WHICH VEGAN BURGER IS BEST?

Man, I can’t move for vegan alternatives these days. I work in the food and drink industry so am often at exhibitions in the UK and Europe. Walking around these trade shows last year was pretty interesting and there was plenty of mention of vegan this and that, but in 2019 it’s exploded. There’s just so much choice all of a sudden.

In the abundance of new meat-a-likes there’s always going to be some winners and some, well, not-so-winners. So I’ve decided to give my two cents on which vegan burgers I think are the best.

I’ve purposely chosen this bunch to talk about because they’re the most similar to meat burgers; my theory being that makes them more approachable for you if you’re not vegan. I could talk about the best quinoa and kale burger (it’s this one) but I reckon that’d be over-veganing it. Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

Moving Mountains vegan burger
Moving Mountains – 5/5

The burgers from Moving Mountains are insanely good. Hands down, the best vegan patties I’ve tasted. But don’t expect to rush out and buy them at your local shop anytime soon; they’re only available through caterers and restaurants like Ed’s Easy Diner and Harvester.

Seriously though, these are so good I’m considering a starting a business account with my local cash and carry and buying a box of 20. Anyone else fancy a five-pounder burger?

I’ve just remembered that I should technically have called this blog, ‘Which Vegan Disc Is Best?’. If you haven’t seen the power of the meat industry and it’s lobbyists, have a look here. Unfortunately this article was posted just three days too late to be an April Fool’s prank. This is, sadly, 100% real and 100% pathetic. Anyway, back to Vegetable Cylinders.

Linda McCartney Pulled Pork vegan burger
Linda McCartney Pulled Pork – 3/5

Good ol’ Linda. You can always rely on the McCartneys for good music and good meat-free food. It seems you can buy the brand in most stores now and that’s a great gauge for measuring how popular veggie and vegan diets have become.

For this review, I chose the Pulled Pork burger from their fairly massive range. It’s a pretty safe bet and I’d pick them up again if they were my only option, but they’re on the salty side for me.

The Meatless Farm Co. vegan burger
The Meatless Farm Co. – 2/5

I spoke to someone from The Meatless Farm Co. recently and was told they’re keen to avoid the word vegan because it ‘puts people off’. A small part of me wants to be offended but you know what? They’re probably right.

We’re not all V60-drinking, Toms-wearing, hipster vegan dirtbags (might be talking about just myself there) and to assume everyone accepts and isn’t put off by the word ‘vegan’ would be a mistake. The sad fact is that ‘vegan’ is often wrongly associated with flavourless, formless food.

I can see this changing in the future with the amount of fantastic alternatives coming out, but actually the Meatless Farms burger doesn’t taste that great and it’s more than a little too crumbly for me. Perhaps avoiding the word ‘vegan’ is best for everyone.

Quorn Hot & Spicy vegan burger
Quorn Hot & Spicy Burger – 3/5

The Quorn Hot & Spicy Burger is a bready, white meat alternative that, like Ronseal, is exactly what it claims to be. Hot and spicy. And Quorn. And a burger. It’s not winning any awards for it’s appearance; it’s firmly in the Beige Brigade and wouldn’t be amiss on the Ugly Vegan Insta. But for taste and texture, it’s a great choice. I mean, if it’s good enough for The Mobot, it’s good enough for me.

I’d like to see more vegan options from Quorn – it seems they’re lagging behind Linda and pals on plant-based options. On a related note, what are your thoughts on vegetarian brands bringing out new veggie options? To me, it seems fairly counter-productive now that vegan food tech is so advanced.

I mean, if you’re vegetarian, you’ll eat vegan food right? But it doesn’t work the other way, so why not just develop new vegan food instead? Setting aside the environmental and ethical benefits, does it not make good business sense too? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Iceland No Bull vegan burger
Iceland No Bull – 4/5

Who would have thought that Iceland would be up there with the top innovators in free-from? (That’s the Iceland full of freezers, not the island full of geysers). But here we are, in a world where they’re leading the way with their meat free range, ditching plastic, and leading the charge against palm oil.

