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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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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Mooshies London

As people from London, and further afield, become more and more aware of the growing strains on the earth that meat and dairy consumption is having, the taste for plant based cuisine is higher than ever. An Independent article from last May even put the amount of vegans in the UK at 500k! Going even further than the trend of seeing more vegan burgers around, which I mentioned in my last post,  some places have gone the whole hog (for want of a better phrase!) and opened up completely vegan burger bars. At the start of the year, none had been more prevalent – on social media at least – than Mooshies.  The story promoted on their website is one which my prejudiced mind would happily project onto a lot of vegans: left the rat-race behind, travelled the world, and returned with a much more positive outlook on life and a will to change the world. The difference with this story is that, instead of the (again, my prejudices, sorry) holier-than-thou attitude that these round the world vegans have, the Mooshies owners have decided to use their newly found world view and instil some positive change, ergo, have set up a vegan burger restaurant so that vegans and veggies alike can still enjoy some good old – as they like to call it – cheat-day food.

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It was a Friday lunchtime when I found myself on Brick Lane, less of a cheat day, more of a treat day. Nestled right in amongst the main row of Bangladeshi curry houses, Mooshies has a fairly low key exterior, and it’s only on closer inspection that you realise it’s a burger bar. Inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was fairly busy, even on a weekday lunchtime. The menu had four burgers to choose from (all vegan, obviously), the three house burgers and one guest – a bhaji burger – in homage to the burger bar’s surroundings. I went for the Fillet-Om-Phish, a vegan take on a fish burger, mainly because I couldn’t look past the main ingredient – aubergine. The sides were interesting too, if a little pricey. With no straight up potato fries on offer, sweet potato fries are the main staple, and come either plain or ‘cheesy’.  I wanted to try something a bit different though, so went for the ‘chick P bites’. I chose to wash it all down with a bottle of Karma Cola to keep that good karma flowing.IMG_9639 2.jpg

The burger itself was pretty strange. As I hinted at before, the patty consisted of a breaded slice –  nay slab – of aubergine, topped with nori and vegan tartare sauce, on top of a bed of lettuce and vegan cheese. The aubergine had absorbed all the oil from the deep fat frier and was very greasy. Coupled with the nori and the tartare sauce it had an overriding sense of an oily fish burger – in part as intended, I realise – but a bit too real for me. The chick p bites – about halfway between a fried ball of houmous and a felafel – were tasty if not a little dry, and very filling.

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Unfortunately the main event let down what should’ve been an exciting first foray into the world of vegan burger bars for me. Perhaps what was incongruous with my taste was the need for the burger to taste like something else, in this case a fish burger. As a lifelong vegetarian I rarely, if ever, crave for something to taste like meat or fish but that is just my opinion. The redeeming factor, however, is that this was not the only burger on offer. The best thing about these veggie and vegan burger bars popping up all over town is that should we – those who are used to only having the one burger to try – not enjoy what is on offer the first time, we do not have to write that place off. We can return again, and again, and again.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

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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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