Vegan in Manchester: GRUB

People often ask me if I eventually plan to ditch Prague and move back to Manchester, and I always tell them that I hope so. When pressed, my reasons are 40% to get all my old stuff back from my mum’s attic (clothes, books, KITCHEN STUFF), 10% to be closer to my loved ones, and 50% for the vegan scene. GRUB is a large part of that – it’s a food fair that takes place every weekend with an all-vegan day every Sunday. And there’s free entry too! Whenever I’m home I try to squeeze in a visit, and I can only imagine how exciting it would be to go there every week.

In the winter it’s held in an old warehouse in a slightly rundown area near the train station – the first time we went, we wondered where on earth we were heading to, but it’s actually delightfully cosy inside with twinkling lights, an assortment of armchairs, long picnic tables, a bar, and several vendors. It is absolutely dreadful for  taking photos of your food, though. The outdoor summer location is much better in that regard, and is similarly close to the train station and with plenty of seating.

My first visit was in December 2017, when I basically just wanted to visit the Hip Hop Chip Shop stand. As always, there were four different vendors there each with a different focus (burgers, Italian food, and doughnuts rounding it out on this occasion), but I only had eyes for the battered goods.  This was one of the wisest decisions I ever made: it was phenomenal.

As an omnivorous child, there was nothing I loved more than a battered sausage from the chippy. I hadn’t had one since I was eleven, so it was a real treat to see it on a vegan menu. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, and not just due to the nostalgia. Dr HH went for the more traditional “fish” and chips (mushy peas on the side of both meals) and also loved it, though perhaps not as much as he loved the deep-fried onion rings and gherkins we ordered as a side. This was a lot of fried food, and my mother and I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day after this lunch – though let the record state that Dr HH got a takeaway calzone to have for his supper.

On my subsequent visits I’ve been more open to seeing what other options they have, rather than arriving with my heart set on one particular vendor. I was very excited in my July visit to try Vork Pies, which had been popping up all over my social media for a while.

What’s not to love about a veganised pork pie? As you can see, the pastry was spectacular and the filling was solid and meaty – and also really tasty. Again, this was a good nostalgic, childhood dish recreated.

And last Christmas we were very excited to try some poutine from The Gravy Train. I’m not a big fan of mixing my food, or soggy chips, so I had always been quite resistant to the idea of poutine. But Dr HH made some a while ago with homemade chips, gravy, and mozzarella, and I found it to be a surprisingly pleasant combination. Those Canadians clearly know what they’re doing!

Dr HH and I both enjoyed these concoctions. It was nice to try something we’ve never seen on a menu in Prague – and it fitted in nicely with my goal of trying to eat as many chips as possible whenever I’m back in the UK (nobody makes proper chips like the Brits).

This time Mother HH bucked the trend by getting a burger from Wholesome Junkies, which she really enjoyed, despite being a bit sceptical about vegan cheese.

And finally this time we had room for dessert! Chou Choux had an extremely tempting array of desserts, and it was a real challenge to narrow it down. In the end I had a date, chocolate, and caramelised pecan slice, Dr HH got a rich chocolate raspberry tart, and Mother HH got the lemon meringue tart.

The latter was the clear winner – it was light, zingy, and marshmallowy. My mum had never tried vegan meringue before, and was very impressed.

I’m still torturing myself by looking at their weekly vendors even though I have no plans to return to Manchester anytime soon – I just can’t help myself! I really wish Prague had something like this event, happening so frequently. Even when there are vegan festivals here, it tends to be the same vendors every time and most of them are from local restaurants that I could go to any day of the week. It’s really exciting at GRUB to try out these smaller, newer eateries who are just trying to establish their customer bases.

Is there anything like GRUB in your neck of the woods? What have been your best finds?

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Vegan Products: Tyne Chease

For the third year in a row, I was desperate to try the Tyne Chease selection box at Christmas – and for the first time ever,  I was successful! Both previous years I was unsuccessful because they had already sold out, so this time I was ready: I asked my mum to order it and pop it in the freezer before I’d even booked my flight home for Christmas. (Last year she’d managed to get me some cream cheeses, which were very nice indeed, but there’s no substitute for a proper cheese board.)

