Vegan in Madrid

El Retiro Park (3)

Spain had been on my wishlist for a while before we booked our summer holiday there for the beginning of July.  My only previous experience with Spain was a long weekend in Barcelona ten years ago when I really struggled to find vegetarian options, and I was confident I could improve on that this time around:  I’ve seen a lot about how vegan-friendly the main cities in Spain are.  Sure enough, we ate very well as we spent two weeks travelling from Madrid to Valencia and finally Barcelona.  These are good places for vegans.

In fact, our only problems with food came from the opening times.  As a person who thrives on a regular eating schedule of breakfast at 7am, lunch before 1pm and dinner by 6:30pm at the very latest, I was not very encouraged by Spanish opening times.  Even when I thought I’d found a winner (“Oooh, this place is open from 11am!  Let’s book lunch for 12pm!”), I was swiftly disappointed (“We serve breakfast 11am-1:30pm, lunch 1:30-3pm.”).  Eventually we managed to get into a rhythm, and I don’t think I let my hanger get the better of me, though Dr HH might disagree.

My top tips for eating in Madrid are to always make a reservation, and to go for set lunch menus where possible.  Almost every eatery we visited in Madrid was constantly jam-packed, which is great news for the thriving vegan businesses, but bad news for hungry tourists.  I made all my reservations on Facebook, no clumsy telephone attempts at Spanish required.  And the three course lunch menus were very good value for money, and helped to keep me going until my next feeding at 8pm.

So, let’s dive into it!

Madrid Rayen Vegano (1)

On our first day we went for a 12pm “breakfast” at Rayen Vegano.  It’s a lovely, charming place:  really attractive, but quiet small and you really need to book.  There were English menus, and the staff spoke perfect English too, so it’s very tourist-friendly.  In fact, I’d call this a must-visit if you’re in the city.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Breakfast (3)

Dr HH ordered the Sunday special of three buckwheat pancakes, which were good and thick.  They were topped with a really good cream and some fruits, and served with amazingly thick chocolate sauce.  He was delighted with this, unsurprisingly.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Breakfast (4)

I couldn’t resist the tempeh sandwich, though I usually favour something sweet.  This is a regular feature on the breakfast menu, and I can’t praise it highly enough – and I say this as someone who generally hates sandwiches!  First of all, the homemade bread was delicious.  It was filled with tomato, lots of tempeh bacon fingers, cheese slices, tofu scramble and a really good sauce.  I couldn’t pick the whole thing up, it was so substantial!  The accompaniments (purple potatoes with crispy bits and a mustardy salad with avocado) were also delicious.  What a feast!

Madrid Rayen Vegano Breakfast (7)

As it had gone so well, we decided to treat ourselves to a slice of raw peanut butter cake for dessert.  It was exactly as a peanut butter cake should be:  sticky and gooey, with a good crunchy base.  Alas, we didn’t realise until the bill arrived that it cost €6.50.  It was a good cake, but that’s still a pretty high cost.  Even so, we left on a high.

Madrid Punto Vegano (6)

Late that night (at 8pm on the dot) we arrived at Punto Vegano for our first tapas of the trip.  It also serves main courses, but we were eager to get into the spirit with some tapas.  Again, booking is recommended for this small and charming little place.  There are English menus and friendly staff.  It’s a stone’s throw from the Temple de Bod, a little Egyptian temple relocated to Madrid and a nice spot to catch the sunset.

Madrid Punto Vegano (4)

We ordered three dishes to start.  Of course, we had some patatas bravas.  The little cubes of tomato were perfectly crispy, and the fiery sauce was only drizzled on, so it was quite easy to control the spiciness (you can also order the non-spicy sauce).  We added a squeeze of alioli, which was lovely and garlicky.

The fried ravioli sounded and looked so inviting.  They were lovely and crispy, but the filling was only spinach, which was a little bland.  Some tofu or mushrooms would have livened it up a bit for the palate.

The quinoa and oat meatballs in tomato sauce are also available as a main, and they were remarkable!  They had so much flavour.

Madrid Punto Vegano (5)

To make sure we were completely full, we finished off with some babaganoush.  We got a mixed plate with some hummus, as they were almost out of the aubergine dip, and both were really tasty.  The bread was good too, and we were definitely full by the end.

Madrid Punto Vegano (8)

We also got a couple of chocolate muffins to take away for breakfast the next day.  They were a bit decadent for the morning, but they were really good!

Madrid Rayen Vegano (2)

On Monday we were back to Rayen Vegano for the lunch set menu.  As I said, these are such a great deal.  It was €11.50 for three courses plus bread and a ginger kombucha drink (tap water was also available for free, which is always a bonus in Europe).  There were two options for each course, and the waitress recommended choosing one of each to share.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Lunch (1)

Alas, one of the options for the starter was a melon and cucumber gazpacho.  Melon and cucumber are two of my most-hated foods, so we didn’t bother with that – we both had the carrot and mushroom salad.  It was a simple salad that was elevated by an earthy mushroom sauce and a tasty tempeh slice on top.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Lunch (4)

One of the mains was a timbale of quinoa, avocado and fiery salsa.  It was summery and fresh, but not particularly filling – especially in comparison to the other option.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Lunch (6)

The seitan pasty on mashed potato and tomato sauce was delicious, with some pesto vegetables too.  It was very filling and there was good depth of flavour in the sauce.

