The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker

I might be a bit late to the party, but in 2017 vegan has gone big. Food bloggers and Instagram accounts may have been hash-tagging vegan for a while as far as I know, but my real gauge is the veggie burger scene. Whilst, in the past, a vegan option was just a veggie burger without the cheese, more recently a number of different restaurants and options have popped up, targeting the vegan market but also offering increasingly enticing, and exciting options that may appeal to the non-vegan consumer, such as myself, without going down the route of straight up meat-substitute products. One of these options is the pulled-jackfruit burger.

It was a particularly alarming moment when I saw Tim Lovejoy & Simon Rimmer sampling the burger on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. I knew right there and then that I was behind the mainstream, and had to get myself down to the closest pulled jackfruit proprietor. It just so happened that I was working in Clerkenwell that week, and just around the corner from The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker.

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The pub, nearer the Angel end of St John street has a tasty looking menu consisting of sandwiches and classic bar snacks. The main event for sure, though, is their burgers. Of the five burgers on offer, two are veggie, one, as I have already divulged I was there to sample was the pulled jackfruit, and the other veggie – the halloumi and kimchi burger – was equally as tempting as well. The burger comes with fries and slaw for a very reasonable £8. To accompany my burger lunch on that cold January lunchtime was half of Hobgoblin. I know, hipster burger, dad beer. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Sunday Brunch.

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I didn’t know what to expect from the burger itself but it was a lot fuller than I had imagined it to be. The chunks of jackfruit were virtually spilling out of the brioche bun. Biting into it I was confronted by a texture that I had never experienced before. Having never eaten pulled pork before I cannot make a direct comparison, but it was definitely similar to what I imagine it to be like. At the same time chewy and stringy, lathered in the sweet, sticky BBQ sauce synonymous with it’s meaty cousin. Personally, I’m not too big a fan of barbecue sauce, perhaps because I’ve always associated it with the smell of spare ribs and brisket. The unfamiliar flavour starting to feel more to my taste, safe in the knowledge I was consuming plant-based goods. Saying that though, I’ll hold my hand up – the meal was not completely vegan as the slaw had mayo in it, but could have also been easily missed.

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My own indifference to BBQ sauce aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into this new world of pulled jackfruit and other trendy vegan delights. As someone who has always been inclined to drag my feet when it comes to veganism, it is encouraging to know that tasty, alternative options like this are becoming the norm. And why not? There’s literally no harm in it.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 7/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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My Buns

Quite often one of the bad things said about London is that it is too expensive to live in. Rental prices are so high, that even if you can get a well paying job, you’ll never be able to save up enough money to afford to buy a house. It was this, in a roundabout sense, why I found myself on Wood Street in Walthamstow on a Saturday afternoon. You see, one of the side effects – positive, or not, depending on how you look at it – of the current housing situation is that people are being forced to look further and further out to find places to live – and I was meeting up with some friends who had done just that. Another side effect, is that with all these trendy, young Londoners moving out to the sticks, so too must exist the establishments that cater for the needs. Namely, pubs that sell craft beers and burgers such as the Duke E17.

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From the outside the Duke stands out, and literally stands apart, from the other establishments lining the Wood Street thoroughfare. Its a big, all black building that stands back from the road, with a massive mural on the adjacent building proclaiming that ‘It’s all good in the Wood!’. The interior is a lot more welcoming – a quite large restored pub, still with all its original wood panelling and big L-shaped bar. My Buns, the resident burger sellers, occupy the kitchen at the back and offer up a very tasty looking burger menu, consisting of a wapping twelve burgers, of which three are veggie (ONE QUARTER). The three veggie burgers cover all bases; a felafel patty (The Felafel), a mushroom burger (The Portobello), and a veggie patty (The Lazy Butcher) – I went for the latter. Possibly overly-excited by the size of the menu and all it’s extras (and a tiny bit tipsy off a few strong but crisp pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), I went for some extra blue cheese.

The burger itself certainly packed some bang for its buck. The large veggie patty was a deep-fried, breadcrumbed patty made mainly from courgette and served with lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and a house yogurt sauce. The burger was full of flavour, with courgette providing a texture and taste that I haven’t previously experienced when eating a veggie burger. The downside to this was that the burger fell apart far too easily when I started eating it, so I ended the meal – probably a bit too gleefully – licking blue cheese off my fingers. In regards to the cheese, it was definitely not needed and a mistake on my behalf, as I should have  seen that it already came with a yogurt sauce.

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Overall, despite the massive schlep out to it, what I found in the far away spot of East London left me more than satiated. It’s good to know that, should I ever have to move out of the centre, that there are options for beer-drinking, veggie burger lovers such as myself, provided by kitchens such as My Buns in pubs like The Duke. In a bittersweet twist however, the occasion that found me in E17 was actually a leaving do. My friends, who had found a reasonably priced place to live out that far were actually leaving London, to move to a bigger and cheaper property in Brighton. I guess a veggie burger blogger’s trip to Brighton is on the cards!

