Mirch Masala (Leicester)

I've been to Mirch a few times over the past six years. A short walk from one of my favourite vegetarian Indian restaurants in the UK however; it's difficult not to compare the two and always choose Shivalli. Still, choice is good, so whilst in the area recently we checked it out again.

Mirch is large and well located. Interior decor is pleasant and the menu huge. By far the most vegan options area from the Indian menu, but they also offer vegetarian Italian, Chinese and Mexican dishes.

The only thing that lets to place down is the food, which has always been in my opinion slightly underwhelming. They're not afraid to make food that's spicy, but it lacks complex flavours and is more average than fantastic.

As we hadn't planned to go; pictures are off my iphone. On advice of the waiter, we ordered a "Mirch Masala Special Sizzler" to share:

It tasted reasonably good, but was more of a vegetable side dish than a starter! With a good curry it'd have been a worthy accompaniment, but a little odd on its own with 2 forks.

For mains @cherrivalentine had an uttapam, which was actually pretty good:

One of the sides it came with wasn't vegan. We're always skeptical of anything creamy looking, so asked the waiter if it was suitable. He said he thought it was, but went to check, then returned and took it away.

I had a vegetable keema curry and rice:

The rice was good, the curry dreadful. It was TVP in oily spicey soup. I tried to eat it, but didn't make it past a few mouthfuls.

Luckily I also ordered some naan bread:

I remember hearing that certain items marked as vegan on the menu are typos, but the waiter insisted the naan was vegan. The plain was pretty good (it wasn't naan in the traditional sense, but pleasantly edible), but the masala naan far too spicy for my liking.

Like many Indian restaurants they've a big selection of bought in desserts, with limited vegan choice. They sell egg free cupcakes, but not dairy free (a missing opportunity?).

Pricing is good, but it's difficult to get excited about returning - especially when there's such a good alternative a 2 minute walk away.

Vantra (Soho)

Vantra describes itself as being "Pioneering Organic Cuisine". Pretty exciting stuff - it'd be disappointing if it was basically just another grotty buffet.

I've walked past but not been in before. I had 10 minutes to grab takeaway in the area recently, so popped in to see what it was like.

£6 for a takeaway box is very reasonable; perhaps a little too reasonable, given the cost of their rent (just off Oxford Street). When the chain of chinese vegan buffets opened they were incredible value for money - you literally could eat £6 worth of ingredients (cashews, peppers, fresh veg etc) and not understand how they made any profit. As the years passed by the use of decent ingredients waned, until what we had today: lukewarm bland mush with an over reliance on fake meat.

First impression of Vanta? Very good. The staff seemed a bit confused and unprepared for the start of lunch service, but overall they've done a great job of the decor and creating a brand:

All their food is vegan; I got a takeaway box and a slice of good looking banana cake, which comes with soya cream.

The food itself? Meh.

No one thing was exceptional and there were a few flavours I really didn't like at all.

It also didn't smell that good - in fact I felt a little embarrassed getting on the tube with it. Quality wise: it is better than a Tai buffet, but not a lot better.

The cake survived about an hour of walking around London / tube journeys without going soggy in the soya cream. This is testament to quite how dry it was - but tasted good if you rationed out the cream effectively.

Vantra has nothing on Tibits, which is similarly priced and nearby. I will return however I hopefully try an evening meal there.

Favourite Places to Eat in England

I've visited more than 50 vegetarian/vegan cafes/restaurants in England over the past decade and reviewed 33 since I started this blog. Incase anyone's interested, my favourites are:

Overall Top 5

1st: Veggie World (Bletchley)

Simply the best vegan chinese food I've tried, either in the UK or US. Decor could use a lot of work, but the fantastic food and friendly service totally make up for it. Massive choice, almost all vegan. Miles ahead of Loving Hut; light years ahead of the (now gross) London buffets.

2nd: The Warehouse Cafe (Birmingham)

Dependable, well priced, seasonal menu with both cafe options (burgers, wedges etc) and 'sit down meal' courses. Always plenty of vegan choice. Desserts (which were always its weak point) have started to improve in the past couple of months. I've eaten there countless times over the years and a recent evening meal was very good indeed.

3rd: Terre-a-Terre (Brighton)

Terre-a-terre is something special, which is why it gets a mention in the top 5. It's definitely a vegetarian restaurant however: vegan choice fluctuates over time - sometimes great, other times a bit disappointing. Catch it at the right moment and you may get the best meal of your life.

4th: Terrace Arts Cafe (Seaton)

This place is a hidden gem. Choice is great and the food well above average for the price. Waiting times were always an issue, but seemed a lot better on my last visit. There's not a lot of choice in that part of the country, but it is worth an hour's drive to try if you're ever in Dorset/Devon.

5th: The Lakeland Pedlar (Keswick)

Cheap, dependable, generously portioned, warm and filling cafe style food (generally a good thing when you've been walking in the hills!). I've never been disappointed by a meal from here - both the best garlic bread and best cake.