Madrid Rayen Vegano Lunch (7)

The dessert options were a little disappointing:  a coconut muffin, or a coffee one.  Still, the presentation made it look somewhat fancier, and the coconut cake was moist and lovely.

Vega was our next stop.  All the reviews on Happy Cow are positive – except from people who were turned away.  Yes, booking is necessary: it’s small and popular.  Even though we booked, the service wasn’t great.  After 15 minutes nobody had taken our drinks order, and then it took another 30 minutes for our food to arrive.  Still, it was a nice, rustic place, and all vegan, so there is hope.

Madrid Vega (2)

We considered tapas again, but decided to get some mains instead.  I got the brochette of smoky tofu, which had a lovely sticky, sweet marinade and crunchy sesame seeds.  The vegetables and glass noodles were tasty and filling, though the salad leaves were not dressed, which is a shame.

Madrid Vega (1)

Dr HH was quite disappointed by his barbecued seitan with grilled vegetables.  The seitan was cut into really thin slivers, which isn’t great when the chunky, meaty texture is always the highlight.  The sauce was a little too sweet, but the chunks of vegetables were good.  It was the first underwhelming meal of the holiday, both in terms of food and service, but I suppose you can’t win them all!  It was still nice, but not on the same level as our other excellent meals.

Madrid Le Pain Quotidien (2)

Madrid Le Rollerie (1)

We had breakfast croissants a couple of times while we were in Madrid, once from Le Pain Quotidien and once from La Rollerie.  They look pretty similar above – I expected both places to bake their own goods, but who knows if they share a supplier?  They were both a little flaky outside, but quite bready inside.  Still, they were nice.  In both places you can get the croissant to eat in or take away.  Le Pain Quotidien has a couple of vegan options on the menu, and four muffins labelled vegan, so it’s a great spot to pick up snacks.

Madrid Viva Burger (1)

Madrid Viva Burger (4)

We got our burger fix at Viva Burger, which is a fun 100% vegan restaurant which specialises in, surprise surprise, burgers.  There’s an outdoor terrace in a nice square, so you can feel like quite the European – however, there’s a 10% surcharge for dining out there.  We did so anyway.  It was extremely popular, and initially there was only one server so things were a little slow.  It picked up eventually though.  This place was the first in Madrid that gave us complementary olives while we waited:  hurray!

Madrid Viva Burger (5)

I ordered the ahumada burger, which promised smoked cheese and sundried tomatoes.  The patty was good and vegetable-based, but the highlight was the cheese – a really thick slab of it, simply delicious.  It was very good, but I couldn’t actually finish it, it was so immense.

Madrid Viva Burger (6)

Dr HH had no such problems.  He enjoyed his chingona burger, which had the same patty topped with avocado and pico de gallo.  He enjoyed the spiciness and thought the whole thing was packed with flavour.  Alas, it lacked some structural integrity – the avocado should have been sliced, rather than cut into big chunks which couldn’t be held in place or squashed down for easy devouring.  Both burgers came with amazing crispy potato wedges.  I ate all of those, no problem!

Madrid B13 (1)

Our last meal in Madrid was definitely one of the best, and probably our best tapas in the whole of Spain.  We went to B13, which serves both tapas and mains and is quite a cheap and cheerful place with no table service and no reservations.  We were there about 5 minutes after opening at 8:30pm, and within half an hour it was absolutely packed.  Happily, we got some fried potato slices while we waited and agonised over the menu.

Madrid B13 (5)

I was really excited about trying the calamares, something neither of us had ever eaten in our omnivore days.  They were rings of lightly battered tofu with a slight taste of the sea, which I guess is from seaweed.  The batter was perfect, and they were delicious, though I can’t comment on their authenticity.

The onion rings were less impressive – the batter wasn’t as good as that on the calamares, and they seemed to be made from mushed onion rather than actual rings.  They came with a tasty BBQ sauce which livened them up a bit.

We gambled on something called San Jacobs of seitan and cheese.  They were basically breadcrumbed nuggets comprised of two thin slices of seitan sandwiched with gooey cheese, and served with more of that BBQ dip (there were four options).  Sounds good, no?  They were excellent.

Madrid B13 (3)

And, saving the best for last, we had this potato omelette.  It was huge!  It was also very tasty.  This was our first taste of tortilla, and it was very good indeed, you must try it if you visit.

Madrid Palace (5)

Madrid was a great destination, both as a vegan and as a tourist.  We enjoyed the greenery in the city, especially El Retiro park in the city centre and the gardens around the palace.

Madrid City Centre (3)

There were also lots of grand buildings to admire, including the palace itself, the cathedral and this rather famous one.

Reina Sofia (2)

 

There is no shortage of good art in Madrid either.  The Prado is possibly the most famous, but we didn’t go there – we went to the Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza instead (both have free opening hours, so take a look if you want to save some pennies).  Those two have more of the impressionists, which is what we generally keep an eye out for.

Madrid Street Art (17)

And there’s street art aplenty too.  We went on a street art tour and saw some impressive works around the city centre.  The walls around the Tabaclera were one of the best spots, with lots of colourful pictures to admire.

Whatever you’re into, and however hungry you are, Madrid will keep you happy!