Or at least they’re claiming to be but actually employing some pretty shady tactics to dodge their commitments. Iceland, your heart is in the right place and you’re miles ahead in some areas, but please don’t try to mislead the public with a technicality.

If you haven’t tried Iceland’s No Bull burger, you should. It’s got a great texture, great taste, and only narrowly loses out to the aforementioned Moving Mountains burger.

There are dozens more contenders I haven’t got around to trying yet, so maybe there’s an even better burger out there. If you think there is, let me know in the comments below. Now, I’m off to build that five pounder burger…

Images by Moving Mountains; Linda McCartney Foods; The Meatless Farms Co; Quorn; Iceland Foods

EATING VEGAN AT CENTER PARCS

A few years ago I went to Robin Hood’s hangout, Sherwood Forest, to the secret hideaway in the woods known as Center Parcs. I hadn’t been back since I contracted veganism but last week, I found myself back among the geese and the pines.

I’m pleased to say that on the whole, it’s pretty welcoming for those following a plant-based diet. These are my tips for having a vegantastic time at Center Parcs.

Lots of avocados from above

Bring the essentials

The good thing about Center Parcs is that each bungalow / lodge / tree house has a full kitchen, so unlike a hotel, you can at least cook to a good standard at ‘home’.

If you’ve travelled light and not brought food with you, head to the onsite supermarket, Parc Market. It’s pretty basic but they’ve got a good Free-From section, fantastic hummus, and a nice range of alternative milks too.

The selection of fruit and vegetables is a bit limited but has enough to get you by. Availability is something to keep an eye on though, I bought six avocados on my first day and unknowingly must have bought the whole week’s worth of stock because they were out of stock every day afterwards.

Basically, if you want to eat like the king of vegans, bring your nutritional yeast and your silken tofu with you. If you’re fine without your jackfruit tacos, Parc Market will be just fine.

‘But what about eating out?’, I hear you say, ‘I go on holiday to get away from cooking and really don’t want to spend my break slaving over a hob.’ Well, Center Parcs have got you covered here too.

Red neon sign reading Spaghetti

Good food at the big chains

Bella Italia have some fantastic meat-free options. They might want to work on their customer service though. I mentioned I was vegan to our waiter and was dismissively told this wasn’t a dietary restriction.

We ordered our mains and a bunch of sides for the table and about 45 minutes later everything arrived, at varying levels of temperature. I was lucky enough to have one of the meals that hadn’t gone cold, but my Lenticchie, a rich, mushroomy bolognese, did arrive with our waiter’s thumb nestled comfortably in my spaghetti.

Despite having to eat around a big, manly, tomatoey thumbprint, the pasta was absolutely delicious. After I’d smashed through that, I got stuck into the fries we’d ordered for the table.

I was happily mopping up the last of my bolognese sauce with a few of the crunchier ones when I noticed our waiter grinning at me from the other side of the restaurant. I was slightly confused, but the service had been so terrible up to that point that I assumed he was hoping to get a tip based exclusively on having a winning smile.

He slowly made his way to our table, beaming from ear to ear, leaned in, and happily advised that I probably shouldn’t have eaten the chips because they’d been fried in the same oil as meat. What. A. Dickhead.

For a less infuriating lunch, check out Café Rouge. It was pretty good for a brand I was convinced went out of business a few years ago. Some good options on the menu but I couldn’t fault the spicy chickpea burger which was pretty tasty. Add extra avocado for £2? Yes please. A portobello mushroom for another £2? Go on then. Ironically the mushroom was about the size of a £2 so they lost marks there but all in all, it was a good lunch.

Vegan packed lunch with avocado, chickpeas, rice, and lemon

Take a packed lunch

Part of the Parcs experience is playing sports, going swimming, riding bikes, and generally being active. A lot of these activities are away from where the main restaurants are so your options are generally limited to the activity-themed bars and cafés.

Foresters’ Inn is lovely for a quiet, picturesque coffee by the lake after you’re done playing tennis, but if you want vegan food, you’re shit out of luck.