These ten cheeses are very small, and I hope it’s not absolute gluttony to have devoured the lot in one sitting. Dr HH and I shared these for cheese supper on Christmas Day, and it was perhaps the fanciest I have ever felt (and we were in our pyjamas and watching a superhero film, so that’s saying something).

For each flavour, we simply chopped the cheese in half and slathered it thickly on a cracker. There were ten flavours: Za’atar spice, pink peppercorn, dill, garlic, smoked, Ethiopian spice, chilli flakes, original, mustard, and sundried tomato.

I skipped the dill and mustard ones, because I don’t care for those flavours. Everything else was simply delicious! My favourites were the ones that were coated in a flavoured crust, like the za’atar one unwrapped above. It was so flavoursome! The peppercorn one also stood out, along with the smoked, though the chilli flakes were a bit spicy for me. The cheese was pleasantly creamy and spreadable, and I heartily enjoyed them.

My mum had been quite disappointed by the size when she received them, but I think it was perfectly sized if you’re planning on sharing with just a few people. And I would happily order this pack again, even with the dill and mustard cheeses in there.

What a time to be vegan – five years ago I never would have guessed I’d be tucking into a delicious cheese selection box!

What’s your favourite vegan cheese?

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Vegan in Brno: Vegan Sweet Bar

Brno is about 3 hours on the train from Prague, but lately I’ve been thinking that it might be worth doing a one-day round trip just so I could go back to Vegan Sweet Bar, one of the most exciting vegan cafes I’ve ever visited.

They’ve got cakes galore…

…and all the doughnuts! As you might guess from the name, everything here is both vegan and sweet, making it my ideal cafe. There was so much choice, and everything looked really tempting. Obviously there were plenty of hot drink options too, including hot chocolate with cream – always a winner.

Somehow, I limited myself to ordering just the one sweet thing: the salted caramel doughnut. I’m not sure anyone is fancy enough to eat a doughnut with cutlery, but there’s no denying it looks classy on the plate. However you eat it, it’s delicious: sticky, sweet, and salty. The dough itself was perhaps not quite as good as the doughnuts available at Donut Shop in Prague, but the array of flavours was much more exciting and creative.

My friend had the smaller, even stickier raspberry doughnut ball, and was very satisfied with it too, in terms of both taste and texture. So thumbs up all round!

Truthfully, this place was disappointingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon – we were the only customers when we arrived. Things picked up a bit, with a few more people sitting in and several getting takeaway, but I still think this place would have been significantly busier if it were in Prague. Hint hint!

Are you lucky enough to have an exclusively vegan dessert spot nearby? Tell me all about it!

 

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Cookbook of the Month: BOSH! (Part One)

I didn’t know too much about this book before I received it for Christmas, but as soon as I began flicking through it I knew it would be a great addition to my bookshelf. I immediately marked almost every recipe to try – everything sounded both delicious and logistically possible without taking hours out of my day or breaking the bank with extravagant ingredients.

Unsurprisingly, then, I’ve decided that this book definitely warrants two months of attention. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface so far, but here’s what I’ve made from each section (the Cocktail section is the only one as yet unexplored).

Quick Eats

I love recipes like this creamy carbonara, where there’s a really simple sauce to blitz and that’s basically the hard work done. The first night when we had this, we found the sauce far too bland – basically, the mushrooms were doing all the work, flavourwise. So on the second night we added some extra nooch, garlic, and salt to the sauce, along with the leftover mushroom marinade, and this time everything was properly delicious.

Dr HH and I got some stylish metal lunch boxes for Christmas, so we’ve been branching out from our usual lunch time soups to try to get the most out of them. This guacaroni was an obvious choice: pasta in a cool, creamy avocado sauce. Dr HH was a little underwhelmed by it, but I loved it and think it will become a packed lunch staple.

The first observation we both had about the easy peasy pasta was that there was far too much oil. It was absolutely swimming in it! Besides the excessive oil, this is pretty much a bog standard pasta and veg dish, nothing to write home about.

