Vegan in London: Gallery Cafe

Perhaps this is the very definition of first world problems, but let me tell you: it’s very difficult to get a good vegan breakfast before 10am in the UK. Whenever Dr HH and I fly home, we get the 7am flight from Prague and arrive in London starving and exhausted at 8am, ready for a sit down, a hot bevvy, and a good breakfast. Is that too much to ask for?

Apparently so: all the vegan eateries of London seem to want to give their staff a late start, which is unbelievably selfish, in my opinion. So hallelujah for Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green, open at the much more respectable hour of 9am.

It reminded me of Canvas Cafe near Brick Lane, as it’s also very community driven and all-vegan. It seems a bit bigger and more polished – there are picnic benches outside, and a nice conservatory at the back. But it still had that same welcoming, friendly feel – and an exciting breakfast menu.

Regular readers will know that I favour a sweeter breakfast – but when you’ve been on the go since 4am, 9am is basically lunch time, so I went for the full English on this occasion. Let’s start with the basic components: it featured one slice of toast (with no spread, bizarrely), an annoying tomato half, and some unseasoned wilted spinach. You might be able to detect from the paleness of the potatoes that they weren’t as crispy and well-cooked as they could have been, which was a bit of a shame. The scramble was quite carroty and had a weird taste that neither Dr HH nor I could quite identify – I wasn’t a fan of that. The fried mushrooms were excellent, the sausages were trusty old Linda McCartney’s, and the homemade beans were really delicious (and I’m not a huge fan of beans). Overall it was a bit hit and miss, and if I went back I would definitely order the American pancakes.

It’s not all bad news on the savoury front though – Dr HH was positively raving about his rosti dish! The two rostis were topped with a portobello mushroom and smoky ketchup. The rostis were sensational (“A marvel in potato work!” Dr HH enthused), so despite my underwhelming spuds, they definitely can cook potato here! The giant mushroom was good and juicy, and he loved the flavoursome, smoky, sweet, rich sauce. This was a very good dish, and one we might need to recreate at home.

On the drinks front, the coffee was good and the chai latte was excellent, but teeny tiny. And if you’re grabbing breakfast on the go, there are also various pastries (yes, they had croissants!) to takeaway as well. Beyond breakfast, there’s a lunch menu and cakes to boot.

Thank you to the Gallery Cafe for recognising that vegans need to eat before 10am – I’m sure we’ll be back next time we’re flying in to London!

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Vegan Treats: London vs Manchester

Dr HH frequently tells me that he doesn’t understand the North vs South divide in England – spoken like someone from the Midlands, if you ask me! The rest of us know that it’s serious business. In my entirely unbiased view, the North is far superior in almost every way – especially concerning accents – but even I have to concede that the South (London, if you will) has the upper hand when it comes to all-vegan eateries.

But I think northern cities are slowly catching up, and they certainly have the quality, if not the quantity just yet. While I was home in July, I visited one vegan bakery in London and another in Manchester, so let’s see how they match up.

Cookies and Scream is an all vegan bakery/cafe in London that I have long wanted to visit, largely based on their tempting Instagram feed. We happily took a detour out to Holloway Road when we were last in London to this quite small, but extremely well-stocked little place. It had a fun, retro feel to it, and seating both in and outside. They serve hot beverages, milkshakes (made with ice cream), brownies, cakes, cookies, and various other treats. Everything’s vegan, and it’s the kind of place where a glutton like me could spend hours deliberating over what to order.

Fortunately, I arrived hungry enough that I had to make my mind up pretty quickly or I would have perished. I was powerless to resist this chico pie, which was a delightful peanut butter and chocolate chip concoction. On the server’s recommendation, I got it warmed up (even though it was a scorcher outside), which resulted in a beautifully soft and almost gooey texture. It was like eating cookie dough, which is to say it was absolutely majestic!

