Byron

In the first post I ever wrote on this blog I reviewed a mushroom burger with the caveat that I’m not usually a fan of the patty being replaced with a mushroom as I felt that it was a bit of a ‘cop-out’. Although the burger I had that night turned out to be delicious, the burger that led me to have those views was the ‘shroom burger I had had so many times at Byron. It was not the quality of the burger itself that I had issues with, but the fact that such a prominent burger chain could not – in my opinion – be bothered to come up with their own version of a veggie patty. When I found out however via twitter that Byron now did a bean burger I had to go and check it out. One thing Byron does well is great initiatives. The main reason I’ve sampled the mushroom burger at Byron is because they were giving them away to people participating in Movember, which I participated in a couple of years ago. This Summer, Byron did ‘Summer at Byron’ meaning every Thursday they offered some sort of treat, be it beer or bourbon, which culminated in August with buy-one-burger-get-one-free every week throughout the month. This was the final shove – an opportunity to review another one of the big hitters – at their Farringdon restaurant – couldn’t be missed.

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Settling in for our BOGOF deal the first thing I noticed was the difference between the Bean Burger and the Mushroom burger – namely that there wasn’t one. The list of extra ingredients is exactly the same between both burgers with the exception that the mushroom comes with goats cheese (the best addition IMO). I therefore opted to get the bean burger with extra blue cheese. For sides we went shared a portion of regular and courgette fries between the table – it was a weeknight after-all – and to drink I went for a bottle of Founders All Day IPA, resisting the urge to go for one of the tempting hard shakes.

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The burger itself looked like a very healthy looking bean burger, good size, served in a ‘big, squishy bun’ (as they like to call it) with the usual trimmings that I remember from my Byron Mushroom burger days. Biting into was a different result altogether, however. The burgers crispy looking facade gave way to a mushy and dry patty – falling into the trap of many bean-burgers before it. Aside from that the ensemble was great tasting and fresh, but not really enough to raise it above the Mushroom burger in my estimations. One of the best things about it was the added cheese which left me wondering why they omitted from the burger in the first instance, when it takes pride and place in the Mushroom burger anyway. Maybe this is to create a more vegan-friendly option? I don’t know. Sides-wise, the courgette fries were crunchy and juicy inside a light batter, and the beer was cold and crisp to cut through all the deep-fried elements of the meal.

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I have found when asking people what they think of Byron that their opinions are quite polarised, but in reality it’s harmless. Although the burgers are not necessarily the best out there, they are always trying new things, and supporting good initiatives (take, for example, their current One Feeds Two scheme that has been so popular, I mean, 25p burgers…). The problem with all the chopping and changing though is that they’re failing to hone in and finesse on their main burgers. I got notified later on twitter that you can actually switch up patties within the different burger arrangements – adding to my point. If a bit more focus was put into making the burgers that they already do, great, then they could really become the best burger chain in town. I might have had gripes with only the Mushroom burger available, but I’d definitely take one really good veggie burger over two average ones.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING 7/10

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Big Easy

Despite the fact that quite a few of my friends are vegetarians, the reality is that most – as is the way of the world – are not. What this leads to is on certain social events, for example a friend’s birthday, plans for dinner may be made at not the most enticing places for a vegetarian to go. Some might say that they even are the antithesis of what one would want, but being the good vegetarian friend you are, you grit your teeth and bare it. Never have I not gone to a friend’s birthday because the menu was too meaty – I did once not get invited to one of my best mate’s birthdays because he was going to an Argentinian steak restaurant, but that’s another story for another day – but an invite to Big Easy brought me close. A visit to a lobster and steak restaurant stinking to high-heaven of barbecue sauce is not my ideal, but luckily, after an extensive search of the online menu, I spotted it – the little (v) – alongside the veggie burger.

