RAW (Bayswater, London)

It seems social media really is everything these days when it comes to launching small businesses. While some of the least significant manage to generate thousands of Facebook likes, others slip quietly into existence - their potential clientele completely unaware.

How can it be in 2013 that a vegan restaurant open in an upmarket London hotel without anyone realising? I made the mistake of booking a table when I visited in November, which turned out to be completely unneeded as I was the only diner.

Their restaurant's a room (+outdoor seating) within La Suite West, just round the corner from Bayswater tube station. According to the website they do cooked non-vegetarian breakfasts too - I don't know whether this is in the same restaurant or elsewhere.

Arriving around 5pm I opted for their afternoon tea, which they describe as "a quintessentially contemporary vegan alternative to this Great British tradition. With a combination of designer finger sandwiches, home made scones served with coconut cream and fresh strawberries, followed by a delectable selection of home made pastries."

A Selection of Finger Sandwiches

Grilled Portobello | basil pesto | cherry tomatoes
Hummus | cucumber | rocket | red onion slices
Tofu scrambled | spicy guacamole
Roasted butternut squash | cream of artichoke and truffle
Roasted spinach | garlic | aubergine | cauliflower mousse

Warm Home Made Scones | fresh Strawberries | whipped Coconut cream

Mini Chocolate & Coconut Raw Cake | Mini Sesame Halva

Your preferred choice of Tea or Coffee

£19 per person

Like similar restaurants they do cooked food too - their afternoon tea is firmly in this category. Whereas Metrodeco's comes all at once, RAW's comes in 3 courses. I ordered a mocktail too, which turned out to be a good addition.

The sandwiches were beautifully presented and I enjoyed the majority of the flavours (I'm not and never will be a cauliflower fan!). They weren't particularly big thou, the equivalent of about 2 slices of bread between them.

I commented on Metrodeco's post that you should arrive hungry and plan to eat dinner late - at RAW (depending on your appetite) you should be slightly peckish and have dinner lined up soon after...

The scones were tiny. They look reasonably big in that picture, but trust me that's my dodgy iPhone camerawork! They tasted good, but for the sake of a few pence worth of extra mixture could have been a lot more impressive.

In comparison, the bowl of coconut cream that they came with was massive - enough for several people. It seemed homemade (which is nice), but the consistency wasn't quite right - more shiny and gelatinous than creamy. It tasted good though, and having spread as much as I could on the scones resorted to surreptitiously eating the rest with a spoon (it's not like there were other diners to offend!).

So far, so good. I was definitely ready for the "delectable selection of home made pastries" now.

Either that's the world's largest raspberry or the world's smallest looking plate of food. Sadly it was the latter (note the size of the fork on the left). I did wonder whether the pastries were coming in phases, but it seems that's your lot. They were ok - raw truffle on the left, chocolate coated halva in the centre, some sort of cake on the right.

RAW's got a lot going for it - nice part of London, good building, decent crockery/cutlery etc. With a few refinements and less stingy portion sizes their afternoon tea could be really good.

Next time I'll try their restaurant menu - if it involves the ability to sit outside in summer then all the better. I might plan a backup option though, in case I end up leaving hungry!

The Quay Arts Cafe (Isle of Wight)

I don't often review non-vegetarian places, but then the Isle of Wight's not exactly awash with vegan choice. It's worth ringing The Quay Arts Cafe if you're staying there for any length of time, their menu changes regularly and you could come up trumps.

Located in a former industrial building its interior's large with plenty of tables. From the outside you could certainly miss it if you didn't know it's there. Parking's free onroad outside - we had no problem finding a space at lunchtime in summer.

On the day we went there was only one vegan main - salad. They seemed accommodating though and offered to veganize vegetarian things on the menu. We both went for Mushroom & Thyme Pasta:

Presentation was nice and flavours good. It lacked the creaminess of it's vegetarian counterpart however and wasn't quite balanced as a result. I can see how dishes designed to be vegan by them could be good though, which is why we'll give them another go when in the area next.

Dessert was some kind of iced tray bake. It was coffee flavoured, sweet and chewy - unlike anything I've had before.

Service was friendly and prices reasonable - 2 mains, 2 cakes and drinks came to about £20.

Aroma (Lyme Regis, Dorset)

Having been somewhat of a vegan wasteland previously, Lyme Regis has gained not only a vegetarian restaurant (more on this in another post) but coffee shop serving vegan food too. With vegan sorbet available in the seafront at Rinky Tinks (they don't label it - it's a case of requesting to see ingredients, but generally they've 3 flavours available); Lyme's actually not a bad choice to visit for the afternoon.

