Essential Vegan

Every single week it seems a new outdoor food market pops up somewhere in London. It’s a sign of London’s insatiable appetite, both literally and figuratively, for food that these markets are attended so consistently. One thing I tend to notice about these places, however, is that their is a distinct lack of veggie burgers. Don’t get me wrong, the vegetarian options across any given food market will often outshine the selection of any restaurant, but when it comes to the burger vans their is a distinct lack thereof. One such market that isn’t lacking in this department is Pump Shoreditch. It’s located where the old petrol station used to be – hence the name. Amongst all the stalls serving a plethora of world cuisine is Essential Vegan, serving – you guessed it – vegan burgers!

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Now I don’t go out of my way to often to eat vegan, especially when it comes to burgers. Coincidentally, two out of the three burgers I ate at Glastonbury were vegan – but that’s just the vibe. Intrigued, I asked the guy serving me about what was going into my meal to help me through my experience; The patty, was gluten based, rather than soya. This, I was informed, was to give it a more meaty texture. It was served on a bed of almond milk vegan cheese which resembled thick honey spread on the base, and then was topped with a shop bought vegan mayo, as well as ketchup and mustard, all served with some lettuce inside a wholemeal bun. The experience was a bit strange, I have to say. The texture was, as described, meaty, but the flavour was all a bit confused. I feel that the need to put all the sauces in the bun was making up for something, because it seemed to be lacking a bit, it wasn’t particularly visually appealing either. It filled a hole at least.

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One thing I took from the burger at Essential Vegan was that it was trying to be something it wasn’t. One thing I feel veggie or, for that fact, vegan burgers don’t need to be is a meat substitute, and as this burger was described to me as being more meaty from the offset I was already dubious. Add the vegan ‘cheese’ and the egg-free mayo, and you have a whole lot of false things going on. A vegetable patty, served with salad and ketchup is equally as vegan, and probably a lot more tasty – what’s wrong with that? It might sound a bit hypocritical coming from a writer of a veggie burger blog but vegetarianism and being vegan doesn’t need to be an imitation of meat eating, it should be something wholly unique. So, whilst I was happy that I finally found a veggie burger van in a pop up market, I feel like my search is far from over.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

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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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Bleecker St. Burger

It’s getting cold this time of year, and the prospect of eating outside isn’t everyone’s ideal when it comes to lunchtime. One thing these wintery climes do crave are some strong flavours, especially some spice to cut through all that yuletide congestion. So naturally when I read that Bleecker St. Burgers put a spicy, east-asian twist on their veggie burger, I jumped at the prospect.

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The Bleecker St. veggie burger is the first soya burger I have tried for the sake of this blog, and the first out and out tofu burger I have had in a long while, if not ever. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike are skeptical of tofu. As an culinary entity it takes a lot of getting into. This is usually through a case of not knowing how to cook it, or having had a bad experience eating it, of which anyone who has, has. Those who have had a good tofu experience know two things; one, it has normally been fried to provide the best texture, and two, it is usually a conduit for flavour rather than having a distinct one of its own.

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Bleecker St’s burger did just this and I have to say it was a pleasant surprise. Their deep-fried tofu cuboid slice is taken straight out of the deep-fat frier, dunked into a bowl of their buffalo sauce – a sweet, tangy chilly sauce, enhancing the asian feel of their burger – and placed in a toasted sesame bun with american cheese and lettuce. It may have been the cold talking but a bit of mustard didn’t go amiss. The texture of the burger was the most notable aspect of it, the crispiness of the skin of tofu offset by the generally meaty nature of the body as a whole, absorbing all that spicy goodness as it’s bitten into. On the side, I had some ‘mixed fries’ – half sweet potato, half normal – an idea so novel, yet simple in its concept that I don’t know why more places don’t do it. To wash it all down I got a bottle of Bleeker St. Brew Iced-T Lemonade – another half-half concoction – which, although a very interesting and enjoyable drink, was a bit pricey at £3 a bottle.

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Overall I enjoyed my Bleecker St. burger. They claim to bring NYC style burgers to our London streets, but their veggie burger hails more from Kowloon than Manhattan with the flavours on show. For me, the jury’s still out when it comes to Tofu as a burger base. I’m just not sure as to whether it’s a truly innovative attempt at something new and different, or an easy meat-eaters take on what a vegetarian would eat. Ultimately though, the burger was tasty and, really, that’s all that matters.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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Dirty Burger

My brother is in town for a few days, down from his first term in uni up at Leeds, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone by catching up with him over a burger. I was looking forward to visiting Dirty Burger because it seems like a place that carries a no-frills vibe about it, but still presumably puts a lot of thought into their short-but-sweet food menu. The restaurant itself, just across the road form Boxpark by Shoreditch High Street station, is more of a take-away spot but they do have a bar running along the outside of the restaurant where you can sit.

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To give an idea of just how short the menu is, Dirty Burger only serves three burgers, of which one is vegetarian.  On the board, the veggie burger held no clues as to what it entailed so I was ordering blind. Unfortunately called the Dirty Cop Out (although I imagine whoever came up with that finds it hilarious) I tried as hard as I could to only refer to is as ‘the veggie burger’. My resistance proved futile, though, as the order was shouted back to the kitchen: ‘One cheeseburger and one Cop Out!’… ha ha. We decided to get one each of the crinkle cut fries and the onion fries – the only two sides availble.

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My first impression of the burger itself was that it was smaller that the usual. Also, just by looking at it I still couldn’t tell what it consisted of. The first thing I noticed was a disk of something hard and fried so I thought maybe a fritter, but on closer inspection (and a peak inside) I realise it was a mushroom covered in fried cheese! Taking a bite into it provided a surprisingly large burst of flavour for something so small. The cheese – smoked applewood – had been fried over and around the mushroom and it certainly packed a punch. A few slices of gherkin and a bunch of rocket were thrown in to counter the grease without much success, but the taste of the rocket worked well with the mushroom.

With the richness of the burger meaning I could only eat it at a bite a time before putting it back down, it was almost comical that the portion sizes and nature of the sides were how they were. Both the crinkle cut fries (double fried) and the onion fries (essentially, straight onion rings) were both delicious at first – especially the onion fries, which were made in a light batter and used red, rather than white, onions – but became harder and harder to face as we got through them. Coupled with the fact that my drink was a milkshake off the specials board (spiced apple and cinnamon – recommended), it quickly became one of the most calorific weekday lunches I’ve ever had.

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Simple, quick and flavoursome, Dirty Burger wasn’t too far away from what I imagined. However, my overriding memory of the experience was constantly having to grab another one of the many napkins they provided to wipe the grease off my fingers. As a lover of cheese, and to some extent grease, this was even a bit too much for me. I can picture it as the perfect late meal to catch on the way home after some afterwork drinks and the simplicity of the menu, and the layout of the restaurant, lends itself to that. Probably not the best spot for lunch then, especially for my poor little bro craving to catch up on his vitamin deficit whilst on his short break for student living.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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