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The Spicy Black Bean Burger, which comes with chips and slaw included in the price, fits in to the theme of the restaurant in terms of size, if not on the flavours supposedly on show alone. The burger, as a construction, was huge – a thick, crispy bean burger with whole black beans punctuating the patty. The massive burger is dwarfed in comparison by it’s bun, big and bready, both combining to make more than a handful. To round off the ensemble and complete the tenuous link to the southern-US themed, rest of the menu, there is a relatively tiny bit of avocado, pickles and chipotle mayo. Unfortunately the burger wasn’t very moist. The sheer size of it meant that the regular fate of the bean burger (good texture but ultimately too dry) was amplified. The disproportionate amount of other fillings compared to the gigantic bun only accentuated this effect. Whilst the chips and the slaw were tasty in their own right it was, ironically, the aforementioned barbecue sauce that saved the burger, both in flavour and moistness.

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Whilst I would normally avoid places like this like the plague – they sometimes feel like a (obviously inadvertedly) massive F-you to my vegetarianism – I will keep going to them if invited. The atmosphere of the restaurant was cool, and it was packed out for a Sunday evening, all the diners there to enjoy the experience as well as the food. The unfortunate truth is that the world has not quite fully opened it’s arms to vegetarianism. And whilst I feel that Big Easy has done well enough to include one veggie option on their menu, it barely scratches the surface in terms of the amount of effort they have put into the rest of their menu. It doesn’t matter though, because as long as I have friends who eat meat, I will come, and as long as they serve veggie burgers, I will come.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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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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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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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

Red Dog Saloon

Lent has arrived and, although I’m not religious, I see it as an opportunity to diet within an achievable yet challenging timeframe but without having to sheepishly explain why. This year I have given up… no, not burgers, but quite closely linked to that, bread – which you can see clearly affecting my burger eating patterns. I imagine waiting staff at burger restaurants across London thinking ‘what’s the point?’ when I order a ‘naked’ veggie burger. Anyway, I digress. On Shrove Tuesday, with a bread-less forty days on the horizon, I decided it was time to get in one more bunned burger. The honour was bestowed upon Red Dog Saloon.

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Red Dog Saloon on Hoxton Square was my first experience of the ‘brew-n-cue’ cuisine that took over the capital about 6 or 7 years back and, as someone who was raised in a veggie household, it was the first time I had ever heard about pulled-pork. With a very meaty menu you may not think it the ideal stop off for the vegetarian but nestled in the burger list of the menu, you can spot the quite-appetising sounding Spicy-Bean burger. A younger me, with my eyes opened to a new culture, used to find this burger up there with one of my favourites. It was now time to see whether the veggie burger was up to scratch. Because I’d been there before, and was getting the burger on a solo trip I decided to get the burger on collection. Calling up, I was directed to order from their sister restaurant, Red Dog Sandwiches’ website. For some reason they don’t sell the Spicy Bean burger next door so I called back up, where I got an apology as they took my order. With an evening of pancakes in mind, I went for the Wedge Salad (with blue cheese dressing…) as a side.

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I collected my order and went across to the sun-soaked Hoxton Square to enjoy my alfresco lunch. The burger was slightly different to what I remember it looking like. Quite a lot of mayo was on show and I feared that the all the ingredients that made it so appealing before had been left by the wayside. On the first bite however, all my fears evaporated. What the 5-bean and quinoa patty is deliciously moist and well spiced, and is contrasted perfectly with the bed of guac and crunchy gherkin and jalapeño. My initial fear of the mayo overpowering everything else was also banished as it added yet another layer of juiciness to a flavour-packed burger. The salad, on opening, was a bit disappointing as it was 8 quarter chunks of baby-gem lettuce with a little pot of the blue cheese dressing. I wasn’t complaining though as I munched through the crunchy wedges once they had been dressed – the right balance of fresh and cheesy.

