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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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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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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Stories

One of the benefits of living so close to Broadway Market is that I regularly get to sample the delights (veggie burgers included!) on offer whenever my fancy takes it, each Saturday. What many won’t realise is that the market street also boasts a number of cafés and restaurants offering up tasty grub throughout the week. One such place is Stories. Nestled about halfway up the street, on the righthand side if coming up from the Regents Canal, it offers a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere during the day, and then becomes a bit more lively in the evenings, with DJs playing and an extensive cocktail list. I was there on a lazy Friday lunchtime though, freelance/unemployed, and ready to ease myself into the weekend.

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Stories is taken over by a theme from time to time and the theme on this particular occasion was a south pacific vibe. Palms and hula skirts hung from the ceiling somehow matching the large graphic prints, from the month’s monthly collection adorning the walls. All the chairs are wide and inviting you to recline. Even the few dogs dotted throughout the bar (mine included) seemed to be completely stretched out and relaxed. Stories kitchen runs two menus concurrently, one brunch – serving up anything from a full english to heuvos rancheros – and the other burgers. Of the six burgers, one is veggie (also one fish), the marinated halloumi burger. All the burgers come with a side of triple cooked chips and, as it was Friday, I went for a pint of Crate Pale Ale to accompany my meal.

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The burger itself contained probably the biggest chunks of halloumi that I’d ever seen served as part of a plate of food – we’re probably talking a whole block’s worth – and this was probably with the intention of making the halloumi patty-esque. These massive slaps of halloumi were served on a slice of roasted aubergine, my guess marinaded in the same marinade as the halloumi on top a big slice tomato and fresh lettuce in a brioche bun. As I picked the burger up the juices of the cheese and the aubergine literally oozed out as I gripped the bun in my hand. The juicy experience continued as I bit in, as the aforementioned ooze was cut into by the fresh tomato and tangy relish. If anything though, the halloumi was cut a little too thick and suffered a bit from that squeakiness you can sometimes get from a fat cut of the stuff, but the bulk of it did make for a good patty substitute. The chips too were a little on the large side and could have been cooked a bit longer. They were also a bit few on the plate.

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Chips being a bit hard or not, the chilled out atmosphere meant a lunchtime spent in Stories was always going to be an enjoyable one. With the tunes playing and the pint of Crate going down a treat it felt more like a Sunday than a Friday. Regardless, I look forward to spending a few more lazy afternoons here, made all the more enjoyable by the possibility of burgers.

Stories shut down about a week after my visit. It is survived by its sister establishments The Book Club and Queen of Hoxton, both in Shoreditch.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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The Veggie Table

The big news in my life recently is that Rach and I have bought a puppy. She’s a 4-month-old French Bulldog named Amber, and she’s gorgeous. Before this little, furry bundle of joy came into our lives though, we had to get our doggy fix by heading down to Broadway Market on a Saturday morning and marvel at the array of Frenchies, Pugs and Pomeranians on leashes weaving through the crowds of trendy East Londoners sampling the wide variety of market food fare. Now, don’t get me wrong, Broadway Market has a lot going for it aside from the dogs. Stalls selling a menagerie of different cuisines of street food – anything from Malaysian curries to veggie scotch eggs – leave me with my mouth watering every time I head there on a Saturday afternoon. Up until recently though, there was a stall that stood out but that I hadn’t sampled. The Veggie Table, serving up a simple menu of two kinds of veggie burgers, always appealed to me, but most of the time I visit broadway market, it is in search of a midmorning snack. This time I was in search of lunch so there would be no bypassing it on this occasion.

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The two burgers The Veggie Table has on offer are the ‘Heavenly Halloumi Burger’ and the vegan ‘Sweet Potato Chickpea Burger’, both of which you can either have in a wholemeal bun or ‘On a leaf’ (for the carb-conscious). The only side on offer is a mixed salad. Even though the simple menu seemingly made my decision easier, it was still one more option than I’m used too so I read what the queue in front of me was going with and went for the Heavenly Halloumi, and – based on the advice given to me by the helpful staff – I went for extra toppings of onion jam and salsa. Because it was only £3 extra, and I was feeling inspired by this healthy burger experience – I decided to go with the side salad too.

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The burger itself was joyfully fresh, full of crunchy veggies in both the patty – carrot and beetroot – and the salad inside the bun. The patty was flavoursome, the saltiness of the halloumi balancing the earthy flavours surrounding it. The sweetness of the red onion jam and the spiciness of the salsa complemented each-other and meant that not one tastebud on my tongue was left out. The seeded, wholemeal bun was a interesting switch-up to the usual brioche or sesame bun and worked perfectly with the healthy, crisp nature of the burger. The salad on the other hand was ok – two of the three salads in one form or another were incorporated in the burger – and could could probably have been missed.