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 7.5/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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The Island Queen

So, a new year has arrived and what have we to show for it? An empty pocket, a full-stomach, and a hangover that just doesn’t want to go away, no matter how dry our Januaries are. The fact is, December always lives up to being the massive blow out that it threatens to be, and I, for one, always try and grab the bull by the horns. One thing I was looking forward to this year – having been writing this blog for just over a year now – was the onrush of Christmas burgers. It quickly became apparent though, after reading list, after list, of the capital’s meaty Christmas offerings, that there was to be no veggie Christmas. After a (I admit) slightly half-hearted campaign on Twitter to find out if any of the big burger chains were going to be offering a #VegXmas option, it turned out that only Honest offered a veg option (swapping the veg fritter in for the beef in the Christmas burger). Aside from that, it was only Yeah Burger (where I went for my Christmas burger in 2014) that offered a legitimate vegetarian Christmas option, and they actually had 2! It slowly dawned on me that Christmas wasn’t to be celebrated with burgers as a vegetarian, for this year at least. Luckily, however, I had something else to celebrate! December marked a year of living with my girlfriend Rach, so we went for a drink to celebrate at one of our favourite local pubs. And eat a burger.

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The Island Queen, located on one of the backstreets just east of Angel Islington is a nice little pub, one of a cluster of pubs in the area where you’re sure to hear the hubbub of the pub against the relative silence of the residential streets before you actually stumble across the place itself, especially in the summer months. In the winter the big bar and high ceilings paradoxically provide a cosy atmosphere to while away a few hours on dark, chilly evenings. On Wednesdays, the pub offers a burger, chips, onion rings, and a drink for £9! (I did mention it was a low key celebration, right?). I decided on a pint of Doombar, along with the menu’s only veggie option – the lentil & spinach burger.

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The burger looked tasty enough. When I picked it up, though, it proceeded to fall apart quite rapidly. One of the problems I’ve always had with lentil burgers, no matter how tasty, is that they only seem to be held together by the fact that they are deep-fried. This facade will hold together when delicately placed within a bun, but as soon as any pressure is placed on it – namely between finger and thumb – it will come apart before your very eyes. With this in mind I took a bite out of it far too quickly, for as soon as the my teeth clamped down I felt the scolding-hot, lentilly middle stick to the roof of my mouth. Unfortunately, this put a downer on the rest of my meal but I did take some positives: one, the flavour of the actual patty (what I could taste above the pain, anyway) was genuinely very flavoursome, also the meal was very, very good value for money. My last moan, though (I promise!), is that I have never understood houmous as a sauce or ‘lubricant’. Don’t get me wrong, I love houmous, but normally it just provides another drying element to the ensemble. And for some reason it is always served with lentil burgers (and felafel burgers, naturally).

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Whilst the Island Queen will still stay as one of my favourite pubs, I can think of a few better places to get a burger and a beer, although maybe not at a better price! It was a nice evening regardless, and the pub lets you bring dogs so little Amber came along with us too. Alas, with the Christmas burgers disappointing in general – I did get round to trying out a few – December was to be a bit of a let-down month for me and burgers.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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Homeburger

Recently, a group of friends and I decided that we should enter a 6-a-side league in North London on Thursday night. Despite initial grumblings that Thursday might be a difficult night to fulfil (Thursday is the new Friday, after-all) we went ahead with it. Unfortunately, twelve weeks – and eight defeats – later, the team is no more, as we were barely able to make a team on any given week. One positive, though, is that I found a new burger joint. Browsing twitter one evening on my way to footy I stumbled across a few hashtags going around talking about one thing: #NationalHamburgerDay. To be honest, this sent me into a bit of a panic, I had been caught off-guard. Supposedly flying the flag for the veggie burger on the burger review circuit and I can’t even make plans to go for a burger on #NationalHamburgerDay – even though it might only have been said day in the states. As I was playing footy, how could I get my hands on a burger on burger day? Luckily for me, teammates of mine had sampled a burger joint near where we play. I was to have my Burger Day burger after all, from Homeburger.

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As we settled down in The Lamb on Holloway Road, with seemingly everybody around us tucking into their own form of takeaway dinner, it wasn’t long before we had ordered online on our phones and our food was on it’s way. Homeburger is a home delivery or collection service (the clue’s in the name) so we got ours ordered to the pub about 100m down the road! The menu has eight burgers, one veggie (although as I write this it doesn’t currently appear on the menu page on the website) – called the Greenhouse, listed on the website as containing BBQ mushrooms, cheddar & American cheese, and fried onions. I shared a portion of the aptly, if not unnecessarily, named Homefries and Homeslaw for sides. The burger itself was a really, really pleasant surprise. Having resigned my self to another mushroom burger, I was in fact presented with a patty containing mushrooms, but also filled with lentils and fried onions, on a bed of lettuce and tomato. The smokiness of the barbecue mushrooms and the sweetness of the fried onions offset eachother perfectly, while the lentils added the bulk of the patty and gave it some bite. The combo of the two cheeses topping the patty added to the menagerie of favours that littered this surprise package. The triple cooked Homefries were also a delight, whilst the Homeslaw might have been better replaced by Mac Shack and Cheese or some buttermilk battered Onion Shards.

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I was very happy to stumble across Homeburger as it exceeded my expectations in every way. Not only is it rare to find a decent independent burger place out of the conventional burger hubs of London, the fact that it resides on a fairly innocuous part of Holloway road is even more impressive. What pleased me more is that I wasn’t disappointed on #NationalHamburgerDay despite my late awareness to it. The fact that Homeburger delivers – and something must be said for the quality of their packaging – allowed me to partake in three of my favourite activities: playing football, going to the pub, and eating veggie burgers! Whilst the fate of our team on a Thursday night was ultimately doomed, Homeburger left me with something to savour, literally.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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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