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Vegan in Manchester: Phở

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I don’t think I ate phở the whole time I lived in Vietnam (two and a half years, for the record), but I am constantly on the lookout for it now.  I’ve made my own before, but when a restaurant named Phở opened in Manchester (just a couple of weeks after I moved away last summer – what a cheek!), I was eager to pay a visit.  It’s located in the newly renovated Corn Exchange, which also houses at least one other vegan-friendly establishment, Mowgli.  The menu has plenty of vegetarian options, and the waiter told me that they were all vegan as long as I specified that I didn’t want any fish sauce.

Pho (2)

What to have?  Well, there were some inviting looking spring rolls, but of course I had to go for the button mushroom and tofu phở.  And it was good!  The broth was really flavoursome, and it was full of good herbs, mushrooms, noodles and fried tofu.  I loved it, and was really full afterwards, so I’m glad I didn’t get any starters.

While the food was delicious, I felt it was ridiculously expensive.  There’s a reason this is the national dish in a poor country.  I’ve made it myself in Manchester and know that even the more exotic ingredients can be bought pretty cheaply.  Even though it’s a meal in itself, I feel that £7.95 is a lot for a bowl of soup.

None of this will stop me from going back, of course.  Phở is just so good!

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Vegan Package Swap: New Jersey

Package Swap (3)

Back in March I posted about my love of package swaps, and I arranged an exchange with fellow blogger Jennifer from One Raw Bite.  She sent me all of these delicious goods from New Jersey and I had a marvellous time eating my way through them!

Package Swap (5)

I had never had matzos before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from these.  For anyone else who is uninformed, they were big crackers, coated in dark chocolate and sprinkles.  They were so good!  These were the first things we tried from the package, enjoying them with a cup of tea and Game of Thrones.

Package Swap (6)

I love hot chocolate, but I don’t know of any vegan instant versions in the UK or Europe.  These packets were perfect for me!  The 6 Spice mix was actually a little too fiery for me, but the traditional one was perfect.

Package Swap (7)

Of course, these are the things that excited me the most.  I’ve had Cleo’s Peanut Butter Cups before, but think I prefer these new-to-me Justin’s ones, with darker chocolate.  The gold peanut butter cup at the top was solid with nutty pieces, rather than filled with gooey butter as I’d expected, but it was still tasty.  The Larabar was amazing, like a raw Snickers.  Speaking of which, the Jokerz bar is the vegan version of the Snickers.  I’ve had the Mars before and loved it, and this was just as good.  I also enjoyed the Mahalo (vegan Bounty).  Whoever invented these was definitely onto a winner!  No No’s are vegan M&Ms, and I’ve had them just once before.  They are also delightful.  It’s so great being able to have these familiar sweets in a cruelty-free way.

Package Swap (8)

I love Manner wafers, but not all varieties are vegan.  Actually, the middle packet here (vanilla cream) contain milk powder, which I noticed before eating them.  The others were great, though.  They make a really good snack.  Downside:  they also make a lot of crumbs.

Package Swap (14)

And onto the savouries.  The Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg has been the talk of the vegan community lately, and I was delighted to finally get my hands on some.  I decided to make a simple scramble as part of a nice weekend breakfast – unfortunately, I overcooked it a bit and it was a little rubbery.  Every picture I’ve seen on social media looks better than this one, so don’t let my photo deter you from trying this product.  It was nice, but to be honest I prefer tofu scrambles now.  If I can track down some more, I’ll try to make an omelette instead.

Package Swap (10)

Package Swap (11)

And here I had two different kinds of mac and cheese mix.  The pizza one was a bit weird – it was nice and creamy, but the taste was just strange. The Earth Balance one was better, it had both texture and taste.

Package Swap (15)

The Pad Thai pot noodle was great for an emergency (eg. when I was too lazy to cook on a Saturday).  It was flavoursome and fast, and that’s exactly what you’d want from this kind of thing.

Package Swap (16)

Deliciously Ella Classic Stir Fry

And finally this soybean spaghetti, which is packed with protein.  We used it in a stir fry, and thought they had a little less bite than we’d like – but probably because we overcooked them!  Anyway, they were really nice and it’s always good to have another source of protein up your sleeve.

I absolutely loved this package swap!  I got some new and exciting treats, and lots of good chocolate and peanut butter combinations.  This has made me more excited about the possibility of a trip to the USA, even though it doesn’t fit into our plans for the next year or two.

Of course, I’m now on the lookout for my next package swap!  I’ll be in the UK again soon, so if any readers from around the world are interested in some good British vegan treats, let me know!

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Vegan in Prague: Puro

Prague Day 1 (15)

When I arrived in Prague last summer, mid-heatwave, Puro was exactly what I needed for three reasons:

a) the food was raw, fresh and cold

b) they had an outdoor ice cream stand

c) the staff occasionally came outside with a spray bottle and spritzed water in the faces of the (willing) patrons.  It was seriously hot.

Prague Day 1 (14)

Feast your eyes on some of the delicious food I ate in the summer, starting with this raw spaghetti, the staple of raw menus.  The dressing was good and zingy, and a plate of cold courgette noodles was heaven.

Prague Day 1 (15)

And have a look at these fresh spring rolls!  The seaweed roll tasted amazing, but the seaweed wrapper was a little harder to bite through than the standard spring roll wrapper, so it was a bit challenging.  One of the clear rolls was full of vegetables, the other had some smoky tofu in, and that was definitely the best one.  The dipping sauce was thick and peanutty, just the way I like ’em.

Prague Day Two (11)

We also managed some cooked food as well, Dr HH sampling this burger, which we enjoyed.

