The Gate (Islington, London)

Although The Gate's been around as long as I can remember, its infamous status amongst vegans (lack of options) and location out in the sticks (Zone 2!) have kept me from trying. The menu on their website's done nothing to make vegans think otherwise, although it's slightly more inviting than Vanilla Black's open policy of not catering for vegans at all without prior notice.

Now that they've opened a branch in Zone 1 (just!) I thought it was worth the risk - I'm pleased to say it was. Not only did they have a much larger vegan selection (all set menu items were either v or vo) but the food wasn't bad either. It could be slightly more adventurous dessert wise, but that's a complaint that I have of a lot of vegetarian places. Food at restaurants' meant to be more adventurous than you'd make at home (for a fraction of the price), surely?

Their main courses aren't cheap so I went with their reasonably priced 2 course set menu (£12.50, as opposed to over £20 if bought separately), bread and dessert from the standard menu:
Basket of Bread £3

Sweet Corn, red pepper & chipotle chillies soup v g
Served with tortilla chips.

Corn cake v g
corn & polenta,pan-friend & seasoned with chilli,coriander & thyme,served with roasted aubergine, tomato,sweet potato
served with a red pepper & black bean salsa (their punctuation not mine!)

Apple & calvados crumble vo £5.50
Served with creme anglais or vegan vanilla ice cream
Service was friendly but if anything slightly over efficient (a first!) - plates whisked away within seconds of the last mouthful.

As a self confessed carb-o-holic the bread was very good indeed - even the rye bread lurking beneath was tasty. The starter was equally good:

The tortilla chips tasted home made (suitably fatty without being oily); the soup fresh and well seasoned. It was *almost* as good as Veggie World's sweetcorn soup (almost) - I'd return just for this dish.

Main course looked promising, but didn't deliver for me in way of taste and enjoyment. I wanted to like something looking this beautiful, but the corn cake wasn't crispy and stack of veg not quite delicious enough.

Desserts were fruit based, but it was good to see vegan icecream other than Swedish Glace (or Swedish Glace in disguise, MannaV):

I couldn't taste the calvados, the crumble layer was too thin and the fruit still a bit too al dente for my liking. The syrup was a good addition though - overall it was pretty average.

With a reasonable number of vegan options available and the bar set high by my starter, I'll certainly return. It's not gone instantly into my top 10, but I'm hopeful of finding other good dishes there in the future.

Mestizo (Euston, London)

Even though I’m running out of new places in central London to try and am regularly in the area; I’ve been subconsciously avoiding Drummond Street’s Indian veg restaurants for several years now after a highly underwhelming curry there.

Finally managing to overcome my apathy I asked twitter for recommendations, instantly changing my mind to Mexican round the corner following a suggestion from @messycook. The deal was sealed with the kind offer of free Margarita from @mestizomx’s twitter account, which I appreciated but didn’t redeem – where’s the fun in reviewing a place you’ve received free goods from?

I’ll be claiming my drink next time however when I undoubtedly return - food was good, location convenient, service friendly, prices reasonable.

I don’t generally do non-vegetarian restaurants out of choice – I eat too often at crap ones with colleagues. Occasionally I make an exception, but only if I can be convinced first that they know what vegan means, have more than one item marked on their menus and aren’t simply removing all offending ingredients until there’s no remaining flavour / texture / reason for eating it (even vegetarian restaurants are guilty of this sometimes).

Mestizo clearly have put some thought into the matter though – they’ve a separate vegan menu on their website and printed if you ask. I only had time for one course, but look forward to trying more things next time.

It’s both difficult not to compare them to Chesters in Worcester (non-vegetarian Mexcian with huge vegan choice) and difficult all at the same time (totally different atmosphere and style of food).

Whilst Chesters shares a special place in my heart it’s definitely Tex-Mex meets Glasgow – fake cheese, deep frying and salt. Having never lived in Mexico I can’t vouch for Mestizo’s authenticity, but it seems more in the foreign flavour camp than Chesters or tex-mex I’ve eaten in the US. Spanish speaking diners are always a good sign.

I went for the mole option of:
ENCHILADAS DE PAPA (2) Rolled corn or flour tortillas
stufffed with potato, smothered in a roja (red), tomatillo
(green), mole (n) - the one with chocolate and 25+ other
spices, chiles and herbs, or Cancun (achiote, orange juice,
onion & garlic) sauce, served with rice & beans 9.80
It's difficult to photograph this without it looking like brown sludge, but I came close to licking the plate clean. I'm already a converted fan of chocolate in chilli (done properly as opposed to a gimmick) and this didn't disappoint.