Big Eats

I was never a fan of those potato-topped fish pies when I was a meat eater, but I was very excited about this creamy seaside pie. I could only get regular button mushrooms rather than the recommended Asian selection, so I didn’t get that nice texture and deeper taste that would have been preferable, but this was still good. There was plenty of nori to give it a taste of the sea, and I chucked some dill in as well for good measure.

I very rarely cook Indian food, because Dr HH believes nobody makes it better than his mother and I don’t relish criticism. But we had a load of leftover spinach, so I thought I should give this saag aloo a go – and I’m glad I did! It really packed a flavour punch, plus it was very vibrant too. Even Dr HH gave it the seal of approval!

No, your eyes do not deceive you – that is indeed a second Indian dish! I was worried the rogan Bosh would be too sweet from the coconut yoghurt, but it turned out very well-balanced and tasty.

Showpieces

The Showpieces section of the book was crucial to my plans for celebrating my fifth anniversary with Dr HH, and I eventually settled on the world’s best pesto lasagne. I’ve come to really enjoy spending a few hours at the weekend labouring over the various components of a lasagne and bringing it all together into a slap-up Sunday dinner, with leftovers to carry us through to midweek. This one was certainly worth the effort, and my only complaint was that I’d have liked double the amount of pesto! I’ll certainly make this again.

Greens & Bosh Bowls

Our lunch boxes got another outing for this falafel bowl. I actually found the falafel quite dry and heavy, but that was possibly due to some clumsy work and I’d like to give them another go. They had it going on in the flavour stakes, and I enjoyed the Greek salad on the side. While I took care of those two elements, Dr HH handled the hummus…

He made both the roasted garlic hummus and sun-dried tomato hummus. The latter needed thinning out, and the flavour might have shone through more with a plain bread accompaniment rather than the competing falafel – for this particular dish, the roasted garlic version was the definite winner. All in all, this was a majestic lunch.

Small Plates & Sharers

For another exciting packed lunch, I made us two kinds of sushi! The guaca maki rolls were mega tasty (and I followed the ultimate guacamole recipe too), but a little bit heavy and sloppy from the guac.

The satay maki rolls (made with the rich satay sauce) were somehow even tastier, and one of the more exciting kinds of sushi I’ve tried. The sauce was just  delicious.

Desserts

From the Desserts section, my chocolate chip cookies didn’t look much like the ones in the book, but they tasted sublime! My colleagues absolutely loved them – including the person who had initially scoffed at the very notion of vegan cookies (can’t wait to tell him about Oreos…) and then swiftly demanded my baking tips.

And for Dr HH’s birthday I made this beautiful beacon of decadence: the ultimate chocolate fudge cake. The cake was good, but the icing was something else altogether. I don’t think I’d ever made a chocolate fudge cake before, and this one was exactly as it  should be. We could only manage small slivers of this, because it was so intense.

Breakfasts

Dr HH whipped up the banana pancakes for me one morning, and don’t they look good? He found the batter a little thinner than his usual recipes, and therefore the pancakes themselves weren’t as pillowy, but it was still a lovely breakfast feast. This won’t become our go-to recipe, but no real complaints.

I like making cake in a loaf tin, because then I can call it bread or a loaf and imagine I’m being quite healthy. I  had to abandon that pretence when I made this banana bread because I only had half quantities of all the ingredients and didn’t really fancy a sad little loaf. So I made muffins instead, simply reducing the cooking time. These were really easy to make (just chuck it all in a bowl and mix, classic), and tasted very good indeed. I’ll certainly be revisiting this recipe.

 

So far, then, everything has been basically delicious and relatively easy to make, and I’m highly motivated to keep on cooking through February. One thing I love about this book is that there are plenty of pictures – a lot of books skimp on them, but this is gorgeous to flick through.

One thing I’m less keen on is that all ingredients are listed in their whole form in the list (eg. one onion), and the preparation of those ingredients are hidden away in the text of the method (eg. Next, chop the onion). Personally, I like to see all those preparatory steps separately so I can get them out of the way before I start. It’s no fun scanning the recipe trying to see if the onion was meant to be chopped or finely sliced when I’m already halfway through everything.

I will persevere though, because the end results are worth it! Have you already got your hands on this book? Which recipes should I definitely make in February?