Prague Day Two (12)

And I had this wrap, which was also good…though not quite on par with the spring rolls.

Karlstein Hike 001

The sushi was also delicious!

Prague Day 1 (11)

Here’s the ice cream stand, only open during the summer months.  You get to make a bespoke ice cream:  they start with a little pot of plain ice cream, then you can choose a combination of nuts and fruit (raspberries, mango, coconut, cashews, etc) to mix it with in the machine.  And out it comes on top of your cone!

Prague Day 1 (18)

This was so fruity and good on a summer’s day.  It was one of those times when it was agony waiting to take a photo before diving in!

Puro Jambalaya (1)

The menu changed a bit for winter, with more cooked dishes and more cakes for dessert.  I didn’t go for any eat-in meals during winter, as they aren’t usually open by the time Dr HH gets in from work (and are closed at weekends), and he would kill me if I went without him.  However, we managed to go recently for a sneaky weekday lunch.  Dr HH had this jambalaya with shrimp, and thought it was flavoursome and good.

Puro Bean Kiev (1)

I think I won though, with these beany kievs.  They were so crispy on the outside, and a little buttery in the centre.  Beautiful!  A vegan kiev is quite the rarity, so I’m glad I got my hands on these.

Puro July (2)

Puro July (1)

Now we’ve been in Prague for almost a year, the outdoor seating and ice cream stand are back in business.  We popped in for lunch last Friday and enjoyed an extremely hearty pasta and ‘bacon’ dish (it looks really dry, but there’s loads of tomato sauce and black olives hiding underneath) and the ultimate beefless burger (a good, meaty patty, but far too saucy).

Puro July (3)

And more ice cream, of course!

Karlstein Hike 014

Prague Day Two (1)

Despite being such a small place, it’s also a well-stocked shop, where I pick up my Field Roast supplies.  It also sells Tofurkey products, Vego chocolate, ice cream, chocolate spread, biscuits, vegannaise, sour cream, Cliff and Nakd bars, and even B12 supplements.  It’s a great little vegan shop, in short.

I’m looking forward to more summery visits to Puro in August – and plenty more ice cream!

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Cookbook of the Month: Deliciously Ella

Deliciously Ella Roasted Squash Avocado Olive Rocket Salad

Every time I see a Tom Cruise film, I desperately hope it will be terrible, just to vindicate my deep dislike of the man himself.  Ella Woodward (now Mills) is the Tom Cruise of the cooking world for me.  I admit that I approached this book hoping I would hate it, but I still wanted to give it a fair review.  I expected it to be the cookbook equivalent of Edge of Tomorrow, and I would have to grudgingly admit that she wasn’t the devil after all, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that the recipes were absolute bobbins.  Now I’m justified in my dislike of the author and her empire!  Hurrah!

What’s my beef with the author?  Well, she’s not exactly a great voice for veganism, despite producing a largely plant-based food empire (she uses honey), and despite a lot of her customers being vegan. In this interview with the Telegraph, she says of the vegan lifestyle:  “It’s all about being really exclusive and I think it so often comes with a criticism of other people.  While I love and would encourage as many people as possible to try a plant-based diet, I’m not sitting here judging anyone.”  Except vegans, of course.

She goes on:  “For me it’s about natural food, eating a healthy diet, but also being as accessible as possible.”  I’m not sure you can really call this book accessible.  From a financial standpoint, there are lots of dishes calling for almond butter and dates.  And from another point of view, my brother once asked me to recommend a vegan recipe to him, but specified that it shouldn’t contain any ingredients that would require a trip to a specialist shop – it’s not really accessible if you can’t pick it up at your little local supermarket.

Slagging off a large percentage of your target audience is pretty stupid.  But with two books, a successful blog and her own deli, I was expecting the food to wear me down and overcome some of my doubts.  But the recipes were just baffling.  Sometimes fine, sometimes just plain old bad.  Let’s have a closer look.

Deliciously Ella Cinnamon Pecan Granola

Starting with breakfast, of course:  the cinnamon pecan granola was tasty and had a nice combination of flavours (cinnamon, coconut oil, maple syrup).  It didn’t contain as much oil/syrup as a lot of other recipes I’ve seen, which was nice, and everything still held together beautifully.

Deliciously Ella Apple and Cinnamon Porridge Bake (2)

I really enjoyed the apple and cinnamon porridge bake, though I would leave it soaking in the fridge overnight and add some nuts in the morning to help it all come together.  Dr HH preferred the Oh She Glows recipe I usually use.

Deliciously Ella Creamy Coconut Porridge

This creamy coconut porridge was a delight!  I soaked the oats in the coconut milk overnight in the fridge, so they were extra soft and plump in the morning.  The banana was a wee bit overpowering, so I would use less.  It was a really satisfying start to the day though.

Deliciously Ella Creamy Brazil Nut Cheese

On to snacks:  I’ve only made nut cheese once before, and I was keen to give it another try, so I embarked on the creamy Brazil nut cheese.  The recipe didn’t recommend soaking the nuts first, which surprised me.  I was already at the point where I didn’t have too much faith in the book any more, so I decided to soak them for an hour or two, but it wasn’t enough – they still wouldn’t blend into a creamy cheese.  I added rice milk until it became creamy, and it was delicious!

Deliciously Ella Classic Hummus and Roasted Red Pepper Paprika Hummus

It’s also been a while since I’ve made hummus, but I decided to get back on it with two different varieties.  The classic hummus was really good, very well seasoned and balanced.  It was easy to adapt it and make the roasted red pepper and paprika hummus, which was also good.