In a huge menu with over 50 options on it, the vegan choice was Fries, or Sweet Potato Fries, both of which were both cooked in the same oil as meat, so as our helpful Bella Italia Waiter had taught us, this made them technically not vegan. To be fair to them, the staff said they were getting a new menu soon which included actual vegan options so hopefully next time it’ll be a little better.

It’s a similar story with the Sports Café in the indoor sports arena and the pool-side Canopy Café, both of which offer zero plant-based food beyond Technically Not Vegan Chips. My advice is if you’re doing something active, pack a lunch.

Matt VO London eating vegan fajitas

Book your table in advance

On our last night we ate at Hucks, an American-Mexican Diner. Everywhere else was fully booked and luckily we got the last space available by showing up and begging for a table. If you’re planning on eating out in the evening, particularly your last evening, be sure to book in advance.

Hucks may not have a huge selection of vegan options, but the veg fajitas were tasty AF. My wife, Meegan, had the Mexican Salad which she said was great too.

Had we known about the booking situation a bit earlier we’d have also checked out the Indian restaurant, Rajinda Pradesh. A quick glance at their menu and we were gutted we’d missed it; a lot of their curries could be made vegan by opting for the wheat-based meat substitute, seitan. I obviously can’t comment on taste but for options, this place gets a big thumbs up.

On a separate but related note, I’d like to make a plea on behalf of all vegans – please, restaurant owners and head chefs of the UK, can you add vegan dessert options to your menus beyond just sorbet. I like sorbet but when you’ve got a dozen indulgent, deliciously gooey, cakey options on the menu and your vegan option is basically cold, flavoured water, it’s a bit demoralising.

Two toads piggybacking at night with one toad watching in the distance

Enjoy the wildlife, but avoid the Village pond

You’ll no doubt be ecstatic to see that wildlife is abundant at Center Parcs. Squirrels, ducks, geese, swans, pheasants, rabbits, and an army of road-crossing nocturnal toads roam freely, and often arrogantly, around the site. As I sat making notes for this post, a squirrel came knocking on my patio window in what I assumed was her way of asking for food. Then an angry crow chased her away. Needless to say it’s very far removed from the wildlife wastelands of East London.

On the other end of the ‘animals living free and happy’ scale is the koi pond. Right near the middle of the Village, where the main restaurants are, is a very small body of water containing some very big fish.

They seem well fed and the water is clean enough but seeing these beautiful fish cramped into this tiny pond was pretty upsetting. It would be similar to being kept in a tennis court-sized cage for your whole life. If we can get angry at SeaWorld, can we apply the same logic here?

I couldn’t find any information from Center Parcs on the welfare of their koi but I can’t assume that this is a healthy sized pond for fish that size, especially when there are so many crammed into a small space. Any koi experts want to help me out here?

All in all, Center Parcs is definitely survivable if you’re following a vegan diet and there’s a lot to love about this Nottinghamshire mini paradise. The carp pond left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth but with all the lakes around the site, this seems like an easy problem to fix. At least it does in my not-at-all-educated opinion.

Centre Parcs isn’t the perfect vegan destination but they’re making improvements constantly and for a traditional British holiday park in rural middle England, I think they’re doing a pretty good job.

All info correct at date of original posting. Images by Peter de Vink, Ben Neale, Ella Olsson, & meeganwith2es

EAST LONDON VEGAN FOOD

One of the big changes I noticed when I developed veganism was losing the spontaneity of going into any restaurant or cafe and finding something to eat. My wife and I ate out two or three times a week so it was tough.

In the two short years since, there’s been an explosion of new vegan places washing over London like a giant wave of hummus and while I haven’t been to every one of the now over 100 fully vegan places in the city, here are my favourite places for quick, tasty food. I’ve saved you the hassle and given the closest train station so you can get there quick too. First up, it’s the Eastenders…

Biff's Jack Shack Jackfruit Wingz on a pink and blue neon background

Biff’s Jack Shack, Walthamstow, Victoria Line / Overground

Biff is getting a big reputation for his amazing ‘Wingz’ which are hand-shaped from jackfruit around an edible sugar cane ‘bone’, deep-fried, then smothered with a variety of insanely good sauces and toppings. I’m a big fan of puns (for they are the highest form of comedy) and have to give the Shack top marks for their burger names too – if you want the spicy version you’ll be ordering a ‘Sam Hell Jackson’.