Not a lot more to say for now until I've been again, but am looking forward to the opportunity to do so. The cocktails menu is vast and impressive - I could easily spend a few hours there in the right company :)

Cookies and Scream (Camden)

I don't really do Camden these days and don't really do gluten free. Gluten is found in almost all my favourite foods - bread, cake, biscuits, pasta, noodles etc. Camden just doesn't hold the appeal that it once did when I was a teenager - there's too much overpriced imported tack for my liking.

It's not looking good for a gluten free bakery in Camden! Though I've been aware of it for a while I've not passed through the area or felt the need to make a special trip.

I'm pleased to say that I eventually get to try it though - some of their things are very impressive indeed. Gluten free is normally a bit crap - doves farm biscuits and the like that have weird texture and taste like you're punishing yourself.

Conversely their cookies are easily the best gluten free biscuits I've ever tried:I got an icecream sandwich to go and a frosting sandwich to take home. Both worked well - not totally the same as their gluten counterpart but slightly moist and highly edible.

As a self confessed lover of peanut butter and chocolate, the PB slices looked excellent:

They are however a bit rich, even for me. I didn't think it'd be possible for something to be too sweet, but it was like eating icing sugar out the bag.

The brownie tasted like brownie but texture wise was more like cake:

That isn't necessarily a bad thing though - I've eaten far less convincing brownies containing gluten and again this was the best gluten free chocolate cake I've ever tried.

Due to its location I'm not sure I'll become a regular, but if I found myself passing again I'd have no problems stocking up. Pricing is very reasonable and I hope they get their products into other shops.

Brighton 2012

The weather this summer's been pretty crap in the UK. Occasionally there's a bright spell, but it's mostly been grey, wet and uncomfortably warm. Still, we chanced it anyway and had a couple of breaks on the South coast - a very wet and miserable week in Dorset and a slightly more favorable weekend in Brighton.

I've blogged about Brighton's vegan friendliness at least once before, so this post is more a photo montage of new stuff than a rehash of old.

Not only did we stay in the same B&B as last year, but randomly (due to it being the only 4 poster room available) the exact same room too. Even more randomly, I'm not the only uk vegan blogger that's slept in the that very same bed, multiple times! Decor's been improved slightly, but desperately needs a new mattress:

Other than lots of shopping; we took an impulse ride on the Brighton Wheel:

Ate Aloka mint choc chip icecream on the beach:

Drank booze and ate lemon cheesecake on the beach:

Continued the booze-a-thon in Terre a Terre (highly recommend Vintage Roots Fleury rose champagne):

Had lunch at Wai Kika Moo Kau (remembering not to order the ridiculously huge chilli burger this time):

Ate raw desserts at Aloka:

Had we known that Aloka was about to close we'd have had a full meal there :(

I've posted a couple of reviews of other places we visited whilst in Brighton for the weekend - see below!

Food for Friends (Brighton)

We last visited Food for Friends back in March (I thieved the above photo from my previous post), vowing to return for an evening meal. Having visited more than a decade ago I'd avoided it for years as their vegan choices failed to inspire. Back in March we were impressed by the desserts we tried, so decided to give it the benefit of the doubt.

They've currently a 3 courses for £19.99 offer, which seemed too good to miss. We broke the golden rule of never ordering the same thing and went for the same starter:
Tofu Pockets (v,gf)
Sweet tofu cases; one filled with brown basmati rice, oyster mushrooms, and spring onions, the other with smoked tofu coriander and wasabi rice, both served with enoki mushrooms, sweet pickled cucumber, ginger and mirin dressing
As a lover of Inarizushi the beancurd pouches (although slightly unorthodox) didn't disappoint. Surrounding it was what can best be described as deconstructed sushi, which sadly translated to be more lazy than genius. Still, the overall dish was visually appealing and I would eat it again.

There was only one vegan main course option:
Courgette, Tomato and Cannelini Bean Cassoulet (v,n)
With a crispy rosemary polenta cake, basil pesto, steamed summer greens and topped with a fresh broad bean and parsley salsa
As far as cassoulet goes; this was one of the best I've ever tasted. Overall flavour was delicious, with plenty of perfectly cooked ingredients.

