Temple of Seitan

This month my girlfriend and I have decided to try being vegan. Having just recently come back from Vietnam, it was a real eye opener for us to see just how easy (and delicious) it is to eat vegan. Vegetarian food in a lot of Asia is essentially vegan, bar the odd egg dish, and the word for vegetarian in Vietnamese, chay, is interchangeable with vegan. One of the veggie/vegan meals we had whilst we were out there was a bowl of Pho (eaten in Vietnam for breakfast) which had a few tasty chunks of vegan beef and chicken in it, in the process reminding me how Asia tends to be streets ahead with that kind of stuff. The UK is catching up though, with a number of establishments popping up offering very inventive, and believable, meat substitute foods. One of the most successful is the vegan fried chicken shop, just of Mare Street in Hackney, called Temple of Seitan.

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As someone who has never eaten fried chicken before in their life, it was an exciting first for me. In the name of fairness, however, I decided to go with my mate Cecil, a born-again vegetarian and previous fried chicken connoisseur, to provide another perspective. The restaurant is set up for take-aways with only a few seats outside. On the specific day we went it happened to be pouring down with rain, which was just as well as normally, when passing by, there is a queue reaching right along the vast, stepped Morning Lane pavement. The menu is pretty simple, offering a fairly standard chicken shop menu (if a lot more tastefully laid out…), the difference being that everything, including the Mac N Cheez, is vegan. Whilst the option of a two piece was temping, to stay true to the blog, I went for the Temple Burger and fries.

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The burger itself was very tasty for what it was, essentially some deep fried wheat gluten in a bit of bread, but the ‘chicken’ had a good chewy texture to it, the crunchy deep-fried nature of it offset by a big lettuce leaf and a mix of vegan mayo and some Siracha (NB, on a total side-note, I found out this morning that Siracha mayo is vegan!), the latter was Cec’s addition. Also hidden in there was some vegan cheese, which added noting, and a slice or two of facon. This had an instantly nostalgic effect, harking back to the veggie ham slices that my dad used to whack in my sandwiches for packed lunch when he was in a rush to make them. The fries were nice too, but maybe a bit overpriced at £3, the chicken shop aesthetic is definitely not continued in the price! As for the alternate, used-to-eat-real-chicken perspective I promised earlier, here’s what Cec had to say: “It doesn’t taste like chicken, at least not how I remember chicken tasting – it’s been a long time – but it still tastes good! The other good thing about it is that I’m not racked with guilt eating it.”

It’s that second point there that has recently changed my perspective on substitute meat. I used to think: if you’re going veggie, eat veggies! But for a lot of people, the reason they change isn’t necessarily because they don’t like the taste, or the idea, of eating meat. Many people choose vegetarianism or veganism because of other factors, but still like to eat things that they used to when they weren’t veggie, such as burgers, sausages, and fried chicken! As long as people want to contribute to a better planet, either through animal welfare or environmental reasons then who cares if they’re eating ‘fake’ meat. In this sense the Temple of Hackney is a doing great things by giving people that option of a tasty plant-based alternative to fried chicken. It’s certainly won me over.

Update: In writing this blog, I got hungry and decided to go back and grab some vegan chicken. The fries are no longer £3 (now a more reasonable £2, there is also a +£2 fries and drink meal deal), and the menu has a few more things to try than listed in the above photo.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Number 90 Bar & Kitchen

There’s nothing like the cold depths of winter to prompt the need for a hearty burger to warm the cockles. Another great – but far less wholesome – reason is a hangover. So in the mindset of killing two birds with one stone I headed over to Hackney Wick to sample the menu at Number 90. Unfortunately when I arrived it became clear that they do not allow dogs in the restaurant, and I just so happened to be accompanied by, amongst others, my french bulldog, Amber. At this point you may wonder why we didn’t turn around, but a great effort had been made to get there, and Hackney Wick is a pretty desolate place, so we decided to persevere. Despite the protestations of the staff claiming how much they love dogs (one even showed us a life size tattoo of his boxer on his chest!), we were banished to the cold outside terrace, still a bit grimy from the night before with nothing but a couple of patio heaters and the Lea River for company. It seems like I’d missed that warming first bird, hopefully the second one would be successfully slain.