Deliciously Ella Roasted Tomato with Red Pepper and Basil Cannellini Soup

There weren’t too many soups in the book, but I made these two with a cannellini bean base.  This one is roasted tomato with red pepper and basil soup, and it was very good indeed!  The creaminess from the beans was lovely, and roasting the tomato and pepper really added to the flavour – even though it was so hot in my apartment that I could hardly bear to turn on the oven!  This is exactly the kind of soup I love.

And the other is pea and mint, which I forgot to photograph because I didn’t actually eat any myself, I just gave it to Dr HH.  His review?  “It was nice.  It was pea soup.”

Deliciously Ella Roasted Squash Avocado Olive Rocket Salad

I made the roasted squash, avocado, olive and arugula salad with spinach instead of rocket, and I really liked it.  I didn’t peel my butternut squash, because who has the time for that?  I also used enough oil to roast the squash that I didn’t need to add more in the dressing, so keep an eye on that.  It was really nice for a summery packed lunch.  It was delicious, but was really crying out for some crunch.  Maybe a handful of seeds?

Deliciously Ella Fresh Spring Rolls 001

I thought the fresh spring rolls would be really refreshing and delicious on a hot June weekend, but actually they were quite disappointing.  Using two mangoes in the dip made it too sweet, and I had to add a lot of salt, pepper and chilli to make it more savoury.  The end result was just a bit weird.  I decided against adding any more mango in the rolls themselves.  The veg was fine, but it was crying out for some smoked tofu or something more substantial and flavoursome.

Deliciously Ella Classic Stir Fry

Dr HH whipped up the classic stir fry one evening and did a mighty fine job of it.  You don’t really need too much instruction with a stir fry, but the addition of tahini was a really nice touch and gave it a nice creaminess as well as a good flavour.

Deliciously Ella Chilli

Black beans, in Prague?  Don’t be silly!  I made the black and kidney bean chilli using only kidney beans, and added a tin of chopped tomatoes to beef it up.  The main selling point in the recipe seems to be the 10 minute cooking time but to be honest, I think it’s worth taking more than 1o minutes.  Throw in an onion.  Add some spices besides chilli.  This is definitely not the best chilli recipe I’ve ever had.

Deliciously Ella Coconut Curry (3)

I added red curry paste to the coconut Thai curry with chickpeas, because I was already a little underwhelmed by the seasoning in the recipes.  It was delicious!  And it made approximately a million portions, which is always a bonus.

Deliciously Ella Lentil and Butternut Squash Dal

The lentil and butternut squash dal was simple, but tasty.  Because of the green lentils it was quite a dark, wintry-looking dish, but fortunately it tasted alright.  I increased the spices, as usual.

Deliciously Ella Cauli and Potato Curry (1)

The recipe for the cauliflower and potato curry was a bit baffling.  The potato had to be boiled for 15 minutes first, then simmered in the curry for 45-60 minutes, until “nice and soft”.  I probably don’t need to tell you that they were already soft long before then.  I added some garam masala, because spices are good.

I gave up on this book halfway through the month.  I was eyeing up further recipes to try and when I came to a lentil bolognese that contained neither onions nor herbs, I just couldn’t go on.

This book is a great example of style over substance.  It looks pretty, and it conveys a certain covetable lifestyle.  But these are not well-developed recipes.  There is no onion and very little seasoning.  Everything is bland and uninspired.  I don’t understand how first the blog and then the books became so successful on the back of these recipes.  (Well, her parents are mega rich and powerful, so I have some idea of how it happened.)

I don’t really know who this book is intended for.  If you’re vegan, you’ve probably already got far superior versions of most of these recipes in better books, so I’d say it’s non-essential.  And if you’re non-vegan but looking for healthier, meat-free options, it just isn’t inspiring enough to convince anyone to make permanent changes.  Anyone looking for whole, healthy foods should try Oh She Glows, and anyone looking for astounding vegan meals of various health levels should delve into the back catalogue of Isa and Terry.

There will be no cookbook of the month in July, as we’re on the road for a month.  Woot!  Dr HH will be in charge of August’s cookbook, so wish him luck!

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Vegan in Prague: Lunchtime Buffets

Veganland Lunch

Is there anything better than a buffet?  You get to try loads of different dishes, eat an obscene amount of fried food (if you’re lucky) and don’t have to worry about any unpleasant ingredients turning up on your plate (like celery *shudder*).  Prague has a plethora of pay-by-weight vegan/vegetarian buffets.  Buffets are great for tourists as, if you play it the right way, they fill you up for a long time relatively cheaply.  So, which ones in Prague are worth a visit?

Loving Hut:  24kr/100g  (all vegan)

Loving Hut Na Porici

There is no shortage of Loving Hut restaurants in Prague, but the fairly central one on Na Porici is my favourite, because downstairs is a well-stocked shop, World Vegan.  It has lots of the vegan basics (grains, milk, snack bars), but also some pretty unusual stuff.  Cornettos, for example.

There’s always a lunch time buffet on, and we went a few times on Saturdays for some fried, meaty dishes.  There are always deep-fried options, most commonly the spring roll and cauliflower floret pictured here.  Then there are noodles, rice, vegetables and meaty main dishes, and a salad counter too.  However, a lot of the dishes are very similar.  The main dishes are usually tofu-based, rather than a more exciting mock meat for variety.  The spring rolls have the same eggy filling as the crispy ball at the front of the picture, and there was even another helping of this with spicy sauce dolloped over it.

