Vegan grazing in London
I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to London with Mark for work (his, not mine). In 9 days we moved house 6 times, travelled approximately 16 hours in cabs or on trains and went to bed drunk 7 times. To say I am in tatters in an understatement. How I lived there for 8 years I don’t know…I must have had superpowers back then because I can’t take the pace. Also, it doesn’t help that our London friends attempt to assassinate us under the guise of fun every time we see them (you know who you are, don’t deny it!).
So it was with great relish and immense relief that we touched down at Cape Town airport on Sunday…seriously, I almost cried. To sleep in my own bed and drive 5 minutes to work on Monday morning – I swear, universe, I will never complain about my little slice of life again.
One of the great revelations in amongst all the mayhem was the awesome vegan street food London has to offer. Outside of national treasures fish & chips and bangers & mash, the UK isn’t really known for its cuisine (I am the master of the understatement today). Kebabs at 3am do not count. Conversely, there has been a vegan explosion in the capital in recent years, so I know there’s a huge market for fresh, creative vegan options. What I didn’t know was whether London restaurants had stepped up to meet demand.
Overall it was a bit of a mixed bag – many restaurants have one or two vegan options, but this doesn’t mean they’re any good. Some are average, some are downright heinous (pub culture, I’m looking at you) and some, like the street food pop ups in hipster bars, have aced it. Here are a few vegan delights that we enjoyed on our travels.
Jackfruit burgers at Biff’s Jack Shack
Jackfruit is SO trending right now, and clever Biff came up with the idea of a vegan fast food place using deep fried jackfruit in a variety of ways. They make juicy jackfruit burgers, crispy jackfruit ‘wings’ (there’s even a sugarcane bone for an authentic experience, I kid you not) and fries topped with delicacies like blue ‘cheese’ and homemade ‘bacon’ jam. With taglines like ‘filthy AF vegan junk food’ and ‘it’s still 1 of your 5-a-day when fried’ they’re not your usual healthy vegan wholefood joint.
Verdict: from never having tasted this much talked about vegan version of ‘pulled pork’, jackfruit burgers are now my new favourite thing.
Jackfruit curry with veggie gyoza at Giraffe
Giraffe is a commercial restaurant chain along the lines of Mugg & Bean except with pretty average food. It is, however, great for kids, so I joined my friend Lizann for a quick lunch in between baby naps. This was the first time that I tasted jackfruit and it started our love affair. The curry itself was ok – I could certainly make more with what I was given….but it taught me another way to use jackfruit and served as excellent inspiration.
Verdict: like an Oreo cookie, this looks appetising but you end up disappointed (back off, I hate Oreos). Still, it was a revelation after being curious about jackfruit for so long, so I enjoyed it more than I might have otherwise.
Avo smash on sourdough toast at Riding Cafe
Ok so in terms of vegan breakfasts this is not exactly progressive, but when is avo on toast not good? Things I never ever thought I’d hear myself say. We lived on this for a week…we had it for breakfast every day, we had it for dinner when we were too lazy/drunk to cook, we had it as a snack. So when I went for brunch with an old friend, it made sense to keep the continuity going!
Verdict: avo, goooood, toast, goooood.
Kimchi from Penhaligon’s Pickles
My friends Arthur and Andrea have set up an incredible business making homemade vegan products including kimchi, pickles and hummus. Quick refresher: kimchi is made from fermented, seasoned vegetables and is fantastic for aiding digestion and promoting good gut health. I’ve always liked it, but after tasting theirs I can say I have fallen in love. If there was a direct postal order to SA, I would be their number one customer.
Verdict: ace – check them out here and pop into their market stall if you’re ever in London.
A veritable vegan feast at Elinor & Mark’s
Better than many restaurants and made with all the love, this is why we keep our friends around even when they try to kill us! Elinor – with a little help from Mark – pulled off a 3 course vegan meal that was honestly 5 star quality. It was so good in fact, that I’m going to share the full recipe in a later post with all the pics, but in the meantime here’s a small taster of what was cooking.
Verdict: we’d like to go stay with them again so I’m obliged to give it the ultimate praise…luckily it was worth every accolade.
Photo creds: Main & #1 – Biff’s Jack Shack