is simple, with four burgers on offer, one veggie, which I duly went for as part of the ‘Offer of the Weekend’ (a special version of their ‘Offer of the Century’). A deal which includes burger, fries, and a bottle of Camden beer – all for £12.90. The trend is continued as you go to sit down, most of the seating is on industrial looking bar and stool set ups. It being a Friday night it was pretty full, with people sitting outside even in December, but my group of mates managed to find a 4 seater all to ourselves. One thing that Tommi’s does put a bit of fuss into though was the condiment bar. Right next to the collection point is a set of what must be well over thirty sauces and and extra burger fillings, which I rightly got stuck into in preparation of my burger.

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When the burger arrived (preceded by a ‘This is a veggie one yeah… just checking’ – people often assume me as non-vegetarian), it was as I remembered both proportion and flavour wise. The patty is veggie based, crispy and a bit spicy, inside a brioche bun with the standard fillings, and holds together pretty well. The additional cheese I got with it when I ordered was needed for my taste, as well as some gherkins which I got from the condiments counter. I couldn’t complain with the chips and the Camden Hells was as inoffensive as the rest of the meal.

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But that’s just the thing, whilst the no frills approach may appeal to eaters of beef, a veggie burger sometimes needs a bit innovation to separate itself from the norm. The burger was good, yes. But as I write this there is no overwhelming memory or emotion that I can recall from eating my burger. The place is cool, don’t get me wrong. Everything from the tunes playing, to the boardgames on offer, to the bearded, tattooed Icelandic burger chefs, makes it fun place to eat a burger on Friday night. All it needs is a slightly better veggie burger. Maybe I’ll leave it to one burger in a day the next time I consider doubling up.

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 6/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Travel Post: McDonald’s

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, this blog has taken a nosedive. Reviewing McDonald’s what’s he doing?? Yes, McDonald’s is not part of the burger revolution that our great capital is currently in the wave of, and yes, unless you’re feeling drunk, hungover, sorry for yourself, or skint you probably wouldn’t end up in Maccy’s for dinner, but this is a travel post! I was not in London, and not having dinner, but merely partaking in a cultural exercise where different cultures and cuisines clashed to make something potentially beautiful – I went to McDonald’s in India!

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Before I went to India I was excited more that usual, mainly due to my expectations of the vegetarian cuisine. In terms of vegetarianism, India really is the Holy Grail. With nearly half of the population – 500 million people –  vegetarian, and the majority of the rest not eating beef or pork, the likelihood was that more than anywhere I had ever been before in my life, India was going to be the place with the biggest and tastiest selection of vegetarian dishes for me to sample. But would this be the case across the board? Just after landing in Mumbai, I spotted a Burger King across the road from the main terminal building advertising it’s chicken-whopper, which posed the question: how do international fast-food beef burger brands adapt to such a veggie heavy market?

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It certainly wasn’t as easy to find an Indian McDonald’s in India as it is in London, surprisingly even in the downtown of a megalopolis like Mumbai. The branch in the the tourist area of Colaba (an area famous to most for being the setting for much of Gregory David Roberts’ epic Shantaram) was closed for refurbishment. Aside from that there was only one other branch in the south tip of the Mumbai peninsula, and that was opposite the majestic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building, which meant that we didn’t have to go too far out of the way on our day of sightseeing (one would argue that this was a sight in itself…). One thing you realise as you walk into a branch of McDonald’s in India is that the clientele is very different to what you would find over here. There were a lot of families, true, but also quite a big crowd of young professionals, and older middle class customers too. The biggest difference, as expected, was the menu! Of the eleven burgers on offer, a massive five were vegetarian (with the other six comprising of five chicken burgers and one fish burger), with even more veggie options available in the form of wraps. The best thing, though, were the names. Conspicuous in it’s absence was the Big Mac. The main burger that took it’s place was the brilliantly titled Maharaja Mac, available in both veg and chicken. Also available was the McSpicy Paneer, the McVeggie, and lastly – from the saver menu – the Aloo Tikki (40p). To try and sample as much as I could, I split a Maharaja Mac and a McSpicy Paneer with my mate, and got a McAloo on the side.

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Unfortunately, this is where the romance with the Indian McDonald’s started to fade. After getting past the momentous moment of having my first ever doubled tier burger, the two patties in the Maharaja Mac were very run-of-the-mill. The McAloo Tikki – a potato and pea burger designed to get in new customers with its cost, and by supposedly replicating the flavours you would get in typical Indian street food – was pretty flavourless reflecting it’s cost. Even the McSpicy Paneer (essentially a deep fried battered slab of cheese) wasn’t even spicy!

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Whilst the burgers disappointed, for the entire fortnight preceding my trip to McDonald’s my tastebuds were tantalised by an array of curries, dosas, and thalis of such variety and flavour that I could’ve happily eaten for the rest of my life. It was a shame that this wonderful Indian ability to spice and flavour their food had been lost – or at least dialled back a considerable deal – when it came to this collision of worlds. The lunch at McDonald’s was hands down the worst meal I had in the whole of India, but I don’t regret trying it one bit. For one, it gave an almost immediate comparison to the food I was eating whilst in India, allowing me to appreciate it even more, and secondly, it gave a glimpse (perhaps only in Beta mode) into some sort of utopian future where international fast-food conglomerates have to bow to the pressure of a majority vegetarian population. Hey, we can all dream, right?