Considering the temperature, Dr HH tried to cool things down with this choc chip cookie ice cream sandwich. As he can’t unhinge his jaw, it’s just as well this beast came with a fork – you can’t really eat this as a sandwich. He thought it good, but not mind-blowingly so. The cookies were tasty, and you can never go wrong with Swedish Glace. I think if he’d made a more exciting choice, he might have liked this place as much as I did.

Travelling north to Manchester, we turned our attention to Teatime Collective. This used to be a cafe somewhat out of the city centre, serving excellent breakfasts, burgers, cakes, and Christmas feasts. This year they’ve transformed into a rather breathtaking cake counter inside a clothes shop in the Northern Quarter, a much more central location. (Unfortunately, they announced this weekend that they’ll be closing the cake counter at the end of the month and closing down permanently after that. It’s such disappointing news, and a reminder to always support your local vegan businesses when you can.) The cakes in the cafe were always exceptional, so it was very exciting to see them developing a much bigger range of sweet treats. Again, it’s really difficult to narrow it down to just the one cake though!

As such, Dr HH and I decided to share a couple of desserts. We started with this salted caramel and chocolate tart which, I’m pleased to report, was basically 90% cream! The caramel flavour was nice and not too overpowering (as caramel can sometimes be, I find), and though the base was a little softer than I might have liked, it was still really good.

We were too full after that to manage our second treat, this gigantic slab of tiffin. When we were eventually able to eat again, we were both very satisfied indeed with this. I suppose it’s hard to go wrong with tiffin, but this still deserves credit for being so good.

Apparently people from the Midlands think it’s fine to abandon their loved one and go for vegan treats without them, so Dr HH actually went to Teatime Collective on a separate occasion without me. (Maybe people from the Midlands are the real villains, and Northerners and Southerners should unite against them?!) He treated himself to this brownie with maple and pecans, which he declared big and hearty, but more cakey than brownie, which is always a shame. Still, delicious!

On balance, and probably to the surprise of nobody who read the first paragraph, I think the North just edges it in this match up. But let’s face it, when it comes to vegan bakeries, everyone’s a winner.

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Vegan in London: Picky Wops

You may have heard that there’s been something of a heatwave hitting the UK. It’s also boiling hot in the Czech Republic, you just don’t hear us moaning about it all the time. Nor does it cause public transport to grind to a halt (my favourite thing about living abroad is seeing how it really is only the UK that comes to a standstill on account of any variations in weather – whether it’s 38C or -17C, trains still run in Prague!).

There was a minor heatwave when I was in the UK at the start of July – it was about 28 degrees most days. And alas, we’re just not a country designed for those toasty temperatures. This was best evidenced when we went to Picky Wops for pizza and found ourselves basically sitting in a sauna.

Yet as sweaty as it was, I’d say it was worth it! All-vegan pizzerias are still a bit of a rarity, and I’m always keen to lend them my support. And Picky Wops had quite the exciting menu. There were five or six choices of base, each using a different type of fancy flour -no 00 flour here, thank you very much! Then there were the various toppings, some vegetable based, others mock meaty. But the decisions aren’t over with then – you’ve also got three choices of mozzarella (coconut, cashew, or mozzarisella), and the issue of whether or not to go for  the stuffed crust option with almond ricotta. In short, there are lots of decisions to make.

I really relished the opportunity to basically customise my own pizza. I went for the “burnt” base (fear not, it doesn’t taste burnt) and the lumberjack topping: coconut mozzarella, sausage, mushrooms, and smoky cheese. The smoky cheese was the key ingredient here – it really elevated the pizza. I don’t think I’ve every seen smoky cheese on a pizza menu before, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it from now on.

After last week’s shocking Dr HH reveal, you might be worrying about what he did when he had all these options before him. Fear not, he made respectable choices this time. He may not know how to eat beans, but he knows how to order a pizza! His was the meatfeast with turmeric base and stuffed crust. He loved the base, but was a little underwhelmed by the stuffed crust. He enjoyed the sausage and small bacon/ham chunks, and found the whole thing very tasty – but as soon as he tasted my smoky cheese, he wished he’d got some of that as well!