You certainly won’t be hungry when you leave, but it’s not as exciting as it could be.  Also, the food isn’t always hot enough, even when we go at peak hours.  This was always our default buffet choice, until I decided to research the other options.  Now I know that there is a lot more on offer!

Vegetka, 22kr/100g  (all vegan)

Vegetka Buffet 001

I don’t think Vegetka is affiliated with Loving Hut, though they were showing a video of the Supreme Leader when we visited.  The food is Asian, but it’s much better than Loving Hut:  more variety and creativity.  It’s quite out of the way, in Dejvicka, which means it’s a bit quieter than the more central locations.  The spring roll was excellent, and the battered vegetables were humongous and delicious (they also had aubergine slices).  The fried rice was really tasty and the black bean aubergine was sensational.  My favourite was probably the meaty chunks with Brussels sprouts – quite an unusual combination, but it really worked.

The restaurant is quite small, but it wasn’t busy when we went and the tables are quite well-spaced, so it doesn’t feel as chaotic as Country Life or Beas.  We couldn’t find any water, but we had free tea anyway, so no problems.

If this place were more centrally located, we’d definitely go more frequently.

Veganland:  24kr/100g (but cheaper after 4pm)  (all vegan)

Veganland

Veganland is somewhat off the beaten track.  It’s out in Prague 9, but it’s just a minute from the metro stop at Vysocany, safely nestled in the Galerie Fenix.  It’s also just a stone’s throw from Dr HH’s place of work, so he sees a lot of his colleagues getting lunchtime takeaway and we’d been hoping for a chance to visit for a while.  We managed to meet up for a lunchtime buffet one Friday, and were very impressed indeed.

Veganland is actually a shop as well as a restaurant, so it’s open from 9am-9pm, but only serves the buffet from 11am-7pm.  (I say “only” – you know what I mean.)  It’s another pay-by-weight buffet, and again, it’s heavily leaning on Asian cuisine.  There are always some deep-fried goods (we had spring rolls and cauliflower florets), rice and noodles, and a few vegetable and mock meat based main dishes.  I had some spicy prawn-style dish, flavoursome tofu curry, and good chewy meat pieces.  There was also some fresh sushi when we visited, and we shared a duck wrap as well, which was the real highlight.

Water is freely available:  hurray!  That’s not always a given in the Czech Republic.  The seating area consists of two gigantic tables, a counter at the window and a table for two in the shop area, so you might be sitting close to strangers.  Like any British person, when I’m seated close to people I don’t know I do my best to completely ignore their existence and pretend that this hideous situation isn’t happening.  Czechs, however, like to say goodbye when they get up, and we were even wished a good day.  What is wrong with these monsters?!

The shop has a small chilled section and lots of kinds of milk, grains, and the usual vegan goods.  There’s nothing outstanding there (they sometimes have Vego), but this was the only place I could find agar agar.

We’ve been back to Veganland a few times and always really enjoy it – it’s probably the best buffet of the lot, so if you are out in that area I would strongly recommend it.  (The picture at the top of the post is also from here.)

Country Life:  29.50kr/100g  (mostly vegan)

Country Life Buffet (1)

Country Life Buffet (2)

You may have noticed by now that we are not the kind of people who go to a buffet for salad.  We go straight for the good stuff, and Country Life had plenty of that.  For anyone who doesn’t follow our method, the salad bar looked pretty good.  Next to it was a cold section including the broccoli on the top plate and the burger and meaty chunk on the bottom plate.  They were all things that I think would have been better hot.

Truthfully, all of the food could have been hotter, but the warm-ish section was definitely the best (and we were there dead on noon, so it’s not that the food had been sitting out for hours).  The pizzas were good, and the mains section included a pearl barley and Brussels sprout stew, a layered vegetable bake and a mock-meat stew, which was fantastic with a helping of wedges (though they could have been crisper).

Again, there are water coolers for you to help yourself, and the restaurant itself is in a really nice space with good wooden furniture.  It’s pretty busy at lunchtimes, and it’s right in the middle of the tourist area, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether or not you are a tourist.  There was also a dessert section, which looked pretty tempting.

On Happy Cow, Country Life is listed as vegetarian and the reviews say most things are vegan but you can ask for confirmation.  As it’s self-service, though, there was nobody for us to ask.  The sign in the window proclaims it to be an entirely dairy free establishment, so I decided to accept that and help myself.

Dhaba Beas Vegetarian:  20.90kr/100g  (50% vegan)

Beas Buffet

There are lots of branches of Dhaba Beas around Prague, and they are popular with the locals for lunch.  It’s vegetarian, with all vegan options clearly marked.  Everything I really wanted contained dairy, which was quite annoying, but I still did alright in the end, as you can see.  The samosas were really good, though not quite hot enough.  The chickpea curry was fantastic, and the dahl was nice.  The potatoes weren’t quite cooked through, more’s the pity.

There were lots of Thai dishes as well, but I’d planned on keeping it Indian…until I saw the sushi, and couldn’t resist.  We went to the branch on Belehradska and it was absolutely packed at lunchtime – people are really packed in, and it’s not the kind of place where you can linger after eating.  I found the atmosphere a little stressful, but the food was very good and reasonably priced, and there was a jug of water on every table.  Hurrah!