It should however have been a starter, with a selection of crusty bread - it didn't really hold up as a main course on its own. The polenta cake it came with was tiny and did nothing to soak up the lovely gravy. We ordered a bread basket to eat it with, but it wasn't particularly good quality and didn't really work as we hoped.

The only vegan desserts were those that we tried last time:
Rich dark chocolate truffle torte (v,n)
Baked on a hazelnut biscuit base served with berry compote

Hot cinnamon apple and pear fritters (v,gf,s)
Served with vanilla ice cream and a sweet sesame sauce
Both appeared slightly different to last time, but their fritters are still exceptionally good (the batter on Terre a Terre's banana fritters is poor in comparison).

For £20 a head Food for Friends is great value. For such a long established vegetarian restaurant with so much competition nearby the vegan options however remain uninspiring. They also don't seem to change very often, which is a shame considering that it professes to be a seasonal menu.

If they add some more options then we'd happily return. Until then there's just too many other places with more adventurous vegan menus a short walk away.

Moshi Moshi (Brighton)

As if Brighton needs any more vegan food options! I don't generally review non-vegetarian restaurants, unless they've an extensive list of vegan options on the standard menu and are genuinely worth visiting. Despite all of the exclusively vegetarian places nearby; Moshi Moshi definitely falls within this category.

The building's architecture is loosely based on shoin-zukuri style, with large glass walls (decorated to look like shoji screens) that can be slid outwards when weather allows. On a rainy day it looks a little odd, but if you google image search "Moshi Moshi Brighton" you'll see what I mean. Inside the single room is full of light, with a large conveyor belt system around the centre and standard tables around the edge:

Many of the vegan dishes are on the conveyor, however we opted for a table instead and ordered items specially to ensure they'd been prepared specifically for vegans. Unfortunately this meant that each item was full price rather than discounted, but it was worth it for peace of mind.

Service was quick, friendly and attentive. Dishes took 5-10 minutes to be prepared from ordering, which meant we were able to order additional ones once we'd figured out what we did and didn't like.

We started with a vegan sushi set and a few other dishes from around the menu:
Faroes £10.30
Mushroom teriyaki, natto & spring onion gunkan; tofu teriyaki nigiri;
vegetarian, inari, 2 ume plum & cucumber and 2 tofu, mizuna , sun dried tomato,
red onion & cucumber maki

Edamame salted soy beans £2.90
Pop these beans out of their pods to enjoy this superfood
Chilli Noodle £2.90
Chilled somen noodles in a hot flavored spicy Korean sauce on a bed of cucumber
Crispy vegetable gyoza dumplings £3.20
Little parcels of finely chopped vegetables, lightly fried
We then ordered extra inari maki (my favourite) and umi temaki (Cherry's favourite):
Temaki: Ume pickled plum & cucumber £2.40

Maki: Inari tofu, celery, red radish, lettuce & kampyo £2.40
I've always like inarizushi (beancurd pouches filled with rice), but inari tofu is like all kinds of awesome.

We ate and enjoyed the whole meal, costing under £35 including soft drinks. On Mondays and Tuesdays it's currently half price, which is exceptional value.

The edamame beans weren't as good as Ping Pong's, but everything else was as good as or better than we've tried elsewhere. Even the natto wasn't offensive (though I still don't know why you voluntarily would order it on its own!).

Brighton has many vegan food choices, but we'll definitely be returning to Moshi Moshi again when we're next down. It's currently my favourite only to Terre a Terre - I'd choose it over Itadaki-Zen in London any day.

Walnut and Macadamia Brownies

In the past week I've used 1kg sugar, 600g chocolate and 450g margarine in pursuit of the perfect vegan brownie.

In the past few years I've eaten various attempts at brownies by restaurants / cafes and only been impressed by one - Herbies in Exeter. They were kind enough to give me their recipe, however when I eventually tried it I found it to not work at all :(

They suggested they be cooked at 300oC, which when I tried at my oven's max (260oC) they burnt within minutes.

More interesting than the recipe itself is the technique - to take them out of the oven half way and knock the air out by banging a counter. I've not found reference to any other recipes using this technique through Google. If makes sense though - allow the mixture to rise creating texture but then knock the air out.

There seem to be many recipes online for what is essentially badly cooked cake mixture - not my idea of brownie! I've lost count of the number of forum posts I've read where people have claimed to have discovered brownie when their chocolate cake attempt went badly wrong.

To me a brownie should be crisp on the outside, cakey towards the egde then fudge (boarding upon gooey) in the centre. Not 'fudgy' - why make it fudge like when you can make real fudge?