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 4/10 (average)

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Kua ‘Aina

On the 8th November 2016, a shockwave was sent around the globe. The Republican, and outsider candidate, Donald Trump beat the Democrat nominee, and bookies’ favourite, Hillary Clinton in the race to become President of the United States of America. Trump was sworn in last week to end the eight year term of one of the world’s favourite Presidents, Barack Obama, a president elected (and re-elected) on a politics of hope and inclusivity – the polar opposite of the current incumbent. So, whilst the internet was celebrating his premiership with a number of quite frankly, excellent ‘best-moments’ montages, and Joe Biden memes, I tried to join in the only way I could, by eating a veggie burger. Where else then, than in a burger restaurant inspired by the archipelago of his birth, the state of Hawaii, called Kua ‘Aina just off Carnaby Street.

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Tenuous (if not topical) links aside, I was drawn to Kua ‘Aina in an attempt to sample a burger that had something different about it. A lot of the burger places in London are trying to outdo each other at the same game – the moody, minimal, meat-obsessed, hipster, don’t-care-but-actually-really-do vibe – but Kua ‘Aina takes a more unashamed approach. Walking into the kitsch, Hawaiian themed interior already adds an element of fun that you often don’t find in many burger joints. The menu of ‘lava-grilled’ burgers and sandwiches is brought over to you by waiters in Hawaiian shirts and has a whopping 21 different choices to choose from (three veggie, five fish). One of the veggie options was essentially salad in a bun though, so I had a straight choice between halloumi and red pepper, or a garlic butter infused portobello mushroom – I went for the latter, with a side of sweet potato fries. The real reason for the meal was because it was the last Friday of work in 2016, so to drink we sampled a few pitchers worth of the Hawaiian beers on draught from Kona Brewing Co.

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The burger itself was soft and juicy as advertised on the menu, the portobello mushroom(s) had been grilled just enough over the lava to keep their bite but also to burst with flavour as they were bitten into. It came in a ‘golden seeded bun’ – about halfway between a sesame and a brioche bun- which provided the best of both worlds. The whole thing was smaller than I was hoping, but satisfying nonetheless with the garlic butter adding an almost french, garlic mushroom feel to the ensemble.  The sweet potato fries were crunchy and the Big Wave golden pale ale was particularly delicious.

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Overall, my burger homage to Obama/end of year lunch at Kua ‘Aina was tasty and uplifting as it needed to be. One criticism would be that they had two clear veggie ‘burger’ options on the menu but neither were actually a genuine patty. Perhaps, a lot like Obama’s presidency, the main aims were achieved (in this case flavour and atmosphere), but if given some more time, and less resistance from the House of Congress (meat-eaters?) then maybe a truly unique Hawaiian veggie burger would have been achieved… with pineapple or something, I dunno.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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Number 90 Bar & Kitchen

There’s nothing like the cold depths of winter to prompt the need for a hearty burger to warm the cockles. Another great – but far less wholesome – reason is a hangover. So in the mindset of killing two birds with one stone I headed over to Hackney Wick to sample the menu at Number 90. Unfortunately when I arrived it became clear that they do not allow dogs in the restaurant, and I just so happened to be accompanied by, amongst others, my french bulldog, Amber. At this point you may wonder why we didn’t turn around, but a great effort had been made to get there, and Hackney Wick is a pretty desolate place, so we decided to persevere. Despite the protestations of the staff claiming how much they love dogs (one even showed us a life size tattoo of his boxer on his chest!), we were banished to the cold outside terrace, still a bit grimy from the night before with nothing but a couple of patio heaters and the Lea River for company. It seems like I’d missed that warming first bird, hopefully the second one would be successfully slain.

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To get the ball rolling I immediately ordered a Bloody Mary as I perused the burger menu. The burger section of the menu at Number 90 consists of five burgers, one veggie – the name of it caught my eye – the ‘Epic & Chunky Veggie Burger’, a patty consisting of a whole array of (presumably chunky) veggies such as sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, spuds and, on a bed of rocket, tomato and avocado mayo. To tie my meal together (not really) I went for some sweet potato fries. Also, with the Bloody Mary doing it’s job, I moved on to a probably-too-cold pint of Goose Island.

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When the burger came it was obvious that it’s creators had set it up for a fall, because ‘Epic’ it was certainly not (looks-wise anyway), in fact quite the opposite. The patty itself looked like it had been in the fryer for a bit too long, and the rocket had been replaced with some non-specific lettuce leaf. It did live up to the chunky part of it’s name however, with the sheer number of vegetables providing some good texture but was unfortunately lacking in taste, and also fell apart as I ate it.

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Unfortunately from the moment I saw the ‘no dogs allowed’ sign on the door, my hangover lunch at Number 90 was set up for a fall. Sitting in the cold was not what I wanted, and the burger I craved, despite great promise (from the name at least!), did not materialise. Impressive from the outside, and quite an impressive space within, Number 90 – like the rest of Hackney Wick – is probably better for a night out. I came with the mindset of killing two birds with one stone, but ended up missing them both. Maybe that’s why I’m a vegetarian.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

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