Etnosvet:  29kr/100g   (50% vegan)

Etnosvet Buffet (1)

I’d been quite worried about trying the Etnosvet buffet, because when I emailed to ask if it catered to vegans (their evening menu doesn’t have too many options) they were very vague and told me just to ask on the day.  As it turned out, there were loads of choices.  The dish descriptions are written up on chalkboards, and all vegan options are clearly marked.  There’s a salad bar in the middle of the room, and hot dishes around the outside (alas, no vegan desserts).  The hot dishes are mainly stews, and I had some pilaf rice and rosemary roast potatoes, which were fantastic.  I had some seaweed and tofu, which was beautifully salty, peas and sundried tomatoes, a cauliflower curry and a meaty bean cassoulet.  Everything was good, and the temperature was ok.

The food was excellent and the restaurant wasn’t too busy, but the price would deter me from going too often.

 

Whatever your hotel location or preferred cuisine, one of these options should keep you happy.  I wouldn’t advise against visiting any, though I would discourage the tourist tendency just to make a beeline for Loving Hut because it’s such an established name.  While it’s not bad,I don’t think it’s the strongest of the bunch, so it’s definitely worth considering the other options too.  Happy eating!

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Vegan in Berlin (Again)

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Dr HH and I just can’t get enough of Berlin.  We have abandoned all pretence of going to partake in the cultural and historical side of things – now we can openly admit that we just go there to eat.  And eat, we do!

In May Dr HH had a rare long weekend off work, so we hopped on a bus on a Friday afternoon and enjoyed a two night stay.  On arrival we headed straight for some fast food at Vöner, an all-vegan kebab place.

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The first time we went to Berlin in 2014 I was too scared to try a vegan kebab.  Oh, how times have changed!  We didn’t see any paper menus to peruse, so we just used the boards on the wall and as such we panic-ordered.  We both chose the vönerteller.  I got the tahini-garlic sauce (above) while Dr HH tried tomato-chilli.

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Both plates consisted of some nice but unremarkable salad, some beautifully crispy deep-fried chips and a very generous portion of spicy kebab meat.  It was really tasty!  The tahini sauce was the better of the two, we concluded (the tomato salsa just wasn’t spicy enough), though there was too much of it for my liking.  Some people really like their sauce on the side!

I’d definitely recommend Vöner for the food, and if you’re in the mood for a cheap-and-cheerful kind of place.  Service was a little slow for a fast food place, and was also a bit confusing.  It was very cramped and busy when we were there (Friday night, so not that surprising), so it wasn’t the kind of place where we could loiter comfortably.

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Not that we intended to loiter – I had handily planned things so that we could have a ten minute walk to our dessert stop, Caramello Eisdiele.  It’s a little ice cream parlour with just a few seats indoors and outdoors, and it was doing a roaring trade at about 9:30pm on a warm Friday night.

There was a tempting display case of ice creams, and I’d say about 60-70% of them were vegan (all clearly marked).  The cones are also vegan, which is a huge bonus.  There is a selection of sundae options which can all be veganised, but we couldn’t resist a cone.  I had the caramello cinnamon scoop, which was just like eating Biscoff, topped with a scoop of chocolate rice milk ice cream, which was rich and creamy.  They worked really well together.  As a bonus, the staff were really lovely and friendly.  We toyed with the idea of going back on Sunday but, as you will see, more indulgences really weren’t necessary.

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When booking this trip, our first choice Airbnb turned us down because of changes in the law about renting and our second choice cancelled the booking because he was going on holiday that weekend as well.  So our third choice wasn’t in the neighbourhood we usually go for (Neukölln), and we were a little anxious.  It turned out to be a really good choice though.  When we checked in and got on the wifi, I had a quick look on the Happy Cow app to see if any vegan eateries were nearby, and that is how we chose our Saturday morning breakfast spot, Die Leckereienfabrik.  It’s just as well our top choices cancelled on us, because this was a great find and I doubt we would have stumbled upon it otherwise.

First of all, it opens at 9am.  This is a rarity:  most vegan places in Berlin start serving breakfast at 10am at the earliest, and I just can’t wait that long.  It was a really cute, quaint little place with mismatched furniture, vintage crockery, a tempting display of baked goods, and outdoor seating.  We ordered the breakfast plate for two and basked in the sunshine while we waited.

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It was quite the spread!  Everything was homemade, and the server described the dishes before we tucked in.  As well as the bread basket (four types, including beetroot, all made from spelt flour), we had all these little things to try.  There were some marinated mushrooms and sun-dried tomato antipasti, and six tasty slices of salami.  At the top are three cheesy spreads:  a cream cheese with seedy crackers, quite a strong cheese with radishes (Dr HH, who still eats dairy cheese occasionally, was especially impressed with this one) and a garlicky herb spread, which was my favourite.  In the middle is a well-seasoned tofu scramble with courgettes and peppers, and below it there’s a seaweed spread with sprouts and an egg salad which was creamy and good.

Jam!

The three on the right are the sweet options, so we saved them until the end.  The bright orange one is paprika and lemon – it was quite sharp, and also tasted of vanilla.  In the middle is a chocolate and blackberry jam which was sublime.  We even bought a jar of it to bring home.  And at the top there are two cashew creams, one mango and one chocolate.  They were both creamy and delicious.