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Red Dog Saloon didn’t disappoint. As one of the first burger restaurants that emerged in the now burger-saturated Hoxton/Shoreditch area, Red Dog has stuck to its guns and kept true to its Tex-Mex barbecue theme. Although the menu is overtly meaty, they haven’t shied away from providing a decent vegetarian option. Red Dog was initially one of my favourite burgers in London and I have to say, on this evidence, that isn’t going change anytime soon.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Back in the LDN and in search once more of a proper burger so I decided to head to one of the stalwarts of the burger game – Gourmet Burger Kitchen. GBK has been around for as long as I remember and their name is synonymous with the success of UK burger restaurants. Boasting over 60 restaurants across the UK (with a fair few of those in London) I found myself at the branch in the O2. There is a sense amongst the burger going folk that although GBK has been around since the beginning, it has been left behind by the new wave of tastier, trendier burgers on the scene. I had to see whether that was the case with the veggie burger.

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The menu strikes you as different from the norm just due to the sheer number of options on the menu. The vegetarian section boasts four different burgers with three different base fillings, but when you take into account that you can switch out any meat patty from any of the other options with a pan fried bean patty then the amount of veggie options increases four-fold. I went for the Californian, the slightly more alternative option of the two bean-patty choices in the veggie section, along with the fries, the blue-cheese ‘slaw and a coke.

The burger at first glimpse looked pretty impressive. A neat-looking, bean patty topped with cheese and smashed avocado – as well as all the usual trimmings – in a toasted sesame bun. The first bite gives the biggest impression of the burger and, unfortunately for this one, my first impression was one of dryness. Even the avocado and the smoked chili mayo failed to add any real moisture, with the cheese not even melted. On the flip-side, the real killer ingredient was the house relish that packed the most punch of the whole meal, and really was the most enjoyable thing in the burger itself. The fries were delightfully thin, and vindicated my decision not to get my usual favourite sweet potato fries, but the ‘slaw just wasn’t cheesy enough.

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The trouble with GBK seems to me that they are going off their outdated reputation alone. It is down to the fact that they have been around the longest, and are the most visible burger chain on the high street, that they can keep going. What this means, however, is that there is an inkling of a reluctance to remain fresh and keep up with the times. The way you have to order and pay up-front at the counter in such a big restaurant with so many staff seems like an old gimmick – and means that ultimately the friendly and helpful staff will often miss out on tips. Also, to use the example of the bean patty (the veggie patty that they offer to swap in in every other combination), to serving something so dry for your main veggie burger when you’ve been around for the best part of 15 years shows that there’s very little being thought about and updated in the kitchen. I can’t speak for the beef or chicken burgers but in these times when burger restaurants are a dime-a-dozen you need to evolve or become extinct.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4.5/10

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 5/10

Nando’s

Quite often, at one of the places I work, we go to Nando’s for lunch – which I am a big fan of. You may think it strange for a vegetarian to enjoy going to a speciality chicken restaurant, but then the same could be said for my enjoyment of visiting burger joints. The reason for this is my great appreciation for the Nando’s Veggie burger, one of three vegetarian options on the menu. For this visit though (mainly for the sake of this blog) I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and try the Beanie burger.

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Nando’s used to have a neat little slogan on the veggie section of their menu that read ‘We love vegetarians – all of our chickens were vegetarian!’. Meant facetiously at best, this was a bit of an insensitive dig at the veggie section of the population, especially as their chickens never see the outside and are dead within six weeks – clearly not a lot of love shown there.

Anyway, I digress. The burger – as is often the case with vegetarian fast food – was last to come out of all the food in our party. I ordered it with Peri-Peri chips, and both the burger and chips were separately brought to me, and taken back and different times. The patty looked very artificially formed and resembled a cheap burger-shaped veggie glamorgan sausage that you would get with a fry-up at a greasy spoon. It is probably one of the worst bean burgers I’ve ever had.

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The extra cheese I ordered hadn’t melted and the lettuce and tomato looked like it was from the bottom of the bag. Even the portuguese bun that I normally love somehow seemed unsatisfactory. On top of all that, the peri-peri fries gave me heartburn (although that could have also been the three glasses of coke that I had with it…).

I do like Nando’s, honest. It’s just that this time it wasn’t very enjoyable. Moral of the story: When it comes to places like this, stick to what you know and love, and you won’t be disappointed.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 2/10

OVERALL RATING: 3/10