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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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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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