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The Veggie Table is a great place to grab a veggie burger on a Saturday lunchtime. Now with one more reason to grab a bite to eat and sit on the wall by the mouth of London Fields, this time with my own dog, there’s plenty of reasons to stop by. In amongst the stalls selling a wide variety of artisanal foodstuffs they rightly take their place in the market and I will be sure to stop off there again some weekend in the future.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Essential Vegan

Every single week it seems a new outdoor food market pops up somewhere in London. It’s a sign of London’s insatiable appetite, both literally and figuratively, for food that these markets are attended so consistently. One thing I tend to notice about these places, however, is that their is a distinct lack of veggie burgers. Don’t get me wrong, the vegetarian options across any given food market will often outshine the selection of any restaurant, but when it comes to the burger vans their is a distinct lack thereof. One such market that isn’t lacking in this department is Pump Shoreditch. It’s located where the old petrol station used to be – hence the name. Amongst all the stalls serving a plethora of world cuisine is Essential Vegan, serving – you guessed it – vegan burgers!

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Now I don’t go out of my way to often to eat vegan, especially when it comes to burgers. Coincidentally, two out of the three burgers I ate at Glastonbury were vegan – but that’s just the vibe. Intrigued, I asked the guy serving me about what was going into my meal to help me through my experience; The patty, was gluten based, rather than soya. This, I was informed, was to give it a more meaty texture. It was served on a bed of almond milk vegan cheese which resembled thick honey spread on the base, and then was topped with a shop bought vegan mayo, as well as ketchup and mustard, all served with some lettuce inside a wholemeal bun. The experience was a bit strange, I have to say. The texture was, as described, meaty, but the flavour was all a bit confused. I feel that the need to put all the sauces in the bun was making up for something, because it seemed to be lacking a bit, it wasn’t particularly visually appealing either. It filled a hole at least.

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One thing I took from the burger at Essential Vegan was that it was trying to be something it wasn’t. One thing I feel veggie or, for that fact, vegan burgers don’t need to be is a meat substitute, and as this burger was described to me as being more meaty from the offset I was already dubious. Add the vegan ‘cheese’ and the egg-free mayo, and you have a whole lot of false things going on. A vegetable patty, served with salad and ketchup is equally as vegan, and probably a lot more tasty – what’s wrong with that? It might sound a bit hypocritical coming from a writer of a veggie burger blog but vegetarianism and being vegan doesn’t need to be an imitation of meat eating, it should be something wholly unique. So, whilst I was happy that I finally found a veggie burger van in a pop up market, I feel like my search is far from over.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

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East Twenty Bar & Kitchen

I’ve discovered recently that a good way to sample some of the capital’s finer delights for less is to sign up to Time Out offers. Occasionally amongst all the ads for discount yoga classes and west-end shows, an advert pops up for some sort of culinary experience. One that caught my eye recently was a discounted rate to go up Britain’s tallest sculpture and recent addition to East London’s skyline – the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower in the Olympic Park. Always one of for a view, the deal was sweetened much more for me with the ticket price – £20 down from £30 – including a burger and drink at the East Twenty restaurant:

You’ll get the chance to drink in one of the best views in the capital and, with an additional option of a delicious burger and a pint at the East Twenty Bar and Kitchen, you can wash it all down with a nice bit of scoff too.

I could just imagine sitting a top the tower with the whole of London beneath me tucking into a lovely burger and a pint, all for £20! This was an offer that couldn’t be missed.

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Once you actually get up the tower and realise you’re actually miles away from anything apart from the rest of the Olympic site, Victoria Park and the rest of the low-rise sprawl of East London, the second thing you think is: ‘Where is the restaurant?’ to which the answer is ‘Next to the ticket office’. After coming back down to earth in both a metaphorical and physical sense I was then confronted with the less than appealing looking restaurant which fits into the tourist attraction canteen genre at first glance. On closer inspection, though, you notice that menu is actually quite appetising and the veggie burger seems well thought out. Included as part of my ticket, the decision was made easy for me. I opted for a pint of Peroni to go with my veggie burger and fries.

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When the burger came I was pleasantly surprised. The bean burger was massive, served in a toasted sesame bun on a bed of all the usual trimmings and topped with avocado and a tangy relish (chipotle jam). The whole thing barely fit in my hand, but was impressive to look at, to say the least. When I bit into it, my initial reaction was that of a very standard bean burger – a bit on the dry side, under-seasoned – but then flavours that I’m not used to, and – quite frankly – rather enjoyed, started coming through – namely sweetcorn. Even with these new flavours, though, the size of the burger meant that I had become bored of it by the end of the meal. Whilst the Peroni helped me wash it down, my surroundings meant I didn’t really want to hang around.

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On paper (or specifically, email), this seemed like a great way to spend the afternoon. Whether I was mis-sold, didn’t understand the ad properly, or was merely blinded by my excitement at the idea of a attraction-cum-burger offer, I don’t know. What I do know is that ultimately I felt let down. Even if the restaurant was – as it happened – not up the tower, the experience could’ve been saved by a great burger in a welcoming environment. As it was, the disappointments just kept coming – from the view from the tower, right down to the burger – and I was ultimately happy to head back west(-ish).

(All that said – not bad for £20!)