So if you’re in a decision-making mood (and it’s not too hot), get yourself to Picky Wops, and make sure you get that smoky cheese!

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Vegan in Brighton: Wai Kika Moo Kau

For our first ever holiday together, Dr HH and I travelled to Brighton for VegFest and started our noble tradition of eating as much as humanly possible on our adventures. Over four years after that first trip, we were back in Brighton a few weeks ago revisiting our favourite culinary haunts. But it might as well have been our first ever holiday together, because it turns out that I don’t even know Dr HH at all. He has harboured a dark secret for four and a half years. Are you ready to hear it?

He likes to mix spread into baked beans.

I can’t tell you how many full English breakfasts we’ve shared together over the years, and never once had I seen him commit this abominable act. But he did it while tucking into this breakfast at Wai Kika Moo Kau. After buttering (spreading?) his toast, he tipped the leftover spread into the beans and just mixed it in like it’s the done thing. Faithful friends, is he insane, or am I? And who knows what other hidden horrors I have yet to uncover about my beloved Dr HH? At least I know he doesn’t applaud when aeroplanes land.

I don’t even know if I can return to the task at hand and review our breakfast at Wai Kika Moo Kau…but I’ll try. This was the vegan full English, which received a solid review from Dr HH (if we can even trust his opinion on anything any more). He was delighted with the generous helping of mushrooms and potatoes. Roast potatoes are always a winner, after all. He also enjoyed the beans and toast, and the sausages (pretty sure they were Linda McCartney’s), but was rightly disappointed to see a tomato on there. Surely nobody likes that tomato half? At least it was made more exciting by the pesto on top, but obviously it wasn’t the most exciting element. All in all he said it wasn’t very original, but the mushrooms and potatoes were top notch.

Come to think of it, it’s possible that the spread and beans move was a trick to try to put me off my own breakfast so he could swoop in and devour it. No such luck, Dr HH – I will not be deterred from vegan pancakes!

I’ve had these at least once before on our previous trips to Brighton, and they were actually better than I’d remembered. Firstly, what a generous portion! And secondly, they were just really good! Thick, pillowy  pancakes that left me very full indeed, served with a veritable bucket of maple syrup! That’s my kind of breakfast.

Wai Kika Moo Kau is a vegetarian cafe with solid vegan options (and I believe all vegan cakes), and still extremely popular, so get there early if you have your heart set on a good breakfast. Our general consensus was that the pancakes were the better option of the two – and ordering them will prevent you from discovering any shocking truths about your dining partner!

 

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Vegan in London: Young Vegans

After two weeks in England with a delightful heatwave and a party atmosphere at the prospect of football finally coming home (alas, it was not to be), it is with a heavy heart that I must return to work in Prague this morning. A heavy heart, and a heavy belly, because I was in England to eat. And this quintessentially British dish seems like a good point to start recounting my holiday culinary adventures.

Young Vegans is a pie and mash shop at the Camden Lock Market. The basic menu is pie with mash/fries and gravy for £7, with various side dishes available too for a bit more money (peas, cheesy fries, etc). There were about 5 pie options when we visited, and it was quite tricky to narrow it down, but somehow we did it.

I got the chicken katsu curry pie with fries, because how often do you get a vegan chicken katsu pie?! It was a wonderful concoction: a really tasty sauce with lovely, tender, huge chunks of chicken. The pastry was great, and it was quite the generous portion. I was also pleased to note that the fries were in fact chips, and quite delicious!

Dr HH opted for the steak and ale pie, which had a really rich sauce, and good chunks of meat. As you can see, he also got the gravy, which he deemed very good (I wasn’t sure a traditional gravy would go with katsu curry, hence I skipped it). He upgraded to two sides: cheesy chips, and mac and cheese. The cheesy chips were good, and the mac and cheese  was nice but a tiny bit chalky in texture. Thee bacon crumble bits were spectacular though!