The recipe I've created is essentially fudge (sugar + fat + chocolate) with enough flour and raising agent to separate out and form cake at the edges. I used Herbie's slamming technique, but increased the cooking time, lowered the temperature and added 2 slams.

I'm really pleased with the result - it excludes ingredients not generally found in British kitchens (egg replacer, specialist flours etc) and is simple to make. I used macadamias and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. I would recommend that you do use some form of nut though - my final test omitted them (for cost) and it didn't cook as well.

One important thing to note: these brownies improve with age. When you take them out of the oven the very centre will appear to be too gooey. Only when they've fully cooled (several hours later) will they have reached the right consistency. The first time I made them I thought the recipe was a failure - it wasn't until I tried them again a day later that I realised they were near perfect.

If you use a different size pan to me (e.g. they're thicker or thinner) then you'll need to play with the cooking time.
Wet Ingredients:
  • 300g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 150g Soya Margarine
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 120ml Soya Milk
  • Dry Ingredients:
  • 125g Wholemeal Flour
  • 40g Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • Other Ingredients:
  • 140g Chocolate
  • 75g Walnuts
  • 75g Macadamia Nuts
  • Start by melting the wet ingredients together in a pan over a low heat. Use a whisk to ensure they're fully combined and the sugar dissolved. Be careful not to overheat or take the mixture to the boil - it'll change the consistency if you do (e.g. you'll make toffee):

    Leave to cool - if it's too warm when you add it to the dry ingredients then it'll melt the chocolate and again change the end consistency.

    Mix the dry ingredients, then thoroughly combine in the wet:

    Chop the chocolate into chunks if not using chips. Chop or break the walnuts. Chop the macadamias if whole. Add to the mixture and stir briefly:

    Line an 11x7 inch pan with silicone sheet or baking paper, fill and even out with a spatula:

    Place in a 200oC (180o fan) oven for 10 minutes, then remove and bang down on the top of the cooker. If it's risen at all you should see it deflate. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove and bang again, then place back in the oven for its final 10 - it should have 30 minutes in total.

    Finally remove from the oven, bang for a third time and place the tin in an ice water bath to stop the cooking (a larger pan with ice cubes and water will do the trick - just make sure the water doesn't go over the sides!).

    Leave in the pan for a few minutes, then lift out:

    Leave to cool for a few hours, then slice into 12, remove from the silicone/paper and leave to cool completely - overnight is best. If you don't you'll find it quite gooey in the centre (a good thing?).

    I'll experiment with using the brownie in other recipes (ice cream, sundaes, cheesecake etc), but it's incredibly moreish on its own (I've eaten a lot of this stuff this week!). Today we enjoyed some with mint tea:

    Something I don't make nearly often enough - handful of mint steeped in water with sugar. It's so much better than tea from bags!

    Fry Ups

    I'd like to call this a Saturday morning staple, but in reality we're usually still in bed by 12! I've eaten many mediocre/bad fry ups in cafes and hotels - how hard is it to get wrong? On reflection I think I'd rather stay at a good B&B without breakfast than one that specifically makes crap cooked vegan breakfasts and costs the same.

    My fry ups vary each time dependent on what's available, but the absolute must is fried bread. It's got to be cooked properly too, so that it's full of flavour, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle without being overly fatty. Tofu scramble makes a regular appearance too, the recipe of which also varies each time.

    As I had my camera set up in the kitchen this lunchtime; here's today's:

    Fry minced garlic and sliced chestnut mushrooms in sunflower oil, then crumble smoked tofu over the top, stir and add tamari, concentrated mushroom stock, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Finally; garnish with fresh parsley before serving:

    Plain tofu works too, along with other ingredients such as red/white onion, peppers, other types of mushroom and whatever dark looking sauces are in the cupboard - soya sauce, vegetarian worcester sauce etc.

    Meanwhile, fry some kind of potato product (in this case hash browns, which taste nasty cooked in the oven but great fried), redwoods bacon and tomatoes in the same pan:

    Add slices of decent quality fresh bread and plenty of ground sea salt. Once its soaked up the existing oil add more and turn them over - add more salt.

    I'm not really a great fan of salt (I bought my current bottle of table salt in 2004), but in this case it works really well (the same applies to baked potatoes).

    Always cook the fried bread last (add the others to the top of the scrambled tofu pan to keep them warm) and serve straight away with red/brown sauce and anything else you fancy. I'm not really a fan of beans but often add a sausage or two :)