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Vegan in Manchester: Boho Utopia

I love supporting all-vegan businesses, and I love supporting women-owned businesses, so when those two combine I am always extra delighted. Boho Utopia, therefore, is right up my alley. I visited in 2017 for the Christmas afternoon tea, and I watched with interest as they switched to an all-vegan menu at the start of 2018. Since then I’ve been eyeing up their massive breakfasts, delicious bakes, and extravagant freakshakes on Instagram, just waiting to get back and try them.

I finally got my opportunity when I was home in December. It’s a bit of a trek from my mum’s house to Withington, where the cafe is located, but it was worth it. It’s a really relaxing, friendly place, and perhaps my favourite thing about it is that you can choose your own mug from a very exciting array. I couldn’t resist this dinosaur mug, of course.

Equally irresistible was this mac and cheese toastie. I’m absolutely addicted to mac and  cheese, and surely sticking it between more carbs is the only way to improve it. This was delightful.

Perhaps Dr HH made the winning choice with the big breakfast. The hash browns were wonderfully crisp on the outside, and the bread for the toast was also very good. The mushrooms and cherry tomatoes were well-seasoned and well-cooked. The BBQ jackfruit sounded like an exciting addition, but he found it a little underwhelming taste-wise and not quite as tender as jackfruit usually is. But the homemade baked beans were extremely flavoursome, and the bacon was the surprise hit of the whole spread – it’s quite rare to get good fake bacon, but this was a triumph of both taste and texture. I’ll certainly be ordering this when we go back.

And we finished with this magnificent concoction. It has long been a goal of mine to try a freakshake (that’s a normal ambition to have, I assume), and there’s talk of them being banned in the UK for health reasons (which seems weird when cigarettes, alcohol, and meat are all still approved, and I’m guessing there are very few people who have a shake every day), so I had to try one while I still could. We shared the ‘Ain’t no Oreo back girl’, and I certainly couldn’t have tackled it solo. As you can see, there’s chocolate sauce around the glass, and the shake was presumably made from blitzed chocolate ice cream and milk. There were little Oreo chunks stuck around the top of the glass, and the shake was topped with a brownie and a mountain of cream.

We had to remove the brownie, which I’m hoping is the correct etiquette – I was very glad to have Dr HH on hand to discuss how best to approach this beast. It was such a treat, and worth both the mess and the wait! They have a few other shake options, plus some decadent hot chocolates, which might have been more appropriate for the season, but who cares?!

I was really happy to finally achieve my freakshake dream, and just to return to this cafe a second time. Importantly, they were playing some of the greatest hits of the ’80s and ’90s while we ate, and we were enjoying the tunes so much we really didn’t want to leave – a good soundtrack is always important. I’m not sure life gets much better than sharing a freakshake with the person you love in a vegan cafe while listening to Spandau Ballet!

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MiniMoFo: Puro, Prague

After a bit of a break, MiniMoFo is back for 2019 and I’m really looking forward to getting on board with the monthly prompts. January’s theme is Beat the Blues (more info here if you also want to get involved).

Truthfully, I’m not really feeling the January blues. I’ve surprised myself – and no doubt all the people around me – by returning after the holidays feeling refreshed and energised, and I’ve actually really enjoyed getting back to work.

Usually we return after Christmas to find Prague covered in snow, which then turns to the  dreaded slush and ice, but so far this year the snowfall has been light and fleeting, so that’s not getting me down or keeping me locked indoors. Also, I got a great new pair of boots from Will’s Vegan Shoes that will give me a better hope of remaining upright on the ice, so I’m less concerned than usual.

Plus, I actually quite like January. It’s Dr HH’s birthday, as well as our anniversary, so I always have some fancy meals and celebrations to plan. January’s alright!

So I don’t really have any January blues to beat, but if I did, these waffles would probably do the trick! Puro is one of my favourite eateries in Prague (and they serve the best hot chocolate in the city, which doesn’t hurt either), and on Saturdays they offer a special brunch menu. Usually they keep the same menu up for two months, relating to whatever theme they’ve chosen (French, Japanese, Christmas, etc). Currently they’re offering Winter Brunch, which is a good fit for MiniMoFo: comforting seasonal dishes, warming the heart (and belly).