The Best....

A few runners up, most noted for:

Cheap lunch in London: Beatroot (London) - lots of flavours all mashed together in a cardboard box!

Cheesecake: Alley Cafe (Nottingham) - Cheesecake perfection

Dessert: Aloka (Brighton) - Following a truly dreadful main, the best dessert ever!

Dosa: Shivali (Leicester) - Avoid the Sunday buffet, order from the standard menu.

Raw Food: Saf (Shoreditch) - Expensive but some really good food, especially their 'cheeses'

Samosa: Jyoti's (Birmingham) - Their currys suck, but starters rock.

And The Worst.....

Food: The Gardener's Arms
Customer Service: Iydea
Everything: Zilli Green

Veggie World Revisited (Bletchley)

Since my first visit and short review 2 years ago (complete with camera phone pics), I've returned to Veggie World many, many times.

It's odd location halfway between London and Birmingham has led to several days out that 'just happen to be nearby' so we can 'drop by in the evening afterwards'. Bletchley Park twice (well worth visit), Stowe Landscape Gardens, Waddesdon Manor, Clivedon, Claydon House, Upton House, Wrest Park etc. We're running out of National Trust properties within 40 miles now and are considering English Heritage membership next year instead.

Therefore, I figured it was worth an update, with better pictures and recommendations. The menu choice is extreme and value for money varies considerably. We've tried a large selection of it now and some things we keep going back to as they're so good.

Decor's improved slightly in the past couple of years, with better lighting. It's still a takeaway with a few tables though - you'd only ever visit because the food is amazing. They only seem to have one CD, that is played constantly in a loop.

We generally go for 3 savoury courses and skip dessert. We also purposely over-order, so we've a bigger choice and left overs to eat the following day! :)


"01 Appertiser Combination" is great on your first visit for trying a few things at once. We occasionally still order it, but tend to go with "27 - Crispy Aromatic Veggie Duck" to share, as it's both delicious and excellent value for money:

Other options include:

02 - Crispy Won Ton: Very good - included in appetiser combination
04 - Veggie Ji Skewers: Simply the best satay sauce I've tried:

07 - Crispy Seaweed: Comes with appetiser combination, wouldn't ever think to order alone

08 - Veggie Prawn Toast: Not a personal favourite, but the best I've tasted
10 - Veggie Peking Ribs: Part of the appetiser combination. They're OK, little strange
12 - Grill Veggie Dumplings: We sometimes order these as a side dish with mains
14 - Crispy Spring Rolls: They're OK, have had better.
18 - House Special Rolls: Or 'horse rolls' as we call them - neither of us liked them


Their soup tastes great and is cheap. "20 - Veggie Sweet Corn Soup" is my favourite, followed by "24 - Veggie Dumpling Soup".

I tried taking a picture, but it looks too gross to post ;)

Main Courses

The menu doesn't make it immediately obvious what is a good combination of dishes to order for mains. Some are just fake meat with sauce, whereas others come with lots of vegetables. Value for money varies considerably.

A few that I remember trying:

32 - Salt & Pepper To-Fu: Not to my taste - a little bland for my liking
34 - Crispy Sesame Veggie Ji: Delicious, but lacks veg - it's fake meat on a plate
35 - Stir Fried 3 Delicious: Unmemorable
36 - Veggie Chicken Macau: Or Parrot Curry, as we call it. This is one of our firm favourites:

37 - Lo Han Chai
39 - Golden Veggie Steak
47 - Crispy Veggie Ji Pineapple: Lovely, but lacks veg - fake meat on a plate
50 - Roasted Char Siu: Good, but lacks veg
61 - Sweet & Sour Veggie Chicken - Great sauce, but the ribs are better and have more texture
63 - Sweet & Sour Veggie Ribs:

65 - Veggie Chicken Balls
66 - Veggie Pork Balls

Their balls aren't so great. As one of my favourite things in non-vegetarian days I've perfected making them at home now - Veggie World's are unfortunately disappointing.


I don't swear often on this blog, but Veggie World's chow mein is fucking amazing - there's simply no finer way of putting it than that.

The noodles are 100% identical to those I got from takeaways in my non-vegetarian days and have since failed to find in a supermarket (english or chinese). We generally go for 'duck' chow mein, normally because we've already got 'chicken' and 'pork' dishes.

There's lots of types of rice available, but we tend to order plain steamed rice - cheap and better at soaking up sauces etc.

The formula we work to is: duck for starter followed by a soup course, then 3 main dishes with chow mein and rice. We sometimes order items from the starter menu as side dishes to the main course (satay skewers, dumplings etc). If you order the right things then you can get very full and satisfied for £15-£20 a head

We've tried the set menus a couple of times when we've visited with friends, but tend to order from the normal menu when alone as neither of us like the fake fish dishes. I've tried a few of their desserts, but am usually uncomfortably full by that point.

