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 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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