As always, the menu is divided into soups, snacks, and mains. I merely skimmed the soups section (I eat a lot of soup at home, I don’t need it when I eat out), but the snacks were very tempting, including quiche, pierogi, and the open-faced sandwiches so beloved in the Czech Republic. The mains section was the best, though, offering either an omelette or some waffles.

Obviously I got the waffles. They were delicious! They were sitting on a bed of sweet, soft, baked apple slices, covered in lashings of maple syrup, scattered with hazelnuts, and topped with generous clouds of whipped cream. Now that’s a brunch! It was tasty, comforting, and extremely filling – I really needed a good walk afterwards.

And if I had been suffering from the January blues, I’m sure these would have put a smile back on my face!

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2018 Hits and Misses

Happy New Year! I have high hopes for 2019, not least because I’ve got a three week trip to Japan to look forward to in the summer. 2018 was, as always, a great year to be vegan and Dr HH and I were lucky enough to visit a good few destinations and discover their culinary delights. Here are my top five eateries of the year, along with five that I think could do better.

Hit #1: Dall’Albero, Rome

It’s a vegan cheese lab. What more do I need to say? This is one of the best places I’ve been to in my whole life, nevermind 2018.

Miss #1: Lasagneria, Prague

Every day my tram takes me past this lasagne restaurant in Prague, and when I told Dr HH about it, he enthusiastically suggested that I enquire about vegan options. I thought there was no point, and set about scrolling through their Instagram posts in order to prove him wrong. But there it was: a mention of vegan lasagne! I sent them a message to confirm, and off we went. But we had to wait almost an hour for the vegan version to be cooked (while all the meat eaters were readily tucking into theirs, and even though we had booked in advance), and it was the most flavourless, gluey lasagne you can imagine. There was no tomato or ragu in there, just pasta, courgettes and peppers, a tiny hint of seasoning, and a disgustingly gloopy bechamel.  Never again.

Hit #2: Wani, Rome

Rome delivered yet again with this delightful all vegan bakery. We got a few different treats there, but it’s these chocolate bombs that Dr HH and I still reminisce about on an almost daily basis.

Miss #2: Whole Foods, London

I thought Whole Foods would be a good place to pick up a vegan doughnut or cake for breakfast while in London, and was really disappointed to find that all of the vegan options were in plastic containers…while the non-vegan doughnuts and cupcakes weren’t. It was weird. The only vegan, non-plastic options were some fairly unexciting banana and blueberry muffins. The tide seems to be turning regarding plastic in the UK, so hopefully this will improve.

Hit #3: Sova, Dublin

This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Dublin, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. It was one of the fanciest meals I ate this year (and the brunch was not too shabby either). The scallops will live on forever in my memory!

Miss #3: Lola’s Cupcakes, London

I picked up a cupcake for the ride to the airport last time I was in London, having heard good things about Lola’s. Alas, the icing was so heavy that when I picked the cake up from its wrapper, the sponge just collapsed under the weight. It was all a bit of a disaster. Maybe I just chose poorly…or maybe they should only ever be tackled with a utensil? Either way, eating this in public is certainly not recommended.

Hit #4: Midland Hotel, Manchester

I’ve had my share of vegan afternoon teas, and this one really stands out from the crowd. It was a really fancy affair, shared with my favourite people to celebrate my birthday, and everything was both delicious and classy. Now I’m always disappointed when I go for afternoon tea and they don’t have a scone warmer.

Miss #4: Jam, Liverpool

I feel bad for complaining about an afternoon tea, when I should be thankful that vegan versions are so readily available these days. But this was not a very classy affair, and we were misled on the menu – don’t promise a vegan macaron if there won’t be one!

Hit #5: Temple of Camden, London

I love mock chicken and I love mac and cheese, but it’s easy to get them both slightly wrong. Temple of Camden delivered on both counts, and I often find myself plotting how to get back to London to revisit this wonderful place.

Miss #5: The Green, Nuremberg

Overpriced places like this give veganism a reputation for being inaccessible. And the smoothie bowls weren’t even the right temperature!

What were your best and worst eateries of the year? Help me plan my future travels!

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