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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Travel Post: Glastonbury Festival 2015

I love London, don’t get me wrong, but come the end of June there is one place where I wouldn’t rather be: traipsing around a farm in Somerset, along with 170,000 other revellers, seeing some of the world’s greatest artists and soaking up the vibes at Glastonbury Festival. Despite all the excitement that my second impending Glasto weekend had in store for me, whilst I was on the train down to Castle Cary, I was struck by another realisation about what makes the festival so great – the food! That many people need to be fed, and at Glastonbury they are fed well. The festival’s policy of only independent food vendors means that a general high quality of grub is on offer. On top of that, with the positively alternative nature of the Glastonbury festival-goer, there is a strong lean towards vegetarian (and even vegan-)friendly cuisine. A raver two-steps on his stomach and, with five days of partying ahead, I would need a fair few veggie burgers to get me through.

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The Park

With my first ever Wednesday night surprisingly reaching dawn (after earlier thinking the music would be over by midnight!), an afternoon on the hill above The Park munching on a tin of beans and veggie sausages (don’t judge me) before catching the preview of the excellent Amy documentary was much needed. The party restarted again, as well as my appetite, in Stonebridge bar with Mike Skinner in particularly good form reloading everything he and the Murkage DJs played, and led me to my first burger of the festival. Such an occasion as this required a visit to a British summer festival stalwart and a favourite of mine: Vegan & Vegetarian. Usually the prime spot to pick up a banging felafel in pitta, my attention was focused towards the burger menu, where one has the choice of either an ‘Organic Tofu’, a ‘Spicy Mexican’, or a ‘Traditional Veggie’ – I went for the latter. The Traditional Veggie – a soya based, meat substitute burger – is fairly ordinary in it’s appearance. It comes served in a wholemeal bun, with vegan mayo and packed with the leafy green salad synonymous with this particular stand. The flavour of the synthesised patty really comes through as succulent and juicy as I imagine the beef patty it’s trying to replicate would be. What really set it off was a massive dollop of hot pepper sauce which added some much needed contrast to the otherwise fairly straight ensemble. (6/10)

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The rest of Thursday night, and in fact the whole of Friday, flew by. Plans for a burger were made, but one minute I was standing at the Pyramid stage getting rained on whilst grooving to the soulful sounds of Alabama Shakes and the indomitable tones of Mary J. Blige, and the next I was at the Stone Circle watching the sun come up, reflecting on JESUS’s closing set at Shangri-La Heaven.

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The whirlwind nature of Friday meant the main agenda of Saturday was nutrition, and lots of it. A free vegetarian lunch curtesy of the Hare Kirshnas set me on my way but the evening meal meant a rendezvous at one of my favourites from last time around: The ‘Fresh Organic Veggie Burgers stall. This is a must stop for the veggie burger enthusiast. Located equidistantly between the Pyramid, Other and John Peel stages, it has a prime location and one that me and my mates met up at especially this year for a veggie burger reunion. What’s special about this stall is that they offer a ‘create your own’ experience, where you can combine one of their three homemade ‘mushroom magic’, ‘spicy bean’, or ‘balti burger’ patties with two of six special toppings. I went for the spicy bean, with a topping of vegan coleslaw and satay sauce. Again served in a wholemeal bun (no brioche here), and with a healthy serving of lettuce. The flavours from this burger cut through the dulled sensations that the festival had rendered on my taste buds. Equally fresh and rich at the same time the burger propped me up for the night to come with the nuttiness of the satay combining with the spiced patty brilliantly (9/10). They also do a scrummy thai tofu peanut curry for the less burger inclined. Just as well my belly was full because Saturday night proved to be one of the best periods of the festival, first seeing Skepta performing at his peak to a a rowdy crowd, before witnessing the ‘greatest living rockstar on the planet’ in the shape of Kanye West at the Pyramid Stage. Love him or hate him, he was definitely worth his slot as Saturday’s headliner, and managed to somehow hold the enormity of the Pyramid stage all by himself. Later, the killer combination of DJ EZ and ShyFX at Wow!, and – even later – Four Tet at Genosys, provided the other highlights of the night.

