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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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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J.D. Wetherspoon

When I started this noble quest a few months ago there was never any remit which stated that I could only go to gourmet or trendy burger restaurants in the posher or hipper corners of London. No, the point of the blog is (*checks about this blog section*) to eat and review the veggie options in places that sell burgers, and compare to them in relation to what I know, namely other veggie burgers. Like it or not, Wetherspoon’s falls into that category and it is as much my duty to try out their veggie option as any of the ‘pulled-porkeries‘ or ‘meat-chiceries‘ (Matty, V., 2015) in Marylebone or Shoreditch. The chosen drinking hole in question was the Montagu Pyke on Charring Cross Road in Soho.

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The Pub, which backs onto Greek Street, is a former music venue and, due to its location, attracts a large crowd which leads to some sort of character and atmosphere not found at most Spoon’s. Also – presumably to due to its location in the heart of the West End – it has a much larger array of beers on tap than the usual spoons, and the prices, annoyingly, reflect that. The menu is much the same as you’ll come across in all other spoons – the burger menu split into classic and gourmet sections which, through various combinations, make up about nine different burgers. The only outwardly veggie options is the aptly named ‘vegetable burger’, but I decided since the difference in cost was negligible I needed to go gourmet. On closer inspection the Mexican burger – which comes with cheese, salsa, guac and fresh chili, as well as three onion rings in the bun(! – due to it’s gourmet moniker) – had the option of having the vegetable burger as its centrepiece.

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The veggie burger patty (after I removed it from it’s unappetising looking sesame bun – lent rules still in play) was crispy and flavoursome – it avoided the generic veggie burger taste that you might associate with your usual home-brand, out-of-the-packet variety – but certainly wasn’t smashing through any culinary boundaries. The guacamole, although perfectly smooth, along with the chilli added a zing which cut through all fried elements and the cheese, was pretty bog standard, but worked nonetheless. The smattering of lettuce and onion which the burger rested on, and the pot of salsa added some much needed freshness, and another layer of crunch.

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The thing about Wetherspoon’s is that you know what your getting. Cheap but edible food, straight out the freezer into the fryer and then onto your plate. You can walk into any Spoon’s in the country and be served the same meal. Yes, the guacamole was highlighter green and the consistency of tahini but that’s only a side effect of the amount of processes it’s been through, and yes, the cheese was perfectly square, but the bottom line – and the uncomfortable truth – is that I actually quite enjoyed my meal. What’s more is that it was so cheap. My burger including chips and pint of Brewdog lager (which I bought again after the burger for £4.25) came to £8.29! I will say this though; it’s probably the only burger you’ll eat that’s better without the bun.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Chosen Bun

Friday night footy. Three words that, whilst seemingly very appealing, happen not very often, and when they do it’s usually in the Championship, the second tier of English football. I went to university in Bournemouth (not much of a veggie burger scene down there!) and one of the lasting remnants of my three years on the south coast is a passing enthusiasm for the fortunes of AFC Bournemouth. Whenever I can see them, I try to, and an away match in Fulham with it’s easily attainable ‘mixed-zone’ tickets meant a Friday night in West London watching the footy and drinking expensive pints. A burger was needed, which brought me to Chosen Bun.

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Chosen Bun advertises itself as a burger restaurant that mainly delivers but has a order for collection service too. The menu boasts a decent array of six burgers, with one veggie option. ‘The Edemamy’ (named after a Chosen Bun chef, apparently) has an originally composed patty made of a mixture of mushrooms (chestnut and shitake) and edemame beans topped with a slice of mozzarella cheese, red onion chutney, and aioli. Each burger allows you to customise your burger with over twenty added options. I went for some added Jalapeño Relish and, trying to figure a way of eating my burger with no bun (due to my breadless lent), I opted for extra lettuce. From the list of sides I went for for the triple fried ‘Belgians’ (fries), although the breaded onion rings and even more delectable sounding ‘Mark and Cheese Bites’ sounded a bit more tempting – if not frustratingly off limits.