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To get the ball rolling I immediately ordered a Bloody Mary as I perused the burger menu. The burger section of the menu at Number 90 consists of five burgers, one veggie – the name of it caught my eye – the ‘Epic & Chunky Veggie Burger’, a patty consisting of a whole array of (presumably chunky) veggies such as sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, spuds and, on a bed of rocket, tomato and avocado mayo. To tie my meal together (not really) I went for some sweet potato fries. Also, with the Bloody Mary doing it’s job, I moved on to a probably-too-cold pint of Goose Island.

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When the burger came it was obvious that it’s creators had set it up for a fall, because ‘Epic’ it was certainly not (looks-wise anyway), in fact quite the opposite. The patty itself looked like it had been in the fryer for a bit too long, and the rocket had been replaced with some non-specific lettuce leaf. It did live up to the chunky part of it’s name however, with the sheer number of vegetables providing some good texture but was unfortunately lacking in taste, and also fell apart as I ate it.

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Unfortunately from the moment I saw the ‘no dogs allowed’ sign on the door, my hangover lunch at Number 90 was set up for a fall. Sitting in the cold was not what I wanted, and the burger I craved, despite great promise (from the name at least!), did not materialise. Impressive from the outside, and quite an impressive space within, Number 90 – like the rest of Hackney Wick – is probably better for a night out. I came with the mindset of killing two birds with one stone, but ended up missing them both. Maybe that’s why I’m a vegetarian.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

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Stories

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

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

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

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

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

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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East Twenty Bar & Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

(All that said – not bad for £20!)

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

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The Diner

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

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

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

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

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10  

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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The Advisory

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

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

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

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

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VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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Yeah! Burger

For what is my last burger (probably!) before Christmas, I decided to finally get over to The Star by Hackney Downs to sample the Yeah! Burger special festive menu while there was still a chance before they moved residency. As luck had it, the day my friend and I decided to go just so happened to be Yeah! Burger’s own farewell Christmas party. So some fun was there to be had, with 2-4-1 cocktails, free sliders, and DJs spinning out some tunes throughout the evening.

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With the promise of trays and trays of free sliders being brought out soon, my mate and I decided to go for a couple of sides as appetisers. We shared a plate of special chilli chestnut brussels sprouts as well as a portion of Yeah! fries off the normal, non-festive menu. Those who aren’t a fan of brussels sprouts on their Christmas table would be swiftly converted by this dish, both nutty and spicy in equally subtle measures, with the sprouts fried to give them a crunchy edge and take away from their inherently mushy nature. The Yeah! fries were also easily devoured – slathered in ‘Yeah! sauce’ (essentially burger sauce) – and fried onions. With both of us being vegetarians though and none of the trays of veggie sliders on the horizon it became apparent that we would have to try the full-size burger.

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The Holy Mary – Yeah! Burger’s veggie christmas option – consists of a few chunks of celery granola-topped, slow-roasted beetroot on top a fat slice of baked camembert and lettuce, inside a brioche bun, finished with a fine mist of Negroni spayed over the burger on serving. For inventiveness, this burger scores 10/10. Inside the bun were some flavours, and flavour combinations that I’ve never tried before, let alone inside a burger. For me, though, the burger was lacking smething. Perhaps there wasn’t enough cheese, although my friend’s burger probably had too much cheese and was breaking apart. The reality was that the burger – for want of a better phrase – was just not meaty enough. The beetroot and cheese would have worked great on top of a christmas  flavoured patty to bite into. Everything in the burger worked, and worked together – the celery granola, for example, was delicious – but in the end the burger just needed something more.

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Ultimately, though, I enjoyed my evening. Aided by the 2-4-1 deal on cocktails, me and my mate made our way through the list of celebrity-named drinks whilst the music got better and better – we were even plied with a free glass of rum punch. To cap it all off the the tray of veggie sliders finally came out and we got to try the miniature version of the burger we had already eaten. The additional mini round of burgers, coupled with the extra sides we also ordered, meant that a fun time was had, and it certainly was a great way to cap off the festive burger season. The Christmas menu may be over for now, but I’ll definitely be trying out Yeah! Burger at their new residency at The Star of Kings and look forward to what they’ll be coming up with in the new year.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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