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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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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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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Mildred’s

Half days are great. If you only work the afternoon, then you get a lie-in. If you only work the morning, you get a free afternoon. A free afternoon is made all the better when a couple of your mates who also have a free afternoon, are just around the corner, and the weather is warm and welcoming. To top it all off they fancied a burger at the new Mildred’s by Kings Cross, and it just happened to be #NationalBurgerDay.

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Weirdly enough. I am not much of a fan of vegetarian restaurants. Growing up in a world of restaurants providing one, maybe two, vegetarian options I have become accustomed to the lack of choice. Also (not naming any names) I have found that the food on offer is just not as good as the vegetarian option would be in a great restaurant. Therefore, having never been to Mildred’s, I was intrigued, I had heard good reviews from both vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends and, finding myself there on NBD, meant I had to try sample one of their strengths – the burgers!

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The very non-showy menu offers up a mix of salads, small and large plates, as well the burgers of which there are three. As it was my first time I felt I had to go for the ‘Classic’ – which boasted a tantalising blend of smoked tofu, lentil and piquillo peppers – over the other two options: the ‘Polish’, made of beetroot, and another filled with halloumi and aubergine [NB the first two burgers are available as vegan too!]. I again went with my trusty side choice of potato fries, that came with a choice of basil mayo or chipotle ketchup (we managed to get both for the table), as well as bottle of Black Isle Goldeneye organic pale ale.

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The burger itself was a sight for sore eyes (and empty stomachs!). A massive patty on a bed of red onions, oozing with relish and melted cheese, and topped with tomato and rocket inside focaccia bun. All of which could barely fit in my hand. The burger did break apart as I bit into it, but what it lacked in structure, in made up for in flavour. The tofu/lentil/pepper patty was both smokey and spicy and the combination of mayo, cheese, tons of relish and peppery rocket meant that not a single tastebud was left unaccounted for. Even the focaccia bun offered something different from the usual brioche or sesame bun. On top of that, the sweet potato fries were not the standard, more akin to sweet potato wedges, and therefore gave me a real taste of juicy sweet potato flesh with every bite, complimented lovelily by the two sides on offer. The pièce de résistance was the Goldeneye organic pale, which was refreshing and crisp, went great with the burger and fries, and also kicked off what turned out to be a relatively boozy afternoon in the sun.

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Overall, my lunch at Mildred’s was great. Having put it off for so long due to my sometimes unfounded dislike for veggie restaurants, I was pleased to have finally made it there to try out one of their signature burgers on none other than #NationalBurgerDay itself. I won’t have to thin twice about going again, probably to try another one of their delicious burgers!

[Mildred’s also have a rather tasty Christmas Menu available at the mo!]

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 9/10

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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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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