Aroma's at the bottom of the high street, opposite the town museum. They've a few tables and play space for toddlers at the back. Selection of vegan items isn't vast and there are non-vegetarian options too, but you can tell from the menu that they're aiming towards the allergy free market and have a good understanding of what's what. Food is very much cafe style - expect good coffee accompanied by a cooked breakfast, sandwich, wrap etc. There's no pretension of being a restaurant when it's not, which isn't a bad thing.

We enjoyed our iced soya lattes and falafel pittas:

Pricing's sensible and service friendly. They're welcoming of kids and have menu options to suit. There wasn't any vegan cake on the day we went, but apparently there sometimes is.

We'll certainly return in the future - if they have one or two more vegan options and always stock at least one vegan cake it could become a firm favourite.

The Orrery (Ryde, Isle of Wight)

The Orrery is without a doubt The Isle of Wight's finest vegetarian cafe.

As The Isle of Wight's only vegetarian cafe however this isn't overly surprising - it's also the worst.

If weirdness were a metric used for rating eateries, The Orrery's off to a good start. I've not taken acid before, but if I ever do I expect The Orrery's decor to feature heavily. With highly patterned walls, ceiling, mirrored tables, working planetarium and 'God Slot' (their word's not mine!) it's Alice In Wonderland meets wtf.

At the back is what can best be described as being a smutty postcard museum. The only punters visitors we saw for it were more than a little scary looking (we tried not to make eye contact and pretended we hadn't seen them).

Talking of visitors, despite being the only people dining the guy behind the counter was turning other customers away. I've never seen anything like it - everyone who came through the door was talked into leaving, with excuses including a lack of strawberries available to use for cream teas. Behind the counter is also the kitchen, and whilst the word vegan appeared on the specials board against three curries, it was absent from the (sticky) printed menu. Ordering falafel pittas involved reading ingredient labels ourselves, followed by an extortionately long wait.

What finally came was alright. The falafels had been mushed up inside which was a little odd, and no overly useful as we'd planned on giving some of them to our toddler. Taste was good though and the sweet chilli sauce worked well.

Unfortunately none of the cakes / biscuits seemed to be vegan so we didn't stay for coffee.

I get the impression that the The Orrery could be made good with not a lot of work - better service, cleanliness and choice of vegan options (properly marked on the menu). A browse through TripAdvisor reviews describe much the same experience that we had.

Would I recommend The Orrery? I guess that depends on how long you're staying on The Isle of Wight and how hungry you get. We went self catering and cooked most our meals ourselves. In the space of a week we ate at Pizza Express no less than 3 times (sad I know) and having done our big shop in Tesco found a Waitrose by accident towards the end of the week (which the Internet said didn't exist).

I guess what I'm trying to say is: The Orrery's alright, but not great. Don't go expecting too much, or a short wait. Take a book, kindle or something to do. Take something to wipe the table with too.

Loving Hut (Camden, London)

You know you suck at blogging when places close before you post about them. At least I can cast some light on why it might have closed.....

Having visited other branches of Loving Hut in the UK and North America the Camden one was the worst by far. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good either - similar prices to Veggie World but with vastly inferior food.

I ordered a couple of dishes when I visited in September - 'Chicken' Satay Skewers and 'Steak' in black bean sauce with noodles. There wasn't a kitchen so to speak - behind the till was a small work surface and cooker.

The skewers looked good, but were cold inside and almost certainly the frozen ready to cook type available in Chinese supermarkets (similar to those we sometimes buy from Wing Yip in Birmingham). The sauce wasn't peanutty enough and had a texture as if it'd been made up from powder.

The 'Steak' in black bean sauce looked alright but tasted like a medium priced stirfry from Tesco. Tasty, but more student food than eating out food.

It's never good when v*gan places close and I know several people who loved the Camden branch of Loving Hut. Perhaps other menu items were better, I caught them on a bad day or Veggie World's given me an unrealistic expectations of the level that other Chinese(esque) restaurants should aspire to.

I'm not ready to give up on Loving Hut yet - their hotel in Austria looks very promising indeed. Will post a review if and when we make it over there :)

Cakes 'n' Treats (Camden, London)

I like cakes & I like treats. London's lacked a good vegan coffee shop for years now, so what's not to like?

I visited Cakes'n'Treats back in September, during its opening week. My experience was hopefully that of teething problems and not a reflection on normal trading. That said, it was dreadful enough to deter me from returning since.