They only moved into their first full-time spot at the end of 2018 but 2019 has already got off to a flier with their Spar Eat 17 partnership up and running. An unassuming space at the back of this East London convenience store has been transformed into a pink and blue neon den of vegan food.

Get there first on the Victoria Line to Walthamstow Central (20 mins from Kings Cross St. Pancras), then a short walk to the picturesque Walthamstow Village, a place that feels like it’s been teleported to London from the sleepy hills of Derbyshire.

CookDaily chickn dish in biodegradable bowl

CookDaily, London Fields, Overground

CookDaily is arguably the most well-known casual vegan food place in London. Founder, King, and his team have been serving up innovative vegan food drawing influence from Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere since 2015.

Having started selling their wares from the place where England football fans struggled to hold onto their beers last summer (Boxpark, for the uninitiated), CookDaily now have their own super cool place under the railway arches near London Fields.

Expect hip hop music, celebrity diners, and food that you’ll keep coming back for. My go to is the House Pad Thai or anything with their soy-based ‘chickn’ in it, combine that with a few of their spring rolls and some High Grade sauce and you’ve got a trio almost as good as the Bee Gees.

Temple of Hackney seitan fillet with chips in a rectangular white and blue bowl

Temple of Hackney, Hackney Central, Overground
In what’s a perfect example of London’s melting pot of culture, you’ll find the 100% vegan Temple of Seitan sitting right next door to a butcher shop. Irony at it’s finest. As the name suggests, their patties are made from seitan, a lightly spiced and very tasty meat substitute made from wheat.

Controversially though, I don’t go to Temple for their burgers. Sue me. Yes, it’s their creamy, facon (fake bacon) topped mac and cheese that you’ll find me wrist-deep in. If you don’t fancy a trip on the Overground, there’s also the newer Temple of Camden that’s worth checking out; it’s right by the canal so lends itself well to lazy Sunday walks along the towpath, burger and chips in hand.

Genesis Shoreditch vegan tacos on pink plates

Genesis, Shoreditch High Street, Overground

With a menu longer than a Drake album, Genesis in Spitalfields is the place to go if you want great food and something different every day of the year (only exaggerating slightly). Their store is also very Instagrammable, if you’re into that kind of thing. The only downside is having to avoid being pistol-whipped by selfie sticks as you’re finding a place to sit.

The Smoked Chorizo Tacos are always spot on and it’s well worth getting the Yuca Fries with Garlic Mayo too – if there’s a tastier chip & dip in London, I haven’t found it yet.

Colourful vegan Indian food in metal bowls

SpiceBox, Walthamstow, Victoria Line / Overground

The UK’s first vegan curry house has recently opened its doors in The ‘Stow and it’s been fully booked since. And with good reason. Founder Grace had been tweaking her recipes for three years by selling food from her front door, street food stalls, and an evening pop-up at the Hornbeam Café (great place for a vegan fry-up) and the result is a menu of unbelievably good Indian food.

I tend to go for the Jackfruit Jalfrezi but the less spicy Chick’n Korma is sublime and well worth heading to the end of the Victoria Line for. If you can’t get a table, fear not, there are lunchtime walk-ins available on the weekend and if that fails, you can always collect your food and eat it from the comfort of a Tube carriage on your way home.

Regardless of whether you’re vegan or not, these places all serve up amazing food; I’ve taken non-vegan friends and family to each of the above and had nothing but thumbs up, high fives, and promises of bringing elasticated trousers next time. There are so many great places in London now I’m going to do another post for each area but in the meantime, what’s your favourite place for casual vegan food in East London?

Images by @kimburrowsvegography, CookDaily, healthista.com, SpiceBox, & Genesis