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.


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