Exhibit number #1:

Cake shouldn't look like that! It's not unreasonable to expect a vegan cake shop to be able to cook vegan cake properly, surely? The flavours were OK, but either the mixture was wrong or it was undercooked - if I'd make cake looking like that I'd have been too embarrassed to serve it. The person who owns the shop seems to make good looking cakes to order (if Facebook photos are anything to go by) - I hope they don't look like mine did when cut into!

Exhibit number #2:

At £3.90 their "Hazelnut Crunch Macchiato" is more expensive than the largest equivalent at airport/motorway service branches of Costa/Starbucks/Nero, independents (which tend to be cheaper) or any restaurant I remember visiting. It was terrible.

I couldn't taste hazelnut (syrup or otherwise). Assuming it was meant to be a latte macchiato (it bore no resemblence to caffè macchiato); there was no attempt at layering, other than beany tasting macrofoam floating on top of beany tasting coffee. What really 'topped it off' though was the sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts. WTF? Why would you want hazelnuts in your mouth whilst drinking coffee? It makes no sense and for me it totally didn't work.

I want to like Cakes'n'Treats - I hope their products have improved since my visit in September. I want them to succeed, which is partly why I waited several months before creating this post or writing on TripAdvisor / Facebook. Please, someone tell me things have gotten better since?

Tall Poppy Foods (Birmingham)

Tall Poppy Foods produce something the Midlands has previously lacked - decent cake. At the West Midlands Vegan Fair (where naturally we conducted a survey of cake on offer), their cupcakes was both cheaper and in a different taste league to the main competition (which I don't know about you, but I find horrifically sweet).

They sell impressive looking birthday cakes etc via their website and have stalls at festivals, markets etc. For a while they also had a 'hole in the wall' style counter, which we visited shortly before it closed.

I'm not being funny, but the location sucked. If it were somewhere central we'd have been regular customers, but Selly Oak's just a bit too far from, well, anywhere we'd normally go. They've a large student population, but I don't know how much students spend on vegan cake and they'd have to sell a lot at their prices to survive.

We got an impressively large haul of cake and cookies on the day we went for not a lot of money:

Some of the ones that made it home:
We also got a jack fruit burger, which I thought was revolting but @cherrivalentine enjoyed. Blurgh!
I really hope to see Tall Poppy Foods set up business again, someplace with more passing trade.

I'd also like to see their cakes appearing in health food stores and coffee shops (e.g. Urban) if they decide not to have their own presence (hint hint).

Metrodeco (Brighton)

We've walked past & peered through Metrodeco's windows several times before - admiring it's charm, decor and comfy looking furniture; quietly jealous of contented omni customers sipping drinks and enjoying cake inside.

Why don't we get afternoon tea at the seaside too? Actually it seems we do :)

Metrodeco's an eclectic/eccentric looking tea room in Kemp Town, a 10 minute walk from the centre of Brighton and short stroll from the beach. Not only have we walked past previously but stayed twice at Paskins on the same road. Thanks to a tip off from the Interweb & prior notice instructions on their site we phoned at booked the evening before (whilst gorging ourselves on what the waiter at Terre-a-terre described as "quite a lot of food"!).

4pm on a Saturday in November and the place was almost full, so we were pleased to see that they'd reserved some of the comfiest looking armchairs for us. Tea selection's impressively large and those that we tried were good (high praise for a tea hater like me) - @cherrivalentine regrets not buying some for home.

I'm never quite sure how much food to expect for afternoon tea, but advice for Metrodeco is to go hungry! Portion size is generous and more than just a snack - have a light lunch and book dinner for later in the evening, or else you may be forced into the same travesty / crime against veganism by not being able to eat all the cake!

How cool is that? Far from being the weirdos in the corner with our weirdo food, our's looked as good or better than anything other people were eating.

We started with the sandwiches - pesto & artichoke were my favourite. The bread was fresh and flavours good. Hummous made its obligatory appearance but it there's nothing wrong with that if there's variety too.

The scones looked the part and cut easily. They could have done with being over so slightly moister, but it was a good effort all the same.

We were pleased to see that they've vegan spread - if in the future they had rice whip too it'd be scone perfection.

And onto the cake - which was nothing short of stunning. Moist, crumbly texture, not too sweet and oodles of flavour. If you don't go for a full afternoon tea I highly recommend going for a slice of cake and cup of tea (though ring to check they've vegan cake in).

Supposedly our vegan version was smaller than their standard afternoon tea, so they dropped the standard price of £18 a head to £15 for the vegan version, which we think's very reasonable indeed!

We'll definitely return when next in the area and in the meantime suggest that you do too! Metrodeco's an example of omnis doing vegan food right. Looking forward to trying it in summer whilst it's still light outside.