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Having ordered before I got on the tube for collection, by the time I arrived the burgers were ready. The woman who took our payment helpfully pointed out that the fries should have been included in the price of the burger, which was nice. Due to the fact that they normally deliver, the burgers came in very inventive packaging, obviously designed for transport. The burger itself (minus the bun) was delicious! The shredded mushroom – the shitake in particular – added a texture that I have never before experienced in a burger, a kind of chewy bite. The patty was a good size, nice and fat, and didn’t leave me wanting despite the lack of bun. Another thing the mushrooms provided was a moisture to the burger which – due to the beanie base – and meant the burger didn’t fall apart, even in my flimsily assembled lettuce package. A word out to the Belgians too. Chip shop chip size but with a beautifully crunchy, rosemary-salted exterior surrounding a delightfully fluffy middle. “These chips are outrageous”, proclaimed my mate Sam, understandably. I ordered a pot of Chipotle mayo which suited the chips perfectly and tied them into the rest of my meal.

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The Chosen Bun was a very pleasant surprise. Having literally never heard anything about it, taking a plunge into the unknown, away from some of the more prominent burger chains in the area, brought great rewards. As the burger scene has grown the restaurants with the best burgers have become chains so it has become increasingly more and more difficult to stumble across a one off store that sells truly tasty burgers, but Chosen Bun is one of them. I know for sure that next time I’m in Fulham catching the football, I’ll be sure to stop off, maybe have the bun this time along with some breaded sides. Oh, and Bournemouth won as it happens – 5-1.

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VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Travel Post: Zanzibar!

For the first few days of 2015 I found myself on the northern tip of the Island of Zanzibar, Tanzania, in the idyllic setting of the small, beach village of Kendwa. Kendwa, with it’s white sands and azure sea has become a popular travel destination over the years attracting a strange blend of wealthy Russian and Italian tourists, along with the usual mix of Western-European and Antipodean budget travellers. This latter group meant that veggie burgers were most definitely on the menu of the numerous restaurants that lined the sandy shore.

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After the amazing party at the beach of our hotel Kendwa Rocks, which brought in the New Year, the resulting hangover meant that I couldn’t look past the veggie burger on the hotel restaurant menu. Looks-wise it seemed exactly wanted I wanted, a big bun packed with fresh salad and goodness. Unfortunately though, much to my displeasure, the burger was below the standards of even the other distinctively average fare. The patty, which was akin to badly made bubble and squeak, was served in a weirdly sweet bun (a trait synonymous with all the bread served up at Kendwa Rocks) and the chips were too floury – not great for my hangover, and not a great first meal of 2015 either. My mood was lifted substantially, later on, by this though. 2/10

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The second day of the year brought another burger at the near by Essence, a slightly more high end restaurant also on Kendwa beach (the burger, subsequently, was the most expensive I had on the island coming to a whopping £4 …including fries!). The surroundings were a lot more pleasant and I certainly felt in better shape than the day before. When the burger turned up (second time lucky, after initially being brought it’s meaty counterpart) I was happy to not be disappointed like the burger I ate the day previous. The burger at Essence provided me with all the veg that I’d been craving over the previous 4 or so days on the island – aubergines, courgettes, gherkin – but that’s all it was, grilled vegetables. Melted cheese and an aioli sauce complimented the crispness of the veg, but the lack of anything to take command as the centrepiece of the burger meant it was a great sandwich rather than a good burger. The fries were delightfully light, and served with a very English-tasting ketchup – if that doesn’t sound too #britsabroad. 6.5/10

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January 3rd, and a third burger in three days meant that year had already been veggie burger consolidated. This third offering was at a restaurant called La Grande Luna – one of a bunch of Italian restaurants catering for the large contingent of Italians on the island. I had been there a couple of nights previous and the penne arrabiata was delicious. The burger however, was not. Although the patty itself – a blend of vegetables, tomato and mashed potato –  tasted good. It was let down by everything else though with the bun resembling – and having the consistency of – a savoury scone. The chips were of a quality similar to those at Kendwa Rocks, and the only thing that got me through it was an ice-cold bottle of the Tanzanian beer Ndovu. 1/10

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Really though I didn’t mind. The situation didn’t warrant good burgers. I think the fact that I found places selling veggie burgers in the first place forced my hand into buying them when I should have really eaten anything else. The fact that they weren’t great wasn’t really a surprise. The truth is that from all of these places you could hear the sound of the waves outside and, in the case of La Grande Luna, you could even feel the sand beneath your feet. There is good food on Zanzibar and good vegetarian food at that but, when you’re up on the northern tip of Zanzibar, steer clear of the veggie burgers, and just enjoy the beach.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 3/10 (AV. SCORE)

OVERALL RATING: 10/10 (AWAY FROM THE RESTAURANTS!)