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

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The Diner

Dalston, with all it’s hipster bars, vintage boutiques and nightclubs under corner-shops, is a blank place on the map for me when it comes to burger tasting. It’s not that there’s a dearth of gourmet burger joints in the area, it’s just that with Shoreditch being such a powerhouse of the London burger scene, Dalston gets left in it’s shadow. The question was: of Dalston’s numerous burger restaurants, which one to sample first? With a few independent restaurants, and kitchens in residence smattered around the place, it was actually the one chain restaurant that I decided to hit up first – the Diner (if only because it’s the first one you come across when walking up Kingsland Road from the south…).

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There’s a growing trend in the cooler retail and food establishments around these days that you’ve either got to feel like a club or look like a brothel. The Diner – from the outside at least – falls into the latter category. Once you get inside it’s a slightly more minimal vibe with big red bunkettes and exposed brick. As you sit down the first thing you’re presented with is a mind-bogglingly big beer menu, all overpriced and none on tap. Another disappointment was that my old favourite – the spicy bean burger, a burger I used to enjoy immensely when the diner first opened up a few years back – is no longer on the menu. What I did like, though, was that now there are now two different veggie burgers on the menu (out of 12), so I opted for the mushroom burger over the halloumi. For sides, Rach and I shared a portion ‘hanger fries’ (chips with fried onion, cheese and burger sauce), and some onion rings.

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The Mushroom Burger, served in a bun with aioli, swiss cheese, red peppers and basil, looked neat enough when it turned up. When I first bit into it, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. The combination of the garlicky aioli, fresh basil leaves and the jarred red pepper added a mediterranean twist to the already juicy and crispy breaded mushroom. At first glance I thought the burger might’ve been too small, but it turned out to be just the perfect amount. Just as well because the sides were indulgent, to say the least. The onion rings were delightfully crisp, big and full of big onion slices, but not at all soggy. The hanger fries were smothered in cheese and sauce and the crispy onion bits only added to the literally, and necessarily, finger-licking experience.

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The Diner may look like a bit of a dive from the outside, and maybe they have to ham up their already stylised decor for the Dalston store, but when it comes to the food they really deliver. The menu is big, the beer menu even bigger, but the burger menu stands out. If you’re going to Dalston and fancy a veggie burger but aren’t sure as to which of the small burger spots you want to sample, then a stop off at the Diner might not be such a bad shout after all.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10  

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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The Advisory

The Easter weekend brought a momentous occasion for the relationship of my girlfriend Rach, and I, as finally after over two years together our parents finally met. Another momentous occasion for the both of us, and one which I was slightly more looking forward too was the end of lent and with it, the end of our bread sabbatical. Keen to show Rach’s parents a piece of the local culture, we decided to have our meal at one of Hackney’s many burger joints causing a stir – specifically The Advisory – on Mare street. The Advisory first peaked my interest when I saw it on a list of Time Out’s best burgers in London, but I’d never had a chance to try it out – until now.

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The Advisory’s location on Mare Street is fairly unassuming, away from the main hub around Hackney Town Hall and nearer London Fields station, nestled amongst a few other restaurants and pubs. The restaurant itself is fairly small and, as a result, it’s probably wise to book in advance, which we did. Before we turned our attention to the food menu we had to decide on some drinks. Aside from the beer and wine menu, you are presented with a cocktail menu, and a list of alcoholic shakes. The Vanilla White Russian immediately caught my eye.  A chance to have one of my favourite cocktails in an even more indulgent form, was to good to pass up on. I went for the one veggie option the menu – the sweet potato, halloumi and avocado burger – whilst ignoring the spicy bean burger on the specials menu and, due to their being six of us, went for a selection of the sides including poutine, fries, onion rings, and mac and cauliflower cheese.

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When the burger arrived my first thought was: ‘have we ordered too much?’. This was one of the biggest burgers I have even been served. The fat homemade sweet potato patty with a thick slice of grilled halloumi and a few slices of avocado (as well as the other burger filling usuals) inside a thick brioche bun was certainly something to behold. With my plate filled with sides – minus the poutine, which sadly was made with a meaty gravy – it was time to get stuck in. The patty actually didn’t offer much resistance against my mouth, with the halloumi and gherkin offering a little. What this meant – also partly due to its sheer size – was that the whole thing kind of fell apart in my hand. Flavour-wise the burger was pretty tasty, the sweet potato delicately spiced, with a mixture of seeds and herbs running through, adding a bit more depth to the patty. In terms of sides, the onion rings where made in delightfully light batter, whilst my favourite – hands down – was the mac and cauliflower cheese, if not a bit gluttonous.

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Our family get-together meal was ultimately a success, parent and food-wise. The advisory didn’t quite live up to it’s top burger moniker but it’s certainly not anything to be scoffed at. My dad is a vegetarian too, and he went for the spicy bean burger special, but I think I made the right decision. The end-of-lent-nature may have got to me a bit making me go slightly overboard with food. In fact, I was probably even full by the time the food arrived, having necked half of my deliciously boozy – yet very filling – milkshake. In the end I had to sacrifice something and ironically, after more than a month of craving it, I took the bun off my burger and left the bread on the side as I polished off the finer elements on my plate. There’s always next time, eh?

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VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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