Veggie World have gotten service down to a fine art - waiting times are extremely reasonable. I believe that they manufacture their own fake meat - I've not tried it elsewhere in the UK (I heard that Peking Palace used to buy from them, before coming a Loving Hut). You can order any meat with any sauce, increasing the choice even further.

Overall, I'll go as far as saying that Veggie World is the best vegan chinese I've tried in the UK/US. It's a good job it's not close enough to get takeaway from!

The Waiting Room (Stockton-on-Tees)

I'm never quite sure what to expect when I find a random v*gan restaurant on the interweb, then get in the car and go. After a grueling 5.5 hour journey up the M1 from London I'm pleased to say that on this occasion at least I was pleasantly surprised.

First good impression: it's clearly visible from the street and looks inviting. No alley ways, basements or entrances through other shops. It looked busy too, which for a weekday evening is always a good sign.

Second: it's big inside, has candles on the tables and more of a restaurant feel than cafe. There's definitely a place in my heart for quirky cafes selling burgers and wedges (provided they're good), but it's nice to find places a little more 'sit down' restaurant like from time to time. The decor wasn't amazing, but the tables and chairs didn't look like they'd come from a skip either.

Third: the staff were lovely and seemed knowledgeable on the contents of the menu. Contrary to its name, waiting times were reasonable.

The only negative point to note on arrival was quite how unpleasantly warm it was. The radiators seemed stuck on max - I can only imagine they had a problem with the heating that evening and it's not a regular thing.

Oh, and there's the other negative point: it's definitely a vegetarian restaurant with a vegan afterthought, rather than a vegan restaurant with a few vegetarian dishes to please a wider audience. The menu contains many delicious sounding things, but vegan choice is definitely limited.

I ordered a Trio of pates for starter, which turned out to be a Duo of houmous and one pate:

It tasted OK, but I was naturally jealous of the good looking vegetarian starters being served to other diners. The houmous seemed homemade and the salad was exceptionally well dressed (generally I leave the token salad).

The more observant of you will notice the bottle of Sam Smiths cherry beer. Their selection of vegan booze was very good indeed - next time someone else is driving.

My shepherds pie was more hotpot than pie, but very good all the same:

Everything I tasted there was pretty 'old school' vegan cooking - no tofu or new 1990s fangled ingredients. The pie was lentil based, but one of the best I've had.

The one vegan dessert offering was orchard crumble, which didn't overly fill me with excitement at the prospect of trying:

It was however one of the best I've ever had (certainly the best I've paid for).

It was weird - good weird. I'm not entirely sure what the crumble was made of, it didn't conform to normal flour/oat standards. It was sort of dumped in a pile at the centre of the plate with stewed fruit and nuts.

Nuts? Pecan nuts, in crumble. Worked really well. The fruit (including whole black cherries) was stewed to perfection.

Conclusion? The Waiting Room is unimaginative vegan cooking, done extremely well. If they offered a little more choice it'd become a firm favourite. Either way: I'll certainly give it another go when I'm next up in that direction.


Like most UK vegans, houmous has figured heavily in my diet over the years. Mostly through desperation/lack of choice from supermarkets when I've forgotten to make lunch, but occasionally for pleasure too.

Embarrassingly, it's not been until recently that I've tried making it myself. Too much faff and all that.

It's actually remarkably easy however, and doing so allows you to use much better quality extra virgin olive oil than you'd ever get in premade stuff.

  • 390g Organic Chickpeas in Water
  • 1 tbsp Tahini
  • 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 tbsp Chopped Garlic
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Drain the chickpeas and blend the chickpeas into a paste:

Add the rest of ingredients (salt and pepper to taste), minus the oil:

As it blends, pour oil in until the right consistancy is reached:

Taste, season and reblend if required. Serve topped with pesto, or simply on its own. You can add other flavours in the final blend (olives, sundried tomatoes etc) also.

Screaming Carrot Bakery (Nottingham)

If first impressions count, the Screaming Carrot Bakery's not off to a good start.

Metal grills over a shop's windows are never a good sign. The area didn't look overly nice when we drove up - I wasn't confident my car would still have hub caps when I returned.

Still, a vegan bakery is something pretty special. There aren't many on the planet - Babycakes in New York, Mrs Cupcake in London etc.

First impression when you go in through the door?

Well, first off, it's not a bakery. It's a health food store with a few slices of cake and pasties behind the counter. A pretty poor selection at that (Saturday lunchtime). OK, they're made on site, but the word bakery I think is taking things a little far.

Worried that the car's windscreen wipers were being stolen; we ordered a few things and made a dash for it.

The good news is: the pasties we bought were quite pleasant. Not worth a drive to Nottingham for, but above average. They were very cheap too.

The cakes were mediocre:

Carrot was OK (quite sponge like - not heavy), but the bakewell slice lacked flavour and had pastry approx 1mm thick.

If I lived down the road I'd definitely go back. That's unlikely to happen though!