Fancy Breakfast (4)

I can’t recommend this place highly enough, I absolutely loved it.  Besides a couple of people popping in for a coffee, we were the only customers.  It’s a shame, because it should really be doing a roaring trade.  This was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had!  Dr HH and I immediately started fantasising about how to recreate it at home, and you can see the spread I put together last Saturday morning.  Not too shabby – but certainly not all homemade!

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Unsurprisingly, this kept us going for a while and we didn’t need lunch.  We ploughed on until it was time for our traditional mid-afternoon trip to Oh La La.  As always, we split one tresor and one new treat.  If you’re going to call something a Bounty cake, it had better be coconutty.  Alas, this wasn’t as flavoursome as it should have been.  Still, the brownie layer was nice, and you can’t argue with that much cream.  It was nice, but it wasn’t mind-blowing.

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The tresor was divine.  Of course.

Natty Threads (1)

I also treated myself to one of their t-shirts because I’ve spent the months since our last visit regretting the fact that I hadn’t already done so.  It’s so pretty!  I also bought a drawstring bag with the same design and had to repeatedly reassure Dr HH that I will not wear the two together.

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We still didn’t need a big meal in the evening, so it was quite a light dinner.  Chaostheorie has been on my list for a while, and I was happy to give it a try ,though ultimately it wasn’t my favourite place.  It’s all vegan and is more of a bar than a cafe, which is never my favourite thing.  We sat outside again, and the inside looked dark but spacious.  The menu focusses on sandwiches and croissants.  I ordered the meatball and cheese croissant, and Dr HH had the same but with added peanut butter.

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Most importantly, the croissant itself was delicious:  flaky and perfect.  The meatballs were nice and spicy, and the cheese was inoffensive, though I wish it had melted.  I also wish the whole thing hadn’t been drizzled in sauce.  I can’t be the only person in the world who likes their food on the dry side!  Dr HH also enjoyed his, though he thought the peanut butter overwhelmed the other flavours.  We were tempted to ask for a whole bag of croissants to take away with us, but decided against it.  They also serve tresors, cupcakes and sweet croissants, but we really didn’t have room.

Chasotheorie is cheap and cheerful, and if you’re looking for cocktails it definitely seems like the place to go.  Personally, I prefer cutesy little cafes, so it just wasn’t quite right for me but I’m glad we went.  Also, there’s a disco ball in the toilet, and the taps are shaped like a unicorn’s head.  Always a bonus.

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Berlin is not lacking in options for all-you-can-eat vegan brunch (this is an area in which Prague could really stand to improve).  I chose Alaska Bar for Sunday morning, mostly because it serves a “deluxe” brunch, and I enjoy that kind of fancy talk.  Last time we went to Kopps, which was insanely busy.  Alaska was well-frequented, but much more relaxed.  The food was up at the bar, and for 12.50 you could help yourself.  There were tables outside, but in a futile bid to escape the pollen we stayed inside this time (stupid allergies!).  Again, there was mismatched furniture and it all looked great.

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We certainly got our money’s worth!  There was lots to try, and it was replenished regularly.  The club sandwich was the highlight, filled with grilled vegetables and pesto.  The crispy wonton-style parcel of spinach and creamy tofu was also excellent.  We also tried the stuffed vine leaves, a tasty scramble and some tomato/aubergine/olive antipasti.

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Then we had another club sandwich and another wonton.  Also, some yellow loaf that was actually more of a spread, a cabbage salad (that splash of purple there), and some giant couscous with smoky tofu and some hummus.  Also, very excitingly, a cube of feta-style tofu!  It was really good, and once again got the approval of Dr HH.

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And we also had a slice of herby potato tart (the pastry was perfect and I loved it, but Dr HH thought it too dry), some nachos with cheesy dip and some creamy guacamole.

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And we shared one of these ‘bacon and egg’ sandwiches, which were very quickly devoured by the crowds.  I enjoyed the tempeh bacon and the tofu scramble, but found the dressing a bit too sweet, which was a shame.

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That was enough to fill us.  There was also cereal, fruit, bread buns and a cheesecake, but we didn’t fancy those.  We saw some other patrons ordering churros (not as part of the brunch), and couldn’t resist.  How often do you get to eat churros?  So this was our brunch dessert.  They were exactly as churros should be, and the chocolate was rich and delicious.  (Alaska serves tapas in the evenings, it has a really Spanish feel).  Definitely try this place for your next Berlin brunch!

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There was just time to grab some more fried dough before hopping on the bus back to Prague.  While we were in Oh La La on Saturday, Dr HH had picked up a leaflet for an all vegan donut place within walking distance from Alaska, so off we went.  We picked up a box of four donuts to take on the bus.  Brammibal’s is a nice place by the river, with indoor and outdoor seating.  It also serves bagels, but we only had eyes for the donuts.  There were about 8 varieties and we agonised for a while before choosing.

We didn’t need any other meals after Sunday brunch, but we ate the ring donuts on the bus ride home.  I had the speculoos one in the bottom left corner.  It was sweet and nice, but didn’t really taste of speculoos.  Dr HH had the nutty one above it, which was the better of the two.

We saved the chocolate peanut butter fudge ones for Monday night while watching Game of Thrones.  We’d expected a gooey centre, but alas they were not filled.  They were nice, but didn’t quite live up to our expectations.  Still, vegan donuts are a rarity/non-existent in Prague, so it was nice to have some for a change.

And that was that!  We returned extremely well-fed and happy, and dreaming about our next visit.

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