All in all, it was filling, friendly, and fantastic! As it’s at the market, seating can be an issue – there were a few indoor stools, and outdoor benches, besides the general market seating, which can fill up quickly. Don’t let that deter you though, even if you have to stand up it’s worth a visit! When we were in they had two sweet pies/tarts as well…if only we’d had room!

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MiniMoFo: Top 5 Desserts

This month’s MiniMoFo is all about desserts, and inspired a lengthy discussion between Dr HH and me about the best 5 we’ve ever been served. Here are our conclusions!

1.Tresor, Oh La La (Berlin)

Ah, the tresor. We still reminisce about these on a weekly basis, long after this little cafe closed down. Recently in a moment of stupidity, I asked: “Did the tresor contain any sponge?” Dr HH has barely stopped laughing since. He summed up this magnificent dessert as: “A big rolo with a hazelnut in the middle,  covered in fancy cream.”

 

2.Chocolate orange, The Allotment (Stockport)

Like most British people, I find chocolate orange to be one of the defining flavour combinations of the festive season. So this dessert from The Allotment’s Christmas menu was extra special. The orange sorbet was delicious, the honeycomb and nougat were exciting treats, and the chocolate truffle was sublime.

 

3.Sticky toffee pudding, Teatime Collective (Manchester)

This is what is known as a proper pud. It’s supremely comforting, and stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth delicious. I’m devastated that this place has closed down its cafe, but looking forward to doing some thorough research at their cake counter in central Manchester.

 

4.Salted chocolate tart, Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen (Bath)

We planned an overnight stay in Bath just so I could try this dessert, and it was definitely worth it! It was a rich tart with a crumbly base and, yes, a dollop of peanut butter sorbet. And when I say dollop, I of course mean “quenelle” – that’s how fancy this was.

 

5.Snap, Crackle, Choc, Terre a Terre (Brighton)

We had this dessert just last week, and it has already stormed its way into the top five! The more discerning reader may have picked up on my love of extremely decadent, rich, chocolate desserts, and this one was no exception. The chocolate mousse was outrageously good, and the shortbread crumbs, mini meringues, orange sorbet, and chocolate shards were beautiful additions.

 

Help me plan my next holiday, tell me where you found your top desserts!

 

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Vegan in Bamberg: Zapfhahn

On our recent trip to Nuremberg, I was agonising over whether to take a day trip to Bamberg or Regensburg. Unable to decide after some simple Googling (and Happy Cow-ing), we asked our Airbnb host for an opinion. We might as well have asked her to choose between her two children: she just couldn’t decide either. Finally, based on the prettiness of the top pics on Google Images, we went with Bamberg.

Look how pretty! It’s a small, picturesque town that, to a British person, is just exquisitely European. There’s not a lot to do, of course, so we essentially just wandered around sighing over how lovely everything was.

The only all-vegan listing on Happy Cow is for a food truck that was nowhere to be found when we were there. There are a few vegetarian establishments, along with a handful of omni places with vegan options, including Zapfhahn.

Zapfhahn is a burger place really close to the scenic centre where the bridges and pretty buildings are, so it’s ideal for a stop when you’re seeing the sights. And there’s even a nice courtyard so you can enjoy the sun while you eat! I had my heart set on their jack fruit burger, so imagine my devastation on finding that it was only available in the evening. At lunch time there was no vegan option listed, but the waiter offered me the old fashioned burger using their vegan beany patty instead. He also asked how I wanted it cooking, which must have been habit because nobody has ever asked me that before! (I went for medium.)

It certainly wasn’t medium in size, it was a veritable beast! It was tasty, especially with the spicy salsa as well. Texture wise, it could have been more consistent -the edges were quite crisp, while the centre was rather soft and mushy. The accompanying rosemary chips were beautifully seasoned, and I would have happily scoffed another portion were I not so stuffed from the burger.

It was a little pricey, but that’s probably to be expected given its location and the fact that a lot of tourists were stopping in. It was a bit of a shame not to have something traditionally German in such a quaint and charming little town, but really, who can say no to burger and chips?!

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