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Kanye West at the Pyramid Stage

Sunday arrives and by day five your running on fumes, but by this time the vibes are in full flow and everyone is at optimum festival mode. Lionel Richie set up the day perfectly with a set easy like the sunday afternoon it was on. With seemingly the majority of the acts I wanted to see performing on the Sunday there was barely time to fit in one more burger but I managed to find time between the sun-soaked Future Islands set on the Other Stage and FKA Twigs slot on West Holts. I went to ‘Gourmet Burgers’ for my last stop which had a fairly a simple burger menu selling four different burgers (Beef, Lamb, Pork & Felafel). Being a burger store I was expecting a felafel patty but instead, unfortunately, got given a white bap with a few felafel balls and salad in it, with garlic and sweet chilli sauce – a poor man’s felafel wrap (without the poor man’s prices). I took a bite and couldn’t have anymore. I don’t know whether it was my distaste for the burger or just my excitement for the night to come, but my appetite just wasn’t there, so I shared it out with my mates and got on with my night (2/10). It was a bit of downer as it was to be my last burger of the festival but all was forgotten once I got back to the music which culminated at the unparalleled drag-queen disco, NYC Downlow.

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When I left Glastonbury after my first visit two years ago, I left with feeling of general satisfaction. Not incredibly overawed by anything in particular, I had a feeling that they just managed to do everything slightly better than every other festival managed to. This time though I left with a feeling that I had experienced something truly special. Knowing my way around the festival better, experiencing new aspects that I hadn’t last time, and going a bit more with the flow probably also helped. The fact is, that from the wide-eyed first-timers to the weirdos, face-down in the Stone Circle at 10am, the festival is being enjoyed by all and is absolutely unique to itself in the amount of effort it puts in to making that happen. Whether it’s in the company of the people you love, or the new friends you’ve made, or even just enjoying the beautiful munch you’ve had along the way, Glastonbury is an experience like no other.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10 (Ave)

OVERALL RATING: 10/10

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Bleecker St. Burger

It’s getting cold this time of year, and the prospect of eating outside isn’t everyone’s ideal when it comes to lunchtime. One thing these wintery climes do crave are some strong flavours, especially some spice to cut through all that yuletide congestion. So naturally when I read that Bleecker St. Burgers put a spicy, east-asian twist on their veggie burger, I jumped at the prospect.

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The Bleecker St. veggie burger is the first soya burger I have tried for the sake of this blog, and the first out and out tofu burger I have had in a long while, if not ever. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike are skeptical of tofu. As an culinary entity it takes a lot of getting into. This is usually through a case of not knowing how to cook it, or having had a bad experience eating it, of which anyone who has, has. Those who have had a good tofu experience know two things; one, it has normally been fried to provide the best texture, and two, it is usually a conduit for flavour rather than having a distinct one of its own.

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Bleecker St’s burger did just this and I have to say it was a pleasant surprise. Their deep-fried tofu cuboid slice is taken straight out of the deep-fat frier, dunked into a bowl of their buffalo sauce – a sweet, tangy chilly sauce, enhancing the asian feel of their burger – and placed in a toasted sesame bun with american cheese and lettuce. It may have been the cold talking but a bit of mustard didn’t go amiss. The texture of the burger was the most notable aspect of it, the crispiness of the skin of tofu offset by the generally meaty nature of the body as a whole, absorbing all that spicy goodness as it’s bitten into. On the side, I had some ‘mixed fries’ – half sweet potato, half normal – an idea so novel, yet simple in its concept that I don’t know why more places don’t do it. To wash it all down I got a bottle of Bleeker St. Brew Iced-T Lemonade – another half-half concoction – which, although a very interesting and enjoyable drink, was a bit pricey at £3 a bottle.

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Overall I enjoyed my Bleecker St. burger. They claim to bring NYC style burgers to our London streets, but their veggie burger hails more from Kowloon than Manhattan with the flavours on show. For me, the jury’s still out when it comes to Tofu as a burger base. I’m just not sure as to whether it’s a truly innovative attempt at something new and different, or an easy meat-eaters take on what a vegetarian would eat. Ultimately though, the burger was tasty and, really, that’s all that matters.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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