VBites (Brighton)

To say we've been apathetic about trying VBites is somewhat of an understatement. Whilst outside Brighton (Hove) there was simply no chance - now opposite Terre a Terre in Aloka's old building it was getting warmer. When they announced they had a Sunday roast with vegan yorkshire puds, finally we were sold.

So, I'll start this post with the good (it gets progressively worse) - their yorkshires are stunning.

Far removed from the usual vegan 'tastes like a yorkshire but looks like a hocky puck', their's are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and with just the right amount of stodge. I don't know how they do it (I suspect Vegg may be involved), but their yorkshires are simply perfect. Please Redwoods - make these a product we can buy in shops.

Now the bad: we got one each. Seriously, we could have eaten a plate full of them each with gravy and left with massive smug grins on our faces. Instead, what surrounded the single yorkshire is what can only be described as the experience that is: VBites.

First I'll explain the apathy part. We love Redwoods - long before the company was bought and the name was changed we've bought their products. Our fridge always has their fake meats and we've gotten through at least a block of their cheese each week since they introduced 'super melting' in 2004.

The problem however, is that 99% of the point of eating out is getting food you can't (be bothered to) make at home - not a (poor, overpriced) version of what you eat on a weeknight. VBites (the restaurant) got bad reviews early on for being Redwoods heated up - I'm sorry to confirm that nothing's changed.

The rest of the meal was shit. Having booked for 12pm and arrived at 11.58 we stood waiting for 10 minutes whilst their staff purposely ignored us. Despite there being several milling around and several empty tables, the only one interacting with customers was operating a strict 'one at a time' policy - we only wanted to know which table to sit at. We *almost* walked out - if Moshimo wasn't now 'Made with Fishlove' we would have done.

Finally seated we ordered milkshakes which turned out to be Swedish Glace in a glass. Actually they were surprisingly good, so despite the frosty welcome we decided to give them a second chance.

Decor is a cheaper version of Aloka (they did cease trading though I guess). Gone are the Verner Panton chairs but the building itself retains its character and it's good to see details such as some of the lighting intact.

Did I mention the yorkshires? They were amazing. The rest was horrible. It was like Bird Seed had come back to haunt us. Where to start?

The deep fried potatoes is as good a place as any. Hard (not crispy) on the outside and barely cooked on the inside. I Love roast potatoes - they're usually the best thing about a roast. These however were offensive. To add insult to injury, they forgot to include any on one of the plates - not that that really mattered as I couldn't stomach more than one.

If they weren't deep fried I don't know what they'd done to them, but either way: it was a crime against roast potatoes.

The veg tasted like it'd come ready chopped in a bag from Iceland (the shop, not the country), ready to boil.

I left most of mine and we skipped dessert.

VBites: fantastic products - innovative, tasty, well respected amongst vegans. Naff restaurant.

Sea Spray (Brighton)

I used to pity people who visit the same resort each year - stay at the same place, eat the same food - visit the same shops, do the same things. There's got to be more to life than that, surely?

The irony of growing old(er) however is that occasionally you find somewhere so good that it's worth returning to over an over; where it's not much the familiarity that makes it fun, it's knowing in advance that it'll be effortlessly awesome.

This year we branched out slightly - not only changing room but to an entirely different hotel (risqué I know!) Having abandoned hope of a room with roll top bath & wood burning stove we lowered our expectations and opted for a room with balcony overlooking the pier (note railing in the foreground of the pic above). Two nights (Fri/Sat) cost us about £350 inc breakfast (which in age old tradition we slept through on Sunday).

Sea Spray's a few streets away from Paskins; slightly closer to the centre of Brighton. Like Paskins it also does a cooked vegan breakfast (not that this is strictly needed in Brighton, where you'll inevitably be eating a massive lunch a couple of hours later). Parking's expensive and on street only, costing a further £20. We were lucky enough to get a space directly outside the 1st night but had a 5 minute walk on the 2nd.

According to TripAdvisor the rooms vary massively - the general advice being to avoid the basement! We we quite pleased with our 1st floor room - whilst I'm not convinced that they fully pulled off the "Renaissance" theme that they were aiming for it was large, light and airy. The king sized bed was impressively comfortable and I got the best sleep I've had in a hotel in ages:

That view was too expense to only show once:

Breakfast was alright but fairly uninspiring (Paskins' is better). The first "vegan breakfast" came with fried eggs - the 2nd attempt looked a lot like this:

Would we stay there again? Maybe. I'm not sure it's worth the extra over Paskins - however comfortable the bed. Next time we may branch out further and go somewhere without vegan food - there's always cake to be eaten in town.