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Travel Post: Hans Im Glück vs The Flying Shuttle

I have been out of London the past couple of weekends and thought I’d use it as an opportunity to try out the burger scene, both nationally (Suffolk) and internationally (Germany). The two burger eateries I visited are from completely different ends of the restaurant spectrum. The first one I visited was a place called Hans Im Glück (translated as Hans in Luck) in the German city of Cologne. I was over in Cologne for the christmas markets and read about Hans Im Glück in a New York Times article which describes them as serving ‘probably the best burgers on the continent‘ – I couldn’t miss out on that! The following weekend I was up in Suffolk for a different reason, but again a burger caught my eye. The Flying Shuttle in Haverhill – a Marston’s pub – serves a mac n cheese burger as their veggie burger. The only person I know who has tried anything similar is an American, when he was back in America, so this was another opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.

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Walking around in Cologne on the Sunday before the Christmas Markets started, I was shocked at how few places were open and how few people were out on the streets. Therefore, the first thing that struck me about Hans Im Glück was just how busy it was. The aforementioned NY Times article was 2 years old, and you can never really judge just how popular a place will still be – but it was. Very. Even for an early Sunday dinner the place was packed and we had to join a queue to wait for our table, luckily as the only group of two waiting, we got offered some seats quickly. The english menu was brought over and it soon became apparent that there were 10 different veggie burgers to choose from(!) Most, if not all, veggies will understand the excitement/panic this instilled in me as I actually had to make a choice – especially as I may never get to try another one, on another occasion. Out of the four different patties with different topping/flavour combinations I eventually settled on the Heuernte, a walnut patty with blue cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, in a sourdough bun.

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In Suffolk I was presented with no such issue as to what I was going to choose. The Flying Shuttle is one of those places where a party of four could each have a dinner from a different cuisine – my focus was solely on the burger section, there in bold letters – MAC AND CHEESE BURGER – which I ordered with a side of sweet potato fries.

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The burgers themselves were delicious. The Heurente‘s walnut patty was delightfully, subtly nutty and was of perfect consistency – moist enough to not get stuck under your tongue and dry enough to not break apart in your hands. It also felt like it had been pan-fried, rather than deep-fried, which is rare for a home-made veggie patty of any sort. The blue cheese and sun-dried tomatoes worked wonders with the late summer feel of the burger, and if you thought I was missing out on the usually trimmings, they were in there as well, just tucked away underneath. Surprisingly, the Mac and Cheese Burger held together pretty well also. What caught me off guard was how un-sickly it was. At no point during eating it did I think ‘wow, there is a novelty to this, but really it’s gross’. Not too cheesy, nor too liquid, the breadcrumbs giving it a veggie burger feel – I was pleasantly satiated. Sides-wise it’s pretty hard to go wrong with sweet potato fries, but the onion rings were cold by the time I ate them – not great.

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In Cologne, to wash the burger down, I had a cheap pint of Erdinger. Unfortunately I hadn’t grown accustomed to drinking the local Kölch from small glasses yet – as the locals do – but actually drinking Weissbier in Germany felt suitable enough. At The Flying Shuttle they had a few real ales on tap, I settled on the Marston’s own Pedigree Bitter.

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Honestly I think my burger at Hans In Glück was one of the best I’ve ever had, and it sets a benchmark for what a burger restaurant can do when it comes to a veggie burger. Although the menu looked a lot more clogged up than those of the american-style burger joints we have here in London, every burger that came out looked delicious. The Mac and Cheese burger, although also tasty, was a unique thing to try but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it again.

For a vegetarian, the Christmas markets in Cologne offer up surprisingly a lot of veggie fare amongst all the brätwurst and meat-on-a-stick. As flavoursome as the schupfnudeln and the flammekuechen were, the winner of my German foodie sejour – and this international battle of the burgers – was the Heurente at Hans Im Glück.

COLOGNE

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 9/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